Knowledge Is Power

It was a busy night on the line just like any other night.  I was the wood-fired oven cook making artisan pizzas and getting my hind end (my ass…) handed to me and LOVING IT.  I was in my zone and I loved the accolades I got later on from my chef as we chased away the stress of the dinner shift with a few well-placed, well-mixed drinks.  “J-Dawg (…that’s how he would address me…), you banged it out tonight.  Good job.  ‘Wanna start workin’ the broiler anytime soon?  You have good moves (…means, you are organized and work clean…it’s a high complemment to a cook…).  I don’t really remember my exact response, but it was something like I’d rather be great at one thing than be mediocre at five things.  Chef Mike’s response was something like, “…why can’t you be great at five things?”  Basically, through the course of the evening and the course of the next four or so months, he showed me how the more I know, the more I will work and the better I will become and more rounded-out as a cook and soon-to-be chef. Knowledge is power.  I learned grill/broil.  Then he put me on garde manger (…cold offerings…salads, desserts, cold apps….).  I was a bit insulted at first (…I was so immature…).  I wondered what I said that pissed him off, but I found it enlightening.  Before I knew it, I could run any station on the line from prep to execution like I wrote the menu and Aguste Esscoffier was “under my hat” during the shift.  I was picking up extra shifts and beginning to get “noticed” by corporate.  I was on my way….

I took this philosophy with me and packed it my mental “knife roll” like a most valuble tool.  Everywhere I went thereafter, my approach was to learn EVERYTHING and “dig in” instead of trying to be a rock star right out of the gate.  Ok, truth be told…I tried the “rock star” angle a few times…it worked, but was short-lived…EVERY time I tried it.  The best way was to be honest and hard-working and let your chef decide you were “all that” for him/herself.  The point being is that ultimately the accumulation of working knowledge (…along with my formal education…) allowed me to be realistic in my approach to employment.  So…you may be saying, “Jason, what’s the point here? How does this help me in my current culinary conumdrums?”  Knowledge….

I had a nice day out with my parents today.  We ran some errunds, had some good dialogue, did lunch and shopped and the topic we discussed most was the value and benefit of being self-sufficient.  Think about all the skilled trades…electric, HVAC, plumbing, carpentry…how cool would it be to know what they know!  We live in “conveinent times”.  Need something done?  Pick up the iphone…Google it…If you could do it yourself, would you?  What about cooking?  ….That’s where this gets fun for me…

With my accumulated experience and knowledge as a chef, I feel more than comfortable with raw ingredients.  The majority of the world-wide consumer smash-up derby gravitates towards pre-prepared foods loaded with excessive salt and chemical preservatives and frankly are just not that tasty unless you are on the back end of an all-day sake tasting in “Lil Japan” which happens to be a store front in a plaza somewhere in an obscure Nebraska town that Wal-Mart just recently took over.  (Um…sake in NE? …Wal-Mart?…Cops?…)  I digress….  So when you shop for food, HOW do you shop?  Do you feel comfortable with butchering at home?  I can tell you…if you have a couple of good knives and have a basic knowledge of how to keep them sharp, you literally can save hundreds of dollars a year if you are willing to do a little work.  Buy fresh vegetables.  Buy local if you can and support your local growers.  Do you know what to do with a turnip?  Root vegetables are packed with energy producing vitamins and natural sugars and can be savory or sweet.  Have you thought about the value of canning?  Canning is a super skill to learn!  Vegetables, smoked fish (…a friend of mine in the Michigan U.P. cans salmon he has caught wild and smoked for the Winter…), all kinds of meat/bacon/fatback….the possibilities are endless based on your personal enginuity and need to feed your family or yourself.

The botom line is this….Learn how to….Food and water is our “fuel” as human beings and we can make our own fuel (AND be artistic about it and make it pleasurable…that’s a whole other blog post: “Food Is Sex” …thanks Anthony Bourdain!)  Forethought.  Plan your food like you plan your social life.  This is a concept thousands of years old.  Take time to learn how to cook well and prepare well thought out food.  It’s heathy.  It’s cost effective.  It’s sexy.  It’s LIFE!.



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