Professional Cooks and Sacrifice

Sacrifice…” Sacrifice of one’s personal interests or well-being for the sake of others…” Think about this the next time you’re in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, or hell even Arbor Day. I mean damn, those cooks and chefs would like to be out planting trees too! But they’re not; they’re forgoing being with their husbands, wives, children and loved ones to ensure you have a good time and great food.
In exchange for their sacrifice they have some of the highest incidences of alcoholism, divorce, drug abuse, suicides, stress related health problems and injuries in the working world. So with these problems so prevalent in cooking… why do they do it? Why would you give up so much time with friends and family to cook with such a band of social miscreants?

Must be the money right? How does a cook become rich and successful? Well that’s an easy one; he/she quits cooking and gets a job as a hedge fund manager. Sure there’s still a high incidence of stress, alcoholism and drug issues, but at least when you die you can be buried in a Ferrari and leave a billion dollars to your cat Fluffy McWhiskers. This is something a cook could never do. 

No folks it’s not about the money and it’s not about fame…it can’t be. It has to be something deeper and more personal. Becoming a cook for the money would be akin to becoming a convict for the excellent health benefits.

Some folks say it’s because cooks don’t fit in anywhere else in the working world and it gives them a sense of anonymity while at the same time the opportunity to belong, a sense of being or purpose. I think this might hold true for a couple of percentage points of the industry as a whole but not nearly as many as some would have you believe. Cooks by their very nature are gregarious types and fiercely competitive so in theory they could fit in just about anywhere in the work field…although I wouldn’t suggest you hire them to take inventory of your liquor cabinet.

Passion? Because what’s not to love?! I mean who wouldn’t want the chance to work in front of a wall of flame on the grill station, with the instant read in your chef’s coat telling you it’s 125 degrees and your face is telling you it’s more like 200! Yes without a doubt there is passion involved but probably not to the extent you’d think. You obviously have to like what you do or you wouldn’t do it, otherwise we’d all be floating around in a pool sipping daiquiris. Sadly this floating and sipping thing doesn’t pay very well and besides, the straws and umbrellas can ruin a pool filter.

The long and short of it is there is a combination of things deep down in a cooks very being that makes them do what they do. There are intangibles that can’t really be quantified as well as some things that can. I posed the question to highly acclaimed and respected Saint Louis, Missouri Chef Josh Galliano…

“Why do you do it?” His response was brilliant… “I love it, but why do I love it is a better question. I grew up with so many creative people around me. They played guitars, or painted… I didn’t really feel like I had anything. Cooking is that creative outlet for me and it is even better than all those others… First, I get paid, and I’m not sure if they will get paid to paint or sculpt…  Second, instant gratification. I cannot tell you how huge that is… it’s instant because you get feedback from the person eating it. Third, I have an instant rewrite if I don’t think the product is good enough. I didn’t waste the clay or the canvas. I wipe the plate clean and I start over.”

I asked Chef Galliano why he thought other people cooked, what with all the personal, emotional and physical sacrifice involved… why are people doing this? “I never believe the guys who say they can’t do anything else. Or that they are just there for a paycheck. You can clock in and space out somewhere else for a lot less stress. It’s always something more with cooking, that you are master & commander of a ship. You can be better than your “place” in the world…you get to be better… because you know how to cook that food to get the most out of it and they don’t.”

So next time you’re in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day and you’re playing kissy face with your soul mate or date du jour over filet mignon and lobster tails… think about that person in the kitchen helping make your dreams of getting lucky a reality. They don’t do it for the fame or the fortune, but they don’t mind a thank you once in a while either. Send a personal thank you through your server to those cooks…or better yet… tell your friends and your social media outlets how much you enjoyed their food.

In closing I asked Chef Galliano if he’d like to add something I overlooked he said… “How many chefs out there need counseling? Probably all.” HAHAHA…eh…thank you Chef… and… I’ll be over here in the corner until you’re done frenching that rack of lamb…Valium anyone?!

4 thoughts on “Professional Cooks and Sacrifice

  1. Thanks for your kind words Shelby! I believe almost everybody has a restaurant concept clanking around in their head… some folks just don't have that kind of ability to sacrifice what it would take to actually run it… Thankfully there are those that do! Thanks for reading!

  2. Fantastic post! Because I love food and cooking so much, I've had a ton of people tell me over the years how I need to open a restaurant, but I know, personally, that I could never live that lifestyle, working later nights and holidays…it's a steep sacrafice, and I'm happy to be a patron of the art (though I do havea kcik-ass high end comfort food fantasy restaurant rattling around in my head)

  3. Hey thanks for sharing Tupper. Yeah who knows why they did what they did, I guess the simple answer was to give us a better life than they had. A more complex answer would be somewhere between they loved what they did and who knows what. I think that level of drive and performance expectation is in everyone in that industry…that being said, I think I was 14 before I started doing the lawn "correctly" for my dad… not bad, only took me two years!Thanks again for reading buddy…

  4. Great post Pav. My father died being a cook when he was 49. I always asked myself, why doesn't he get an easier job, this will kill him, and it did. That said, the kitchen was his, and he ran it with precision, nobody telling him what to do. I bussed tables, then waited on tables, and man you needed to hustle or incur the wrath of the old man who was about 5'8" and 160 lbs. Holidays were just part of the deal with the devil I guess. Sure miss the old man, he'd be 79 next month.

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