12/29/2014 03:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From The Ivory Tower Kitchen: I Cook Therefore I Am

"Cogito ergo sum" may be René Descartes' most famous quote. As a child, being in the moment or just being, was more my style. My mother often reminded me that a complete life involved having goals and working diligently towards achieving them. The ultimate goal may very well be to have a led a life filled with purpose, action and sometimes, inaction. The title of this piece could just as easily be "I Teach Therefore I Am." No matter the occupation, giving of one's self fully, honestly and thoughtfully is really all we can do. Anyone who cooks for a living has the opportunity to touch the lives of everyone around them in ways deeper than we can sometimes imagine. The daily grind may seem isolated, but the reality is that at the receiving end of one's labor, we have the opportunity to provide joy, appreciation, satisfaction and often, some insight into what we do. We also have the opportunity to harness the collective power of the hardworking individuals who provide us with the tools and resources for our profession. The artisans who provide us with the ingredients we use to showcase our creativity and the supporting cast which communicates our vision, are invariably touched by what we do. Perhaps more importantly, they are influenced by how we do it.


During the past few days, I watched two current, popular and well-regarded movies about chefs and their lifestyles. Each movie touched me significantly, but in markedly different ways. The first tugged at my emotions as an immigrant in the United States having taken a leap of faith 27 years ago. The second brought home the fact that cooks and chefs can be ego junkies, but not beyond simply needing an appreciation for the craft. The accolades and limelight are not worth much if we are not able to honestly and fully put our passion into practice. Just like student teaching evaluations, I expect reviews of what I do in a kitchen to be positive and when they are not, at least for a few moments, I begin questioning everything. As cooks, we wear our emotions on our sleeves. This may be partly because our craft is designed for instant gratification. Furthermore, as I often say to guests, I am only as good as the last salad I may have composed. Once a dish leaves the kitchen, I am responsible for all that it is or isn't. This is true even when I am not in the kitchen. The greatest lesson I've taken away from cooking for a living is that while owning one's shortcomings (often, after the fact) is important, it isn't nearly as important as being true to one's principles, ideals, and self.

Life is short and fragile enough that one doesn't really need much incentive to give it one's best shot. "I cook therefore I am" because if I wasn't, then I couldn't be.