From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: Professional Chefs And Mathematics Professors: A Comparison

07/16/2014 10:57 am ET | Updated Sep 15, 2014

Easily, the most common question I get asked is "Which do you like better: Teaching Mathematics or Cooking?" And my response is always the same: "I like them both. When I am in the classroom, I like teaching and when I am in the kitchen, I like cooking." After several years of doing both, I decided to contemplate this question more thoughtfully. For now, this is what I've concluded (with some levity, of course):

1. As a chef, I am inspired by my ingredients. In a Mathematics class, my students rarely seem inspired.
2. My students want instant gratification (translation: the correct answer and the easiest method to arrive at it). As a chef, I often want instant gratification from my guest (usually after the first bite).
3. I hate grading student work. I love developing menus.
4. Mathematics is one of the purest of disciplines. I have contaminated most classical flavor profiles with my penchant for bold fusion cuisine.
5. Everybody is a chef these days. Even scientists and physicians will hesitate to admit being proficient in Mathematics.
6. While developing flavor in a dish, I rely on my physical senses. While developing and demonstrating a solution to a mathematical problem, I rely on my mental senses (and these days, also my eyesight).
7. I am a patient teacher. I am an impatient chef.
8. I am required to multitask in the kitchen. I am expected to be excruciatingly linear (step-by-step) when teaching Mathematics.
9. Being a chef requires the support of an entire "brigade". Being a Mathematics professor is mostly a solitary profession.
10. Mathematical discoveries have and continue to change the world. I am now learning that chefs can also change the world though their actions and advocacy.

I am glad that I don't have to choose yet, but if I had to, I would teach Mathematics part-time and run a small seafood cafe on a beach.

Hari Pulapaka is a three-time semifinalist for a James Beard Award-Best Chef South who serves on the Advisory Board of The Chef Action Network, a non-profit organization that connects chefs to tools and resources that will help them create significant and lasting change in their communities, the country and the world. CAN is focused on harnessing the power of America's preeminent chefs in support of a strong, sustainable, just and healthy food system. He and his wife Jenneffer, a podiatric surgeon own and run Cress restaurant in DeLand, FL. Hari also has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Florida and is a full-time tenured Associate Professor of Mathematics at Stetson University in DeLand, FL.