Monday, September 10, 2007
In a recent post I spoke of the lowliness of cooks and about our ancestral heritage being slaves and the poor. Today I would like to continue that line of thought but with a focus on one person and what he can teach us who share his profession. His name was Euphrosynos. He was a monk in the ninth century living in an Amorean monastery. His parents were poor and were unable to offer him any sort of education, the fate of many cooks as we have seen. Because Euphrosynos was uneducated when entered the monastery he was regulated to the kitchen, and, so the story goes, he was not well treated. The older, more educated monks treated him poorly and even berated and abused him at times, but through all of this, and in spite of all of this, he continued to cook and eventually found his salvation in the kitchen. Now, don't worry, this isn't a religious education class. What I want to focus on is the existential aspect of the story. We cooks find our "salvation" in the heat of the kitchen. For Paul Tillich, an existential theologian, who by the way did not believe in God, salvation was defined as the fulfillment of the ultimate meaning of existence. Sartre would say we define ourselves, who and what we are, by what we decide and how we act in this life. This is the way I approach my life in the kitchen. It is in the kitchen I find meaning and truth. While cooking is not the ultimate meaning of life, it is the vehicle which allows me to search and at times find what life is about. Like our ancestors, cooks of today are still often looked down upon by those for whom we cook. I'm not referring the superstar chefs who have attained celebrity status, they are a small minority. I'm referring to those of us who cook in anonymity. I can not recount the times I have been made to feel like someones personal servant, or the times, when talking to a table, thinking to myself that these people would not even acknowledge me if I were not the chef. I have always told young cooks to cook for themselves because if they cook for fame or acknowledgment or to keep the boss happy or or or..., they will not find fulfillment. They will not find meaning or, if I may, salvation. When the kitchen is approached existentially there is meaning and truth and beauty to be found. Saint Euphrosynos is the patron saint of cooks because he has been through the same trials and tribulations as all other cooks have and has come out in the end finding that truth, however you may define it, can be found while stirring pots.