Why do we cook? It can’t be the crazy schedule, the long hours and the demanding work. Is it the constant stress and high pressure to perform night in and night out, in an industry well-known for its low pay? Ask any good chef, and they’ll tell you there’s something more to it. Something that keeps us coming back.
When I first started cooking, it was love at first sight. The controlled chaos, the entire kitchen pulling together to achieve a common goal. The buzz of creating a perfect plate, 100 times, over and over throughout the night. Hearing back from servers that the guest had a great experience. Everything clicked.
I played team sports growing up, and this was the closest thing I’d experienced to it. You spend each evening with the same group of people, working towards the same goal in a high-pressure environment. Everybody needs to pull their weight and work in tandem. It’s adrenaline mixed with precision.
Then there’s the food. People call chefs artists and for some, that title is fitting. The real top-notch chefs worldwide, who are turning the game on its head. They are absolutely artists, at the top of their game.
The regular working chef? I would call them more of a craftsman. The same way a cabinetmaker takes pride in their technical skills and uses the finest materials, so too does a chef take great pride in their ability to take the finest ingredients and bring them together harmoniously to make a dish. I’ve always considered myself a craftsman, rather than an artist. I believe food is to be eaten and enjoyed, not put on a pedestal and admired from afar. I’ve cooked in Australia, Germany, and in every Canadian territory. I’ve used some really wild ingredients, from barramundi caught directly off the Great Barrier Reef, to ducks with buckshot still in their breasts, to freshly-caught arctic char up in Nunavut.
To me, being a chef is about respecting those ingredients, learning how to use them properly and remembering that people eat not only for sustenance, but for enjoyment and community.
Chefs may be gruff, but we’re some of the nicest people on the planet, because we understand that inherently. We don’t refer to people that eat our food as customers. We call them guests, because they’re sharing our food with us, as though they were in our home. We understand that eating is one of life’s simple pleasures, and even the most humble dishes can make a huge impact on somebody’s day. Prepared correctly, anything can taste good.
Teamwork, craftsmanship and community. That’s why we cook.
Lewis Glassey is a chef and one of the owners of Prairie Box, Winnipeg’s first meal subscription company. To learn more, go to www.prairiebox.com.