The dictionary may define a “vice” as a bad habit or fault, but sometimes those habits cause less harm than the definition may imply and far more joy than one might assume. We all have a vice or two, some are related to our personal lives and occasionally they are connected to what we do for a living, but in the case of the cook these vices tend to connect almost entirely with that career in the kitchen. Here are some of the “legal” ones that make a cook’s life complete and sometimes deplete their checkbook.
The smell, texture, and flavor of quality bread especially right from the oven with a generous spoon full of salty butter, is maybe one of the most anticipated and revered experiences in a kitchen. The anticipation of the experience is nearly as important to a cook as actually consuming that first slice.
CHEESE OF ALL KINDS
Once a cook has been exposed to quality cheese then he or she is spoiled for life. The transition from Kraft singles to that first quality Brie or Epoisses from France, Goat’s Cheese from Vermont Creamery, Bleu from Jasper Hill, Manchego from Spain, or perfectly aged Romano from Italy is dramatic and eye opening. Cheese becomes one of a cook’s most expensive habits.
It may have been Julia Child who said if you don’t want to use too much butter you can always substitute heavy cream, but to a cook it is butter that defines great flavor. I even know a serious cook who had a tattoo of a pound of butter emblazoned on his bicep.
Life is too short to drink cheap wine. A cook has an opportunity and almost a responsibility to learn as much about good wine as possible. The only real way to a good wine education is to drink it and cooks will often view this as a mission in life.
THAT SPECIAL BEER
Just as drinking good wine is essential to a cook’s education – transitioning from PBR or Bud to craft beers is enlightening and incredibly gratifying to a person who is serious about food. Cooks can easily become obsessed with testing the waters and finding that beer experience that is as complex and gratifying as any wine experience.
Cooks love fermented products: bread, cheese, wine, beer and charcuterie all fall into this category. Watch how contemporary cooks have rediscovered the art of charcuterie from fresh sausages to deeply cured hams, salami, pates, terrines, and galantines. A perfect meal to a serious cook is great bread, intense cheese, salty charcuterie, a few cornichons, and a great glass of wine or beer.
SHORT LIVED RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER RESTAURANT EMPLOYEES
It is probably due to the strange work hours that cooks keep and the intensity of the environment where they practice their trade, but cooks (male and female) seem to easily fall into the challenges of relationships at work. Although the best intentions are there, these relationships rarely turn out well.
THE ADRENALINE RUSH OF A BUSY NIGHT
Cooks are totally addicted to the high stress intensity of a busy night, especially that push around peak times when everything seems to be totally on edge and impossible. For whatever reasons this high adrenaline, blood pressure driven experience brings cooks back every day looking for more.
PASTA AND PIZZA
Some of most common comfort foods for a cook on the job are pasta and pizza. It may be the need for high energy carbs, the universally gratifying flavors, or the ease with which these items can be consumed standing up while still working at a station – in any case this is a cook’s go to menu.
Cooks might have a tough time paying their rent, filling their home refrigerators, or finding a few dollars for gas, but they will always scrape together enough cash to buy that $250 Shun knife that they always wanted to add to their arsenal of a dozen or so “must have” tools. They care for these knives with obsessive behavior and totally freak out if anyone even touches one of their blades.
A TATTOO THAT SHOWS HE OR SHE IS A SERIOUS COOK
Yes, this seems to be a time when tattoos are no longer the exception, but the rule. It is becoming harder and harder to find a person under the age of 40 that doesn’t have some type of body art. A cook may be one of the few types of individuals who insist on adding numerous details that pay homage to knives, food, animal anatomy, or cooking terminology. Some might see this as compulsive where others view it as dedication and membership to a club of unique professionals.
Next to a cook’s knives his or her shoes are oftentimes the next essential investment. Every cook knows that the right shoes can make work a whole lot more enjoyable and the wrong shoes will quickly result in foot, back, and leg pain, headaches, and miserable attitude.
RAMEN AND PHO
When a cook is off of work then there is a transition from the quick comfort of pasta and pizza to something that stimulates all of the senses – Ramen and Pho are the most important meals of choice – full flavored, spicy, fun, varied in texture, and spiritually enlightening – a bowl of noodles is inspiring.
MUSIC THAT FEEDS THE RUSH
Music is important to everyone, but to a cook music is also essential to work patterns. Laid back music to wake up to, intense and fast paced music during prep, and light and soothing music during the adrenaline push of the rush are all critical. Some chefs don’t allow music of any type in the kitchen, but if managed correctly music can set the right tempo to different parts of the workday.
“Needs salt” is one of the most common responses to tastings that happen constantly in the kitchen. Salt seems to serve as the answer to flavors that have not been fully developed and as a result can quickly become a fault in cooking. Salt does help to bring flavors to the surface, but can also overpower and take away from the flavors that are there waiting to come forward. Many cooks have a salt addiction.
OK, one of the most vivid food epiphanies that almost every cook has is that first, fresh from the ocean oyster with the wonderful, briny liquor that is hidden under it’s shell. Once experienced this wonder food then a cook is hooked. It might be partly because there is always a struggle to get to the meat and working for your meal is always stimulating, but most would agree it is the unique flavor and texture that wins the day.
FOIE GRAS AS LONG AS SOMEONE ELSE IS PAYING FOR IT
Not every cook has a chance to work with duck liver, but once they have seared a slab of foie gras in a hot pan, and served it with the right accutrements then the experience becomes imbedded in his or her brain forever. Any chance that a cook has to consume foie gras that the chef or restaurant pays for is taken with a veracity of passion.
Cooks drink lots of coffee, strong coffee, good and bad coffee – sometimes black or sometimes with way too much sugar and cream, when they can as espresso and with lots of zeal as cappuccino with a bit of art work on top. Coffee is essential to a cook – one of the food groups that they can’t survive without.
ANY SENTENCE WITH A FOUR-LETTER WORD
As a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective – four letter words seem to spring eternal in the kitchen. As much as chefs may try to temper it – for some reasons it has been accepted as a universal language for cooks. Most become immune after a while and don’t even realize that they are using them with excess until they are out in public and talk with reckless kitchen abandon to the surprise of others.
It may seem strange to talk about rough and blistered hands as a vice, but those cook’s claws are a visual representation of how hard they work. Just as beat up hands are a badge of honor to tradespeople, construction workers and farmers, so too are they symbols of a cook.
HEAT AND FIRE
Finally, every cook is obsessed with standing over a cherry red range burner, the melt your skin off 750 degrees of a wood fired oven, or the 4 – inch flames from a char-broiler that are essential to searing a perfect steak or chop. Cooks sweat – that’s what they do.
This is a sampling of a kitchen warriors vices – most of them are enjoyable.
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