have begun to
and I'm not sure if I
you are just starting out in a career and
you finally "graduate" beyond
the line cook positions of the first five
or more years and you've become "The
Chef" the guests and critics start
the "ratings game" by comparing
you to the other restaurants in your neighborhood.
you are lucky and work very hard for several
more years, they may compare you to restaurants
in other cities, and then over more time
and sweat, burns and blisters, restaurants
in other states and then
you are happy with these evaluations and
sometimes you are dumbstruck. Sometimes
you realize (if you are smart) that some
of them have a valid viewpoint from time
to time and so you vow to improve. It may
mean finding a way to make your restaurant
more comfortable, have a better wine list
or simply to be even more dedicated than
you might have been before it. It may mean
coming in even earlier in the day.
truth is that we all want to score more
points than "the competition".
We are nurtured with the idea of it as children.
And the competition always changes. New
folks come along. Or, if you get categorized
with the restaurants in New York or San
Francisco or London you can be compared
favorably or less so than the chefs/restaurateurs
in those faraway places and you can feel
good or bad depending on what they say about
you and them. Or you can pretend to not
care. But it is pretending.
at this stage of my life, I've begun to
find a new form of competition.
while walking through our dining room I'll
overhear one guest remark to another, "He
is the chef who started Louie's Backyard"
(or "Mira" or "a Mano").
And sometimes that guest will look up at
me and smile and say, "That was the
best meal I ever had!"
very happy that so many of them loved my
work back then. But it can remind me of
the dilemma of a film actor who looks back
at his or her past efforts, sometimes years
before (yet locked forever in celluloid).
When I look back at my old menus I see my
rough edges, the glaring errors as I struggled
to learn how to integrate the language of
the cuisine I was learning to fuse.
cherish the memories of those places and
thank my lucky stars to have survived them.
Each one of them was a pitched battle in
which I was consumed with making a perfect
reflection for what I wanted my guests to
experience through taste and presentation
and cordiality - and even poetry, back then.
I was just a kid. The photos on the walls
over my desk bear too much proof.
I wonder. Will I one day hear from a guest,
"Oh yes. I loved the food."
" When?" I'll risk. And they'll
say, "When you were at NORMAN'S".