In an interview with Esther Davidowitz, the food editor of the Bergen Record recently I mentioned that I approached my culinary creations as way to express my writing passion. She asked me to explain but I had never really thought about it I just always did so I gave it some consideration. I had a passion for writing since I can remember and I developed a passion for food because of that passion. Creative energy flowed through me into the dishes I created much like it did from my pen when I was young. When I was a young lad I carried a spiral notepad around with me and wrote whenever I felt I needed to express something. Truth is I have had no formal writing education. Yea I know, hard to believe until you actually read what I write and then it becomes painfully obvious. But then again it worked to my advantage because I had no structured rules to follow I just write how I feel. I don’t write to be right I write to be me. I write to release burning creative energy that constantly bounces around inside my brain looking for an escape hatch. So how does that relate to the career path of chefdom I roamed through? Well let me write you about it.
From the very second I came out of the womb I wanted to be different. When the doctor smacked my ass I didn’t cry, I laughed. Okay maybe a bit of a stretch, I don’t actually remember my coming out party but I was there. The real point is from a very young age I enjoyed disregarding the rules and practicing the art of uniqueness. I didn’t just color outside the lines, I made up my own lines. I added things that didn’t belong and used unrealistic colors, like green suns or purple trees. I wanted to color my own way. For me, that was art. When I went to school and entered my first art class it was painfully clear my talents where limited to making Ducco cement balls and really interesting stick figures. A future back windshield artist for young families aside, I had no apparent talent in art class at all. I couldn’t draw the most basic of structures. In fact I failed penmanship up until the third grade. Still I had an urge to create so I stuck to writing, illegible though it was. I started out writing silly poems. My idol at the time was Hallmark, because the poems in his cards were spectacular.
When I got to junior high school I took typing for three reasons. First the penmanship issue, second I knew it would help me in my writing, and third and most important it was full of girls. I failed typing because I focused too much on the third advantage but I had a fantastic year and the long term what little I did retain from typing class would help in the years to come. I was still writing, the poems took on a bit more maturity, politics began to form, and I started testing the waters of short story writing. In high school I had an assignment of writing a short story so I had an advantage. I actually wanted to do the assignment. I went with the tale of a couple of youths with liquid LSD robbing a cop car and losing the LSD when they crashed the car into a reservoir. The reservoir it turned out fed the towns water supply and all the families began tripping. It really wasn’t very good or well written and I feared the content would land me a visit with the principal and perhaps even a shrink, but I wrote what I felt. Instead of lecturing me about drugs and off color topics my teacher found it extremely creative and convinced me to take her creative writing elective course. I did, and I failed. Unfortunately the class was right after lunch during the ritualistic handball court marijuana smoke break and I missed too much of the class, either coming in late or missing it all together. Not really my fault, the weed in my town was always very high quality and hard to resist.
I talked a lot in school about going to college for journalism to learn how to write but as is often the case in dreams life got in the way and I changed course. I had been working in kitchens to make money to buy the great weed I mentioned when a thought occurred to me. I finally realized it would behoove me in my life to have a career so I went to culinary school and embarked on a gastronomic journey to find my culinary Zen. It was really the only thing I was good at but as it turned out I was really really good at it. I was working my way up to become a chef when I met an established chef who would become my mentor. Chef Patrick was a cutting edge French chef who was poised at the helm of the kitchen during the New York City culinary renaissance period. Food was beginning to change and long standing cornerstones of culinary traditions were being stretched and tested. No longer were parsley and watercress the only garnishes, imagination ruled the day. Red wine with fish and foods such as grilled grapes and goat cheese salad replaced the tried and true recipes that had worked well for over a century. Sorry Mr. Escoffier, but its time to move over and let the youth of culinary communities take over and deconstruct the classics. Cultures of foods were clashing and mashing and a slew of new creations appeared in top restaurants around the world. It was the ideal time for me, chefs were now coloring outside the lines, adding things, and painting purple trees and green suns in their dishes. Patrick taught me how to take my passion to write and inject that creative flow into my cooking.
I approached cooking the same way I approach writing. I see ingredients, colors textures smells and tastes and rearrange them to create biodegradable art that tantalizes all five of the senses. I know different ways to alter them and I pair them with other ingredients by my feeling not by a cookbook. I just imagine how different things would work together and instinctively know the right ratio or combo. Much like the writing. I see words, I know how to use them and what they mean, but its up to me to choose the ones I want and arrange them how I like to get across the feeling I want to share. Maybe it’s a concept to convey, maybe it’s a moral I want to impart, or maybe I just hope to elicit an emotion from anyone who reads it or tastes it. I don’t write what I know, I write what I feel. The truth is as much as I would enjoy reaching a wide audience I’m happy and grateful for the few people who take the time out to share the energy along with me. As a chef cooking was my Zen, but now as I no longer compete with young chefs but have my own little food niche, I have more time to focus on my first passion, my true Zen, writing.PEACE