Monday, November 2, 2009

Just Saying No To The House of Yes

The Theory of Relativity (as it applies to cooks)
"Put your hand on a hot pan & a second can seem like an hour, put your hand on a hot woman & an hour can seem like a second"
- LL Cool J as Sherman "preach" the cook from Deep Blue Sea

Was there ever, can there be, is there any Objective truth to cooking?
Because we, as cooks, produce something meant to be consumed and judged by others are we forever relegated to stumbling in a mist of subjectivity, relativity and doubt?

I've crossed the Rubicon now as far as my life goes. I've always done this thing and it has programmed and informed every behavior in my life, every personality tic and every choice. My cookness is evident in the way I hurry through everything telling myself that 5 minutes is really 1, the way I critique & categorize everything I see and the way that even when I seem to be still I'm either making lists in my head or trying to file new knowledge into places it will stick.

I went from a kid trying to be a cook to a cook trying to be a chef to a chef trying to be a cook... and now strangely having what I wanted, a place 100% mine I struggle for identity.

It is popular though these days to hold that there is some kind of "brotherhood of man" or "social contract" or "greater good". Perhaps it reflects poorly on me that I cannot believe these things. I see only single, sovereign entities that come into contact and go their own ways.

In the day and age of "yes-taurants", in a populist age filled with yearnings towards socialism and sublimation of self where does this leave a cook like myself, a restaurateur like myself?

Anomaly? Relic? A fool preaching an antiquated philosophy to the disinterested?

..and hence coming back to the Objective truth of cooking.

At some point one does realize that one can't please everyone. The part I've always had trouble understanding is- why do people who've realized this still try? Is it a survival skill? A maladaptive coping mechanism? Cognitive dissonance?

My conclusion is, for myself, that the Objective truth to cooking, like anything else in life is simply about integrity. One mind, two hands, a purpose and a plan. Objective cooking is cooking for yourself. Envisioning something in its totality and making it so.

When you deviate from that vision of the dish you wander into subjectivity... "as good as something can be w/out salt.. or eggs, butter," whatever...

More socially minded cooks will stand by the "I'm not the one eating it so I should give them what they want" line. Fewer will say they enjoy the challenge of coming up with something on the fly- and both are valid points.

But what of the kitchen that allows special orders, deletions, substitutions, takes temps of steaks and then makes fun of customers that take advantage of this allowance?

Some will always say "you aren't cooking for yourself, you're cooking for the customer!"

Really? Think about it..who ARE you cooking for? What is your prime motive?

Whether you take special requests or not it is my assertion that one must do everything in life for themselves. Anything else you open yourself up to resentment of whoever is the beneficiary of your largess.

If you take requests do it because you want to be that flexible, or because you want the paycheck and your market doesn't support chefly stubbornness or because you want to learn by improvising constantly.

It is a lovely platitude, the thought of the selfless artisan sludging away in anonymity playing "private cook" to the whole community.

But in essence it is the thing we do for ourselves that is sustainable. It is the thing we do for ourselves that we can do tirelessly, without thought of want for rest.

If you are doing it all for someone else you will come to resent that someone, and eventually it will show. It will put its mark on your work and in your soul.

That to me is the Objective truth of cooking. Cooking in a way that makes you whole, cooking to the truth of your own personal motivation. Cooking to that truth will attact people whose truth is similar to your own.

The best thing that any craftsman, artisan, or tradesman can hope for is when simply doing what you would do any way becomes something that others can enjoy as well- a thing of personal value beyond price.

And now, because the floor around me hasn't dried- the lessons this week held for Nuki&Bungle:

1) discount fake spider webbing is NO bargain sir
2) when setting up an abortion themed haunted alley at your restaurant get your doll parts FAR in advance
3) being prepared means no one will show
4) some customers would rather sit in a place that makes them unhappy than go somewhere else
5) Strawberry Shortcake pinatas are the world's best vehicle for porn
6) putting a cute lambchop puppet on your hand in a room full of carniverous drunks is just ASKING to get bitten- so stand by the cute chicks, yo.

1 comment:

  1. "why do people who've realized this still try?" Maybe it's because those rare moments where someone gets it, and loves it, are worth all the rest.

    I cook in part because I still love it, the learning, those rare successes, the transcendence - but also because I totally relish those moments where you surprise someone, you take them somewhere they didn't think they were going or wanted to go, and their eyes (and life) gets a little wider. But then, I'm a socialist ;)