Rising to Greatness
We've just announced our 2009 Seattle Rising Stars a group of 15 seriously talented and driven chefs, pastry chefs, a sommelier, and mixologist. Each of these Northwest award winners offers a little something special to their local and national culinary scene—from Colin Patterson's inventive vegetarian plates with whole body goodness; Mark Fuller's specialization in regional seafood; Maria Hines' complete dedication to sustainability; to Dana Cree's toned down but high-tech(nique) sweet stuff. Read more about each of the Seattle Rising Stars in Why They Shine.
In picking the Rising Stars for Seattle, thinking about what makes each of them shine so brightly, and anticipating the year to come, we started reflecting upon what it takes to be a chef in this crazy, work-your-fingers-to-the-bone industry. I'm not talking about what it takes to be just any chef—I mean what it takes to be a successful chef, a leading chef, a great chef. A rock-hard work ethic, skill with a knife and sauté pan, willingness to work long hours for low pay—those attributes are a given. But what differentiates a good chef from a great chef, and, more importantly, what can you do to achieve greatness?
It's an age-old question for the industry. What made Escoffier write that first draft of his cookbook? Why did Thomas Keller open his now landmark French Laundry in a then out-of-the-way Napa Valley town? How did Ferran Adria or Grant Achatz come to use calcium chloride or tapioca maltodextrin for any of their dishes?
It goes without saying that any of the chefs named above are exceptionally talented; they paid their dues by working hard and learning everything they can; they possess extraordinary drive, ambition, and perhaps a particular skill or method of thinking that is distinctive to them.
But what's to keep any chef from developing any of these things and go beyond just following directions or the routine of your typical day? You can always learn more—from chefs you work under, those you work next to, and even those who you might think know less; from reading, staging on your days off, traveling for culinary exploration on your vacation, or good old fashion trial and error.
Why not take some time out of your week to read about Star Chef Rick Moonen and his dedication to sustainable seafood? Check out industry events and symposiums, like our own ICC or this year's Madrid Fusion. Learn about techniques, like Rick Billings' Frozen Foam. Get the scoop on how chefs are reinventing Old World classics, like spaetzle. Take up an interest in learning about wine—you can start with our Recently Tasted Vol. 26 or Riesling Revealed.
We're only two weeks into 2009; it's not too late for reflecting on what you accomplished in 2008 and to set goals for 2009. There's no question that 2009 will pose challenges to the restaurant industry, to you professionally, and maybe even personally. The biggest challenge by far already is the economy—tough economic times are ahead; restaurants will close; staff will be cut back. Will you have to lay off your friends or see your friends get laid off? It’s not a time to rest on your laurels.
Take this opportunity to set goals and set yourself apart, rise above the others, become a star—even if you're not in one of our 2009 Rising Stars cities (Seattle, Boston, California Wine Country, or New York City), or already have 20 or 30 years of experience under your belt. No matter the challenges ahead, there’s always opportunity to rise to greatness.