The Why – Part One

Part of my journey as a Chef, or at least the front end of it, has been about the “How”. How to make a béarnaise, how to prepare the perfect prime rib, how to make a proper burger – whatever. It’s not rocket science, just takes abit of focus and time even for the uninitiated. It wasn’t until much later that I really started chewing (HA!) on “The Why” of food, although maybe that was a natural by product of my own growth.

That’s the challenge of what we do with our lives and, although it seems obvious, the why should come first. That is if you even have the option of looking at it. Life does, in fact, get busy. But if you are going to be happy in the kitchen, behind the bar or anywhere you ply whatever your chosen vocation the reason you’re doing it should be part of the equation, at least at some point. So in this installment I’m going to preface “The Why” of being a Chef with asking “The Why” of what makes us human.

This is big picture territory covered by the likes of Tony Robbins, your shrink or Pastor What’s-His-Name at your local church. It’s hardly new. But if you are going to have the creative process as part of your livelihood it’s probably way better to start asking these questions sooner than later. Being invested in what you do emotionally, especially in the kitchen, is an important part of a broader equation that leads to genuine fulfillment in our modern world. This is all-too-rare these days despite any financial rewards. Misery can be bought, but at what cost really? Most people find out way too late. If at all.

Charles Bukowski’s poem A Laughing Heart recently popped onto the collective social media radar (although I’m sure the platform itself would have horrified him) but its reading by Tom Waits (who also was probably equally nauseated) gave me time for pause-

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Pretty heavy stuff and shockingly upbeat for ‘ol Chuck who was hardly one to point to any exit sign other than death via the bottle. But this one struck me in the sense that what you are doing should……well……be you. That is a luxury in our First World sphere. Hell, some people live horrible lives and die lonely, painful deaths without even being given the chance to contemplate any of this. If they are provided any solace at all it’s via whatever organized religion/spirituality they plug into. But for the sake of those reading let’s assume this particular brand of rumination is on the radar for the moment.

What makes you get out of bed? Your kids? Social obligations? The beliefs of your family circle? I was listening to an author who said life was like a game of Pac Man, we’re chewing up dots and chasing flashing monsters without asking the question of who’s behind the joystick, where that quarter came from or even what those dots mean. So it is when we wake up every morning fresh as a newborn even for a nanosecond, without preconceptions and patterns, that we get a glimpse of our true selves. What does THAT person want out of this day? If that human being had the chance to provide their daily needs for themselves and loved ones and remain satisfied what would that look like?

Those are all good questions and ones worth asking.

So just for today, when you are at work, ask yourself “Why” even if it seems scary. I’m not implying you should run into the street screaming “fuck this!” (although it may sound appealing), I’m just proposing a quiet moment to query what it all means even if there is no obvious answer. That’s okay too. And if you are in the belly of the kitchen today, ask yourself what personal implications your culinary efforts hold – if any. When it’s just a job you’re in the wrong business – trust me.

Next time I’ll dig into what makes us Chefs do what we do. “The Why” is, in fact, where the magic lies and I believe wholeheartedly that real success by any measure is impossible without it.

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