Deep Thoughts About The Food Panel at The 92nd Street Y

Enjoyed the panel discussion tonight at the 92nd Street Y moderated by a blogger and featuring Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert (of Le Bernardin) and Gabrielle Hamilton (of Prune). The most fascinating part, for me, was the bit at the end about Rocco Dispirito as a cautionary tale of a chef who loses touch with his cooking in pursuit of his own fame. Kind of an Icarus story with frying pans instead of wings. I think what came through is that if you want to be a chef, you have to do it because you love to cook–for no other reason. “It’s like people who say they want to be rockstars instead of saying they want to be musicians,” offered Ms. Hamilton. Apparently people are entering cooking school now because they want to be famous. The panelists shook their heads in dismay.

The discussion reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, a quote attributed to the late playwright August Wilson. The quote is: “You’re entitled to the work, not the reward.” It’s the sort of thing you might tape over your desk to remind you that regardless of how much you fail or how much you succeed in your career, the work should be its own reward. The chefs on the panel are all people who take great pleasure in their work–who would be doing what they do regardless of whether or not they were successful. Cooking, as it was pointed out, is an honest field–there’s no bullshitting in the kitchen. And so it was refreshing tonight to see three people who live their lives honestly; who cook* because they must, not for a reward, but for passion. Quite inspiring.

* Re-reading this I realize that Anthony Bourdain isn’t a cook anymore. But his career still fits the bill. As he said, “I have the best job in the fucking world. I get to travel wherever the fuck I want and people pay me for it. I’m a lucky son of a bitch.” (That’s paraphrasing, but I think I captured the spirit of his sentiment.)

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