I have been cooking since I was 8 years old, and yet I did not consider myself a chef until two years ago. I have, however, always considered myself an artist who developed into a craftsman.
I grew up focusing predominantly on my creativity and embracing the ability to bring beautiful things into tangible form; however, I also had a very balanced mindset and naturally grasped science and numbers.
My father owns a pallet manufacturing company; hence by the age of 13, I learned how to operate a nail gun, but more importantly, I learned work ethic and humility about being completely self-sufficient.
Having a famed fresco muralist as a mother gave me a front row seat as a child to the life of an artist. I was taught to truly drink in the creative nature of my Italian heritage. In our home, reading books from the pen of Poe and Hemingway was a means to open the mind and heart.
The piece of literature that made a lasting impression with me was the preface to Oscar Wilde’s "The Picture of Dorian Gray," in which he postulates about beauty and art and states that
“The artist is the creator of beautiful things.”
I have never been one for titles and labels. I believe that an individual’s life cannot be viewed through a few accomplishments, a trophy case, or a given moment.
Rather, an individual’s life should be viewed in its entirety as a body of work. Many people go through life writing multiple stories: their professional career, their personal life, their philanthropic agenda.
An artist, in this given scenario, eliminates all borders and boundaries. An artist has one clear purpose: to use his or her talents to bring a vision into concretion. All artists are visionaries, but not all visionaries are artists.
The blank canvas that an artist uses as a medium varies from music, to painting, to architecture; however, that medium is always used to evoke and stimulate one or more of the senses. That same medium can take a non-artistic form as well.
Copying a chef’s recipe, an artist’s painting, a composer’s sheet music does not make you an artist.
A craftsman is someone who has mastered skills in a chosen profession. The craftsmen, through many hours of study, practice, discipline, focus and passion, can excel in one of any number of professions – sports, dance, law, history, plumbing, medicine, carpentry and on and on.
To be a chef requires craftsmanship. Without a doubt, the home cook who has attempted to follow a Viennese pastry recipe is aware of all of the intricacies and skills involved in proper cooking technique.
Watch a chef chop vegetables, filet a fish, or make a soufflé, and you realize what you are seeing is the result of many hours of practice and repetition, which is a necessary foundation for success. Knowing the chemistry of what ingredients work together.
These skills are truly the most important for anyone on this career path; all the creativity in the world can’t fake the skill it takes to succeed.
An artist is born and a craftsman is made. Those who have a creative drive see the world differently, and find a way to bring their mind’s visions to reality. A craftsman is an individual who invests in all of the skills necessary to raise the standards within an industry.
All artists are not craftsmen, and all craftsmen are not artists; however, a successful chef straddles both lines, and creates a beautiful and harmonious piece of work that appeals to all five senses and takes a world of technical understanding to execute.
The most accomplished craftsmen, however, are not necessarily visionaries. Artists are all visionaries, as they see their medium in ways that have not yet been seen.
To be an artist in the kitchen, an individual must take all of the foundation techniques, and combine those with a progressive mindset that is willing to take risks. The most accomplished chefs of the modern era, such as Ferran Adria, Grant Aschatz, Michel Bras and Thomas Keller all found a way to blaze a trail through new approaches to familiar ingredients.
Food, as an art form, is unique in many ways. While painting appeals to sight, and music appears to the sense of sound, food, when created at its highest form, appeals to all five senses at once. Textures, flavors, colors and aromas all have to play a role in a successful dish.
The intricacies of being a chef do not end here, however, as the palate has its own maze to navigate. Merrying the perfect balance of unique flavors and textures is the most highly sought after accomplishment of a given dish.
On top of all of that, food as a form of art, is temporal. Created plate by plate, for each customer, and carefully executed in its eye appealing presentation, only to be consumed moments later.
Since I became an Executive Chef, and even before, when I was cooking my way around the world, I have been called many different things by different people: an artist, a craftsman, a visionary and, at times, a servant.
The one certainty, however, is that as a chef, your work and your life cannot be separated. You become your career or your career never leaves port.
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