11/05/2014 09:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: The Total Restaurant

"Everything in Moderation (including moderation)", they say. While this formula for life doesn't work for all, it has by and large worked for me until now as I juggle two full-time, intense careers as best as I can. Ten years ago, there was nothing moderate about my year-long 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. schedule as I taught full time, commuted about 120 miles a day, and attended culinary school at night. Culinary school like any educational endeavor is what you make of it. I listened, put my head down, and learned every aspect of what I could. The teacher was never wrong and they always knew more than I.


Today, even as my reputation is one of being heavy-handed with flavors, I am always trying to achieve balance in the food I prepare. One would be hard pressed to find a contemporary restaurant serve a house-made butcher's board without the complementary flavors of intense pickles and condiments. The flavors are designed to be intense, yet depending on which combination bite you take, you will either experience moderation (balance) or not. As a teacher, my style is one of finding a balance between giving away the answer without much resistance and encouraging self-exploration so that students are able to find the answer on their own. In the kitchen, my style is definitely more of the latter. Generally speaking, robots need not apply. This is somewhat contrary to the classical French kitchen brigade which taught mastery in well-defined tasks at specific stations. My style is more aligned with "total football" as conceived and mastered by the likes of Johann Cruyff and his teammates of the famed Dutch football teams of the 1970s.

In my ideal restaurant, servers would know food prep and be willing to clean grease traps and dishwashers would know proper wine service. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but ingenuity stems from curiosity. In mathematics, the last accepted Universalist was Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) because he was intensely interested and excelled in all fields of the discipline. No matter the concept, can you imagine a restaurant where every staff member is aiming to excel at every aspect of the restaurant and not just their immediate job description? Of course, compensation must follow and yes, it's just a job for some (many), but this is my dream. In my total restaurant, every table is a chef's table and the wait staff creates the amuse bouche for the day. The farmer dines at the restaurant which showcases the farm's produce and the wine representative wants to ensure that their empty wine bottles are being properly re-cycled. In the total restaurant, it should be easy to accept that the guest is never wrong and the owner never compromises integrity for profit. The guest cares about food waste as much as the chef.

We are all striving to be capable, maybe to even be proficient. Nowadays, one is accused of being an over-achiever just because they may be intensely interested enough in a variety of what life has to offer. And sometimes, we strive to reach heights only constrained by our own imagination. The total restaurant is one of my metaphors for living. Someone asked me recently to use 6 words (allowing contractions) to describe my life. After some thought, because I was having a hard time counting silently, I came up with "I've lived every moment until now."