Sunday, August 10, 2008

Being a Chef is NOT…As Seen on TV

“Being a chef takes humility, an artists’ touch, and Pride.”
-Chef Veronica Lindemann

I recently sat down for a conversation with Chef Veronica Lindemann and was reminded that humility and pride are the two characteristics vital to growing as a chef. However, these characteristics are not things that you would necessarily see when watching your favorite shows on the Food Network. The Food Network has popularized food by great lengths in the past decade. It has given the ever-growing viewing population insight to new foods, and shows everyone that food can be sexy. The subtle differences between textures that allow flavors to dance on your tongue
and across your palate, the power of smells to bring a person back to a place they haven’t thought of in years; these are the powers of food. The Food Network does a great job showing this relationship between food and people.
However, people surmise that what they see on television is absolute truth. No matter what subject, TV solidifies a persons perceptions, or helps them to create an opinion. Most people have dreams of grandeur and of being a star; this is what propels them to pick a life path, but if this is your sole reason for becoming a chef, you might as well, “Pack up your knives and go.”
You must possess the pride and humility to be able to say, “Yes, Chef!” Without flinching or wavering, while facing an angry chef screaming at you to, “make again,” because your cocottes were uneven. You must want to always strive to be better than you were when the day started. With this in mind, I sat down with Chef Vero, to get her insight into what it takes to be a chef in the Food Network era. Chef Veronica Lindemann has worked in the culinary world for almost 27 years. She has worked in various kitchens in New York, as well as spending six years working in Spain. Her knowledge and dedication to the advancement of her craft is what makes learning from her truly special.

Jeremy Hargrove: Why is being a chef not like TV?
Chef Veronica:
On television, they are more concerned with personality than cooking. They are more concerned with trying to find the next star. It seems that a very small percentage of “chefs” on these shows actually know how to cook. Being a chef is a lot about finding the unity within your self, the place from which you can discover great things and surprise yourself sometimes. I don’t like the Hollywood version of our profession, it paints this sort of one dimensional, chaotic picture that is not pleasant. Not all of the shows do this, Iron Chef for example, is exciting. You see creativity flowing through people while they are under great pressure and time constraint. It is very exciting to see what will come out of this chaos.
JH: Do you think Gordon Ramsey’s program, Hell’s Kitchen is a true portrait of how it is in the industry?
I have worked in kitchen’s that had a very calm atmosphere’s and were very adult. I have also worked in kitchen’s that were high strung with a lot of shouting. I think, as a Chef, you must have control and discipline. You must be firm and clear, or the kitchen falls apart. Some try to achieve this through fear and others try to attain this through mutual respect. I find that is much more rewarding and attainable to be calm and respectful. People tend to shut down when they are afraid or being screamed at. I am a bigger fan of Gordon’s other program where he goes into failing kitchens and tries to salvage them. It seems like it shows him in a better light. He is trying to break them down, so that they can start new.
JH: Nature vs. Nurture, Can anyone be a chef, or are some born with the innate ability to create great dishes?
Chef: As a teacher, you can only really teach technique. I try to help students identify the love and respect for food within themselves. Everyone has their own reasons why they do things and why they choose a certain path. Some people have had difficult lives. I try to nurture their growth as a chef. There is only so much that you can teach; the rest, is the student or chefs ability to constantly learn. If you are not learning, then you are not growing.
JH: Do you have any advice for those thinking about being a chef?
Chef: Think about your decision, don’t decide to be a chef on a whim. This craft takes hard work, and lots of time. You must be willing to make sacrifices. People must realize that they will make mistakes, but you can learn from them and get past them. I would recommend spending some time in the industry and making a list of your reasons for and against becoming a chef. After all of this, if you decide to go for it, then go for it 1000%. Make this your primary purpose and work at it. Start your training with an open mind and leave your ego at home. Cooking has been my saving grace, so you must find the passion to overcome everything and discover the artist within yourself-and by all means, enjoy yourself doing it!
Written by Jeremy Hargrove

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