Friday, November 13, 2009

One template; two paths

The challenge of intensely hard work on strict deadlines is not strange to me. Add a measure of creative need to the challenge, and it looks a lot like my previous career as a newspaper editor.

Seen through that lens, the culture of professional cooking is more familiar, and that is lenitive:

* The organized chaos at the start of a day's work. In cooking, do I have my knife and mise en place? In newspapering, what's my assignment, whom will I interview and what's my lead?

* Making adjustments on the fly through improvisation. In cooking, how do I bring back a sauce that I reduced too far? (Add a little water). In newspapering, what if my source doesn't call me back? (Call someone else or write around it).

* Bearing the scrutiny of the boss prowling the room. In cooking, it's the hot line, where the pots and pans are filled and heating. In the newsroom, it starts at the city desk and moves to the copy desk as deadline nears.

* Strictly adhering to deadline. In cooking, it's plating the food and getting it to customers' tables. In newspapering, it's getting the press started and the trucks rolling so people can read with breakfast.

Many other parallels come to mind, yet so many of the details are new -- simmer vs. rolling boil, when to use whole butter vs. clarified, how to counteract acid (add sugar), what does "done" mean, the benefits and perils of moisture -- that I feel as if I were back at Week 1 of my newspaper career. That week in June 1970, a veteran reporter got fired, jolting me to attention that this was reality.

This nascent cooking career is still at the school level and only the end of the seventh week, but it has a tangible sense of reality. It comes starkly in the heat of the 65,000 BTU stove burners (4 times what you get from your average home stove) and the quick sharpness of the knives. It comes subtly in how a low-heat wine reduction releases its perfume or how the sizzle of a sauté gains a few decibels when the meat is done.

It comes most of all in the rush of adrenaline when one's senses are triggered by sight, sound, smell, feel and taste of food that when eaten will make a difference in someone's day.

The same rush that came when one's senses about fair play, good vs. evil, enlightenment and justice were triggered by getting a news story that would make a change or set someone into action for the better.

One template; two paths.

(Top photo shows me in December 1983 as business editor of the Tucson Citizen; bottom photo shows me in October 2009 as a culinary arts student at the California Culinary Academy.)

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