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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Learning to be a professional cook (3rd in a series)


Learning to be a professional cook (3rd in a series)

The takeaways from this job are priceless in the way that repetitious exercise and tasks make an indelible imprint in one’s mind.  I’ve always known that enduring and lasting knowledge comes from “doing” and doing it often whatever the case may be.  I once read somewhere that after you've performed a task 10,000 times (or was that a 1,000 times?) is when you become truly proficient and possibly an expert on whatever subject matter is at hand.

My internship at "Cypress Restaurant" in Charleston, SC
I am now an expert in peeling potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, myself (yeah, I’ve actually peeled my finger a few times).  I don’t know how many chickens, turkeys, tuna, salmon that I’ve broken down as well as pork and beef bone in, loins I’ve butchered.  Am I a “real” expert?  Nope.  Not by a long shot but I now know my way around a knife and the carcass of most animals we consume here in America.

I know most folks would consider this work to be icky or dirty or gross but I regard these tasks as noble as they are the bedrock that lay the groundwork for fabulous meals.  Meals that supply the family that eats them with delight and nutrition and also money to the cooks and chefs that prepare them.  One of my sous chefs told me that cooks were the dregs of society, the deadbeats of the world; folks that will steal from you one moment and pat you on the back exclaiming friendship and devotion in the next.

Teaching kids about nutrition at the "Children's Museum" in Indianapolis, IN
I do not subscribe to this hyperbolic view of the culinary world as there needs to be talent, knowledge and a steadfast and staunch work ethic just to break even.  If you want to actually make money then you need to ascend to a whole other level beyond that of us mere peasants!

Executive Chefs need to have an eye on safety, quality, team-building, creativity, money (making it and loss prevention), sanitation, organizing and training.  I haven’t even mentioned cooking, continuous improvement, menu planning, recipe writing and development of flavor profiles.  There is so much on an Executive Chef’s plate that it’s no wonder they work the crazy hours we hear of so often.

Volunteering at "Second Helpings" a charity that re-purposes food into the Indianapolis community
My friends and family, understandably, chastise me for wanting this life and I can’t blame them.  Who in their right frame of mind would beat their bodies to a pulp at 51 years of age trying to get IN to this profession?  Someone who loves food and the preparation, cooking and presenting it to guests – that’s who.   You know, they say love is an emotionally unnatural construct.  I agree to a point as the only way you can survive in this business is if you love it, unnaturally, to the core.  At the end of the day you can’t be fearful of the unknown because this is an unproductive filter in which to view the world. 

Winning my first cooking competition
I DO aspire to have my own place someday and I’m not afraid to fail; as a matter of fact I learn the most when I fail and do not eschew the negative reflex associated with the occasional missteps in a burgeoning career.  I guess I’m crazy but that food-love thing grips people like me and I truly believe that some of the most spectacular folks in the world are cooks, chefs, restaurateurs, servers and the like.  I don’t conclude that the business is wrought with men that wear comb-over’s from an ear hair or talentless hacks just existing to manufacture carbon dioxide.

Easter at the Omni Severin Hotel in Downtown Indianapolis
Yes, my first job at the Omni Severin Hotel has not jaded me in the least bit nor has it dimmed my desire or passion to succeed.  Instead, it has aroused curiosity, joy, eagerness and a culinary paroxysm that has awakened a fury of exploration in me that hasn't existed in years.  I think I’m on the right path.  Next up ….. My time at the Marriott.

Behind the scenes with Carla!

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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