The Path Not Chosen: The Culinary Arts of Another Life

Whetstone and MAC knifeI want to become a chef. In fact, I always wanted to work in a fine restaurant where I could hone my craft and food around the clock. I wanted to learn how to create exotic sauces for classic French cuisine while I staged in kitchens throughout New York, Paris and Hong Kong. If I could only tell you how many people have asked me to start up an Inn or a bistro with them, then I might become sad I never followed through…ever. The reality is that in a game built to favour young apprentices who slave their way up through dish washing and vegetable prep for 20 years, it is a dream that has been taken off the table. There is no money in the culinary life.

So why did I never follow through if food and cooking were such a lofty aspiration? Perhaps it directly relates to what a professional chef would remark about a “foodie” like me: he has no idea what he wishes for in his fancy kitchen paid for with white collar work. Exactly, sort of…the reason I never followed through was that I knew perfectly well the dangers of becoming a professional chef/cook/burger flipper: poverty, no home life, hard hours and a broken back.

Kitchen knives

 

While I grew watching Julia Child, Charlie Trotter and that drunk cook from Vancouver on television, what I really wanted was to be in one of those insanely small kitchens with a dozen other lunatics wanting to turn out perfect plates of food with few resources beyond their knives and knowledge. I wanted to be told my soup was no good until it finally was, so much so that I contemplated going to NECI in Montpelier between graduate degrees. Money stopped me. At up to $60,000 of debt that would be incurred for what one could learn the hard way, it make zero financial sense. How would I ever make that money back when a chef might pull in $30-45,000 on average? How would I build a family when I was always in a restaurant? How would I stand up at 65 years old after years of abusing my back hunched over a mis en place? I wouldn’t, couldn’t and can’t…

At age 39 that leaves me with the path I am on: food photographer and educator who can afford to take “enthusiast” classes when he travels or has time off from his real job. It is a compromise, but most of our lives have to be if we are going to meet most of our lifetime dreams; some fall by the wayside to ensure others are fulfilled.

Soup

 

My afternoon was spent sharpening and learning how to make my knives into lethal vegetable slayers. With the whetstone I bought in Kyoto a few years back, I was able to bring back to life most of my favourite knives to a never before seen razor’s edge. I will admit that the straight razor has forced me into learning exactly how to build a sharp edge or face the consequences of pain and blood.

My morning was spent writing and recording a new song, sending a few final files in from my last photography session and cooking a classic minestrone from scratch. By using my friend Millage’s organic zucchini, carrots, garlic and peppers I created a nice balance in the chicken stock made from the carcasses leftover after the buttermilk chicken. Toss in a few handfuls of bronze-cut pasta and tomato paste and you are done. Tonight I am meeting up with an old, long-lost friend and tomorrow night has me learning how to butcher lamb and venison at Toronto’s Healthy Butcher. Life is a far distance away from the tiny galley kitchen I might be in, but it suits me just fine.

 

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