Edward Leonard, CMC, Director of Culinary Operations and Executive Chef at The Polo Club of Boca Raton (Fla.), muses on chefs creating menus and dishes inspired by their moods, like artists often do with their works.
Culinarians are referred to as artists. But are we really artists? Artists express themselves on canvas, in sculpture, or in another artistic medium. And that expression is affected by their moods or thoughts.
Imagine if a chef served and displayed food inspired by a dark, depressed mood. Imagine the members and guest being told, “Tonight’s dish reflects anger or a deep depression that the chef is going through, but please, enjoy your meal.”
The food and cooking reality television shows reflect drama, behavior and other attributes that are not in a professional kitchen and do not always show the work and effort it takes to put out quality food and manage a professional kitchen.
Our craft is indeed an art but in a different sense of the word. It’s an age-old, respected discipline. Food, and the process of cooking, have a rich history.
The cuisine of a country or region is formed by many factors, including war, invasion, marriage, geography, economy, and the influence of people who move into an area. It is exciting to study and learn why regions in the same country cook differently and use different products or use the same products in different ways. This knowledge builds a strong foundation for our craft that allows us to develop or refine our cuisine.
Creativity, or one’s ability to create food as art, must have sensibility and a foundation on which to build. As cooks and chefs, we get so concerned with being creative that we sometimes forget the value of the tried and true. Food fads and new concepts may come and go, but food served at the proper temperature and full of flavor that is a good value for the dollar spent never goes out of style.
We become “artists” with food when we begin with a great product and follow time-tested cooking methods. From sautéing and broiling to roasting and braising, there is a correct way to cook each product.
Shortcuts, or the excuse of being creative that creates mediocre food, does not hold water and will not, in the long term, please our members and guests. The art of our craft is respect for the product, respect for the preparation of that product, and creativity, coupled with a sound, sensible approach. Innovation, yes, but with a foundation.
We should be proud to be culinarians in a technologically advanced time where production lines often take the place of handmade goods. There is a 3D pastry machine now for chocolate and sugar. And ovens can now be programmed to cook and bake from your computer. However, those tools don’t baste, turn pans, add more stock or butter, or stir or have love for the food. It’s cooking, but it’s not a cook.
Cooking, baking, and pastry are art forms because the products still need to be produced by individuals are with a passion and respect for what they do.
We experience true pride when a member or guest enjoys a meal or we have made their event special because we prepared and cooked a simple thing called food in an artisan way.
Good cooking to all of you this holiday season. Always be proud to be a cook first and chef second and take pride in the craft and the impact it has on our members and guests.
As the saying goes, “First we eat, then we do everything else.”