Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The simmer of professionalism

Passion is easier to recognize by observation than by definition, so when someone sees me in my kitchen, they recognize my passion for cooking without my having to find the words for it.

Chef Tony Marano of the California Culinary Academy defined the passion for me today in his class, in word and deed. Both ways fed my own passion and reaffirmed for me why I am in culinary school, eagerly absorbing all I can.

The cooking method called simmering is defined in our textbook, "Professional Cooking" by Wayne Gisslen, as "bubbling gently."

Simmering describes my passion for culinary arts, and by the same definition, one must conclude that Chef Tony's passion for his profession is simmering.

Chef Tony demonstrates it daily in Culinary Foundations I, the class that by all rights sets the tone for student achievement, success and, yes, passion. Today, his demonstration was most vivid and at the same time humble and modest.

We students asked Chef Tony today to tell us his background. He walked us through descriptions of a series of jobs that started at dishwasher and led to the pinnacle of culinary achievement, in the best of restaurants and in his current calling to teach the profession -- and bring out the passion -- for successor generations.

"This is not just a craft. It's not just art. It's spiritual," Chef declaimed in response to a question of how he came to build professionalism and pride.

Twelve other students and I sat in rapt, silent attention, probably more attentive than we have been in Chef Tony's presence since the start of classes four weeks ago.

He spoke of the feeling one has at preparing a plate of food for someone who is willing to buy it, consume it and express gratitude for not only the taste and the flavor, but for the very act that brought it about.

"When you are preparing a plate for someone, that plate is your universe. Nothing else matters," Chef said. "It is sacred. When you come to that understanding, you can call yourself a professional. It is humbling."

That understanding and feeling, that humility at being able to create something pleasurable for someone -- and have the privilege of making a living at it -- is why I am in culinary school.

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