Tuesday, December 2, 2008
How a cook sees her/himself makes up a fundamental part of that individuals cuisine. Does the cook view himself as traditionalist? Do she see herself as an artist? Or maybe as a mom just trying to get something healthy in the kids bellies? When the cook picks up his pan does he pick it up like a well oiled machine or does he see himself as just doing a job? You see, if I take a basket of ingredients and give it to each of the cooks just listed, that basket will live a different life under the influence of each philosophy or approach. I used to try to see myself as an artist but in the back of my mind I kept hearing, "bullshit, bullshit, you're not an artist." I was uncomfortable with the idea of being an "artist". There are chefs who are artists in the proper sense of the word. These chefs create edible works of art that are so delicate, so perfectly constructed, so beautiful in every aspect. They create food that spurs on conversation about the nature of food and often life itself. They create food that is controversial and cause others to question whether or not their food can be defined as food. That is what an artist does. That is not what I do. I don't cook food that would fit into the above category. Art is difficult to define. Art is often cerebral. Art has an undefinable quality. A great piece of art is often self-evident. No, I would place my food in the realm of craft, and when I think of craft I think of works that are made with skill using knowledge that comes from tradition but is applied to the present moment and often intended for practical purposes and with functionality in mind. I have some friends in Las Vegas who are from Eritrea, Africa. They have some amazing hand woven baskets they brought with them when they moved to the United States. These baskets are beautiful. They were made with a skill I could never master. They also have a practical function to them. They are exactly what I think of when I think of craft. Craft is often not something that is made perfectly, or with exacting standards, but is something that is skillfully made. I think the flaws of a well crafted item is often what makes that item unique to itself and in turn is the source of its beauty. In my food I have never aimed at the perfectly designed and executed dish. I like my food to have character, to have certain "flaws" that come not from inattentiveness, but from life. Just like a great jazz piece is one that has not been perfectly played but one that has its own life, and just as anything in life, its own flaws. Jazz, in my mind, is not a music that should be recorded in multiple takes and then pieced together. No, jazz should be played live without a net, flaws and all. I am more comfortable with my food now then I ever have been, and especially since I gave up the silly notion of me being an artist. I'm a craftsman. I believe in cooking well for no other reason than doing it well. So I guess I need to burn that black beret I own and turn in my turtle necks. I don't live in that rarefied air of the artist. I live in the dirt with the farmer, the basket weaver, and the jazz player trying to make a living.