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.)

9 comments

  1. Like I used to tell my cooks, esp the ones in Culinary School

    a) when you graduate, you are not a chef; you are a cook (like Rachel Ray, who has never to my knowledge, worked the line, managed a crew, ordered from 15 purveyors, held down a 28% food cost – she is NOT a chef, she is a cook)

    b) you have to LOVE to cook to do this for a living because you will never get paid enough not to

    c) The world may exhaust its need for celebrity chefs but will always need good cooks – everyone has to eat!

    ps was in NY on Sunday – Brunch at Prune, my favorite and dinner at the Spotted Pig which was disappointing.

  2. “moderated by a blogger” – my god man, Michael Ruhlman is one of the preeminent food writers in this country. You should have given him his props and used his name.

  3. What was Tony Bourdain’s response to this discussion? He has admitted himself that he doesn’t really cook anymore, and instead focuses on his TV and writing.

  4. Good to read: It’s the food. And in some cases, it’s the food writing. The rest is garni – wickedly sumptuous garni – but garni.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. Wow, that is a really interesting lecture. I took some cooking classes while in college because I was interested in nutrition. It has really only helped me not to make my family sick when I cook for them. At least it gives me something funny to write about most of the time. Very thoughtful.

  6. AG: This is perhaps the best post I’ve ever read from you.

    It IS about the work and you have to love the work. Period. As for Bourdain, that guy has been on the line long enough to have earned his chops way back when we were all still teenagers with acne.

    As for Rocco, I wish he had some real friends to help him. That guy is just out of control and in some desperate need of a shoulder to cry on.

    What a train wreck he turned out be. When you google “lost souls,” its spits back Rocco Dispirito.