My Creations, Places I like

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why We Do It

    Tomorrow (technically today but who's counting?) kicks off our Diversity Weekend Festival, created by an ex marine, and former K-16 student. The day will start bright and early in the Colavita garden where chosen students will compete in an Iron Chef-style elimination cook off. After the competition, street food made by our very own student body will be served in Anton Plaza overlooking the beautiful, pristine (and hopefully PCB free...thanks GE) flowing Hudson River. Pay $5 and you get an "all you can eat wrist band" good for chowing down throughout the entire weekend. Fill up, grab a brew, and make your way back to the Colavita learning center (the award winning Italian restaurant we have on campus) for stage II of the cook off.

    Tomorrow the final round of students will draw from a hat 2 regions of the world. Drawing inspiration from the cuisine of those 2 regions, the students must create a meal fusing the two together...imagine grabbing Alaska and Zimbabwe?? Yesterday Chef McCue was talking to our class about it during his usual off topic rants in lecture, and he had this to say about the final round: "the students have no idea what regions are in the hat so they have no way to plan what they wanna do. They just draw two areas and have to go with whatever they draw. It can come out beautiful, or it could be a pile of shit on a plate, we have no idea....its going to be EFFing AWESOME!"
*Ponders in head* "Alaska?? Zimbabwe??....wha...huh?"
    The weather is supposed to be freaking awesome and there will undoubtedly be about 8 tour busses of church groups and old folks so needless to say this weekend will be pretty busy. Now that the weather is starting to get real nice, our campus has been inundated with guests, potential students, families of potential students, etc etc (we have half a million visitors a year, FACT). When your running down the hall with a tray of beef tenderloin that your chef needs 5 minutes ago it can be difficult navigating through the sea of visitors who do not know how to walk and mingle on the sides of the hallway rather than right in the center. 

    Don't get me wrong I love when our school gets a whole bunch of visitors because it can only do good things for our school, but the one thing I do not enjoy that I've noticed today is the way they perceive us as culinarians. Most of the people who visit don't treat you like a human being, they treat you like your some sort of novelty item, like your an animal at the zoo. If it pleases the court, allow me to show exhibit A, your honor. One of the downfalls of working on the left side prep tables in K-16 is that you are exposed. What I mean by this is that you are constantly being watched by visitors, students, etc via the huge window in the hallway. Chef McCue tells us to look up, smile, and wave periodically but there is something about it that just rubs me the wrong way. You should see the way people look at you from behind the window. They ooo and ahhh, point at you with wide eyes and open mouth while they whisper to one another. I was leaving the building the other day and an older woman stopped me to ask for directions. It was the end of a long and demanding day but of course I was happy to help. She looked at me and said, "HI!...DO...YOU...KNOW...WHERE..I CAN FIND...THE AMERICAN BOUNTY?" Jesus lady, were indoors, why are you yelling? She talked to me the way you would talk to a small child or someone who doesn't speak English. It blew my mind. It got me thinking, these people are not here to see us. They're here to see our beautiful school. They're here to dine in our restaurants, and walk along the river. They don't see us as students, no, they see us objects in a window "look Mommy the thing behind the window has whipped cream!"
    That is just the nature of the job I suppose. No matter what you do, some people will just see you as "the person who made my food". I doesn't affect me, I was just tired and cranky that day the lady talked to me like an Asian 4-year old. I love what I do, and you have to. You have to be obsessed with it. You have to think about it everyday because at the end of the day, you are sacrificing so much (mentally, physically, emotionally, socially) for something that will often times give you nothing in return (low pay, dangerous environment, long grueling hours on your feet). 
    A lot of times people will ask me why I want to cook, why I want to be a chef, and I always have a tough time answering because for me there is no one definitive reason why I chose to do what I do. I just sort of fell into it naturally. I took a job as a dishwasher one summer when I was an unmotivated teenager. It was right around the time when I started to really get into food. I was watching the Food Network a lot and learning how to work with all sorts of foods. So I asked my boss the following summer if I could start cooking and he started me out making continental breakfast platters and flipping omelets. The rest is history. I donno...I guess I can say the way I know this is for me is because when I started it just felt right, and it hasn't felt wrong yet. Its the only thing I took to really. Its the only thing I was motivated to try and be great at. I know that's not the "I ate a chanterelle mushroom and ever since that day I knew I wanted to cook" type response but that's really it. I guess it just happened in the right place at the right time...

    I finally found the clip I recorded on my camera phone from the NYC food documentary, Eat This New York! The clip is of Daniel Boulud, owner of Daniel (3 Michelin Stars), Cafe Boulud, etc where he talks about how he became a chef and what it has been like for him. Towards the end of his speech he sort of embodies everything I want to say when people ask me why I chose this field but never found the right words to say it. If you have 5 minutes to spare watch the entire thing you will not be disappointed. That's all folks, check back in tomorrow night for all the diversity weekend updates!

P.S. sorry for my spotty camera work...

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