I walked into the small make shift office of Maxwell Creed’s restaurant at the green age of 15. Stepping into the cluttered and paper strewn room, I extended my hand and greeted my future boss and mentor. After I was introduced to the smiling, gap-toothed, co-owner and executive chef; I was given a brief tour of the small kitchen and handed an apron. Shocked to learn that this was the entirety of my uniform, I quickly slid the apron over my head and tied it behind my back. Eager to learn what dishes I would be making, my mentor stunned me when he brought me to my station for the night, the dish pit. After a brief lesson in dishwashing accompanied by my instructors sing along to a Jay-Z rap song, I was on my own. The night began quickly and the dishes, along with the unfamiliar wait staff, came charging at my direction. I somehow was able to keep up with the barrage of chinaware and the barking of chefs yelling, “Pick up hot pans!” as I burned my tender fingers grabbing the glowing handles. Any breath of air I was given that night I spent leaning against the doorway of the kitchen eying and taking mental notes of the exquisite food that was being sent out. Despite the comments I received from the wait staff like, “you’re doing a good job holding that wall up,” I was determined to eye every plate possible. After the night was finally over and I had cleaned my dish area, taken out all the trash, and mopped the entire kitchen, I was free to go. Completely covered in grungy dishwater, I made a call to my parents to pick me up; it was 12:30 at night. Before leaving, the chef smiled at me with his goofy grin and told me great job and maybe I should bring two shirts to work next time. I was hooked; from my first day in a real kitchen I knew I wanted to be a chef.
This I believe is what truly makes a great chef: passion, desire, and a sincere love for the craft of cooking. To be able to not only withstand the hours and conditions a chef endures, but actually love and want to do it, is what separates chefs from cooks. It is said that chefs, like their food, actually slowly “bake their bodies” and age faster than most people. The darker skin, the grayer hair, the bags under the eyes, the numerous burns that run from the callused hands up to the ashy elbows, are all signs of a man who spends the majority of his life in a kitchen. When most people are out celebrating, romancing, or even sleeping, chefs are at work. But for passionate chefs, great chefs, it’s not only work but a way of life. Great chefs not only eat food everyday, but ponder it and analyze it every second they can. Great chefs go to bed with the Food Channel on, dream about food at night, and then wake up and scribble down a dish they were inspired to write. Great chefs pour every ounce of energy into each plate they serve because they know it is a representation of who they are as person. This is what I realized and found inside myself that first night of washing dishes. To work the worst station in a kitchen and love it was something eye opening for me. I owe this passionate soul, which I found within myself and can now see in other chefs, to the gap-toothed, always smiling chef who loved his job and taught me everything I know about cooking today.
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