Something very weird and interesting happened to me yesterday before Thanksgiving dinner. I had a few minutes to sit down and I started reading “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Childs. Reading recipes where the first ingredient was, “4 ounce chunk of bacon”, not only got the saliva glands going, but I also had an overwhelming feeling of pleasure. I instantly associated that feeling with how good eating foods like those in the book, full of bacon, butter and every other fatty thing you can add to food, made me feel. What was weird about it, was as good as it felt, at the same time I recognized how much I get that feeling NOW eating the way I do. My appreciation and commitment to what it means to cook and eat healthier grew.
This was on my mind pretty much all day. I started to think back to what got me started in the culinary industry and how far I have come from that point. I remember growing up, there were pretty much three staple shows that I would watch, all on PBS. The French Chef with Julia Childs, The Frugal Gourmet with Jeff Smith, and Nova. Still to this day I stop on Nova when I see it on the television.
Other than my mother, aunt and grandmother, Julia and Jeff were probably the two biggest influences in my culinary career. There
was always something about watching them take these mundane ingredients and make something artful with them. Obviously I couldn’t taste it, but it was highly intriguing to me. It sparked my curiosity. When I decided that I wanted to go to culinary school, I remember my parents reaction.
They were shocked and I remember the comment “Your grandfathers always said that the reason they worked hard in their restaurants was so no one else in the family would ever have to.” Yup it was in my blood. I knew that both my grandfathers were in the restaurant business at one time, but it was never really a topic of conversation until that point. We discussed it, and regardless of what my parents said, I knew this is what I wanted to do. Funny thing is, when I did graduate, my parents gave me pictures of one of my grandfathers in his restaurant days. Still some of my favorite pictures. I also received the journal from my other grandfather’s restaurant. It’s funny to look back and see the cost of things back then compared to now.
So like every other young culinary grad at the time, I was going to conquer the culinary world and open my own restaurant. Though that hasn’t happened, yet, I can say that I don’t have many regrets about the way things went. Especially now.
From my earliest days as a dishwasher and line cook to executive chef , I always worked hard, trying to learn, trying to get better. I worked with some chefs that I still talk about to this day, not only because they were mean SOBs, but also because now I realize what they taught me over those years. Things changed a bit for me when I got into the management side of things, and over the years, as I drifted away from cooking full-time, I would laugh about being the guy in the shirt and tie that everyone hated. It was during that time, that my weight and health started on a 15 year decline resulting in me being in the shape I was in and lacking any self-esteem or self-confidence in anything that I did, including my cooking. I would constantly beat my self up because I never thought my food was good enough. Regardless of what everyone would say, I didn’t believe it.
Fast forward to four years ago when I started my current transformation. Over that time, my food philosophy has changed, but after reading the cookbook yesterday I realize that the core of that philosophy hasn’t changed that much. That core of making food that looks good, and taste good, to prepare food that makes people talk about it and appreciate it, that is what’s the heart of my philosophy then and still is now. The one of the big differences is the techniques and preparation that I use now. The ones I am learning and continuing to explore. The ones that involve finding ways to create great flavors in a healthier way.
That difference is what brings me so much joy and happiness. The same type of pleasure that I received so many years ago when I first knew this is what I wanted to do. Losing the weight has brought me back full circle to where I was 25 years ago. It has rekindled the excitement and energy to “play” with food.
So thank you Mrs. Childs and Mr. Green for inspiring me then and laying the foundation for what I have built and continue to build.