|Illustration by Jeremy Salamon|
I was just recently reading an article in Chef David Chang's Lucky Peach Magazine. The article entitled "I see a darkness" gave me a few topics I definitely had to address. Chef Chang starts off by saying "I am convinced that cooking is dying" or at least the art of high-end cooking from the likes of Bocuse, Troisgros, and Pierre-White. We have transitioned into a society based on fast-food, Food Network, and causal comfort food dining. He talks about how culinary students are not receiving the proper curriculum they should and that culinary schools are driving them away from high-end restaurants and into hotels. He ends by saying that although he admires the hard working chefs of today he also feels sorry for them because had they known this would be their future, they should have chosen a different career.
Chef Chang, if you ever happen to read this I would like you to know that although I highly respect you and your work, I feel sorry for you. I agree with Chef Brock's statement that culinary students should get their "ass kicked" and not just stage (apprentice) a night at Per Se. The best way to learn the ropes of a professional kitchen is to be "thrown into the fire", as I was once told and have experienced first hand. This business is long grueling hours constantly challenging your stamina and creativity. The job of a line cook and chef requires you to put on a performance each and every day. I do think culinary schools (and with the aid of media) have created the illusion of a no sweat production that lures prospective students to a bitter reality. I think something should be said about students spending a shit-ton of money on tuition to learn it's not what they truly wanted or expected.
Now back to where I feel sorry for you. I understand that what drew you into the profession (classical French training) is of the utmost importance and it's never going to fade away. That type of cooking is the very foundation every kitchen is based on. Times are changing and the culinary world in my opinion is forever evolving. That's the beauty of our craft, there's something for everyone. Whether your a health freak, slow food crazy, food network obsessed, a foam enthusiast or just simply rooted in the classically trained traditions, there's always something to lure you in. Some people may not like Rachael Ray or Guy Fieri and that's OK but you can't hate them because they’re helping inspire people to cook, and isn't that what's important? It took me a while to figure this out and I'm only 18 years old.
Also, why would you trust the words of an 18 year old, gung ho soon to be CIA culinary student? To solidify this argument I must share a little bit of my story with you. I started off as an apprentice in a country club when I was twelve. I washed dishes, cleaned the walk-ins, cut the ends off of pounds of haricot verts, scooped ice cream and made the stocks. When I was 15 I worked at Wild Olives by Chef Todd English. That's where I learned that not every chef bleeds and sweats perfection (another story for another time). Now I work the line at a small bistro in Delray Beach Florida, 4-5 days a week while also finishing high school. I've competed in ACF competitions, hosted the Food Network SoBe Food & Wine Festival Kidz Labs, and have been a contributing writer for AOL's KitchenDaily in addition to my own site JeremyCooks.com. I've dined at fine establishments such as Cafe Boulud here in Palm Beach, the Dutch in South Beach and Blue Hill in NYC among others, so I can appreciate the experience of 5-star work. I also applied for an apprenticeship at Cafe Boulud when I was 16. I spent a day in the kitchen alongside Chef De Cuisine Zach Bell (at the time) and got the job. Two weeks later I was disappointed to learn that I was two young and Chef Bell asked me to come back when I was 18 (I didn’t). The amazing opportunities I've had, have allowed me to see and experience all aspects of the industry. So I guess you could say I've already had my ass kicked and I still have much more ass kicking years ahead of me. I'm no BS kid and I'm not here to waste anyone’s time.
From reading the article, in my opinion I see the same cynicism in you as I saw in Anthony Bourdain. From Kitchen Confidential to Medium Raw he changed his perspective on the culinary world. He realized that although he may not like what he see's he can still "appreciate" the work that's being done because its having a positive affect on people. If you look at the culinary world as one big line in a kitchen, you represent just one station and you do your part to make it the best it can possibly be. But at the end of the day the line works together to produce a one of a kind meal.
I have worked for chefs who only want to be behind the scenes and never have their faces shown. I've worked for chefs who own small restaurants and are just happy with that. And then I've worked for (or with) chefs who want to be loud and in the spotlight. They all share one common denominator and thats a love for food. So I feel sorry for you if you think the culinary world is headed for an apocalypse of epic proportions. You obviously have real hatred for what's in front of you but you need to be unbiased and look at how many people have been turned onto cooking and new foods in different ways. What made you fall in love with food and cooking is personal and it doesn't mean everyone else has to follow the same path. Everyone is capable of their own culinary journey, you may not approve of it but it's the truth of the matter. Open your eyes Chef Chang our industry is just getting started.
Keep on Cooking........
***To note, I know this is advanced culinary reading but I do highly recommend everyone to read “Lucky Peach Magazine” which is published quarterly. Also try Chef Chang's Momofuku restaurants and his Milk Bars. He is a James Beard Award winner and one of our country’s great chefs. Please visit momofuku.com for more information..........by the way, Chef Chang can I stage for you in the Fall?????