It's been exactly 545 days since my wife Heather and I opened our restaurant, Two Boroughs Larder. Since that day, I have counted every single minute of every hour in every one of those days. I am constantly wishing that there was simply more time, that if I just had a few more hours I could get caught up. I could get ahead of this game. Hell, I could even get some sleep.
Unfortunately, those extra hours never come and being "caught up" is a distant dream in this business. Yet we still jump out of bed every morning because there is always more work to be done. And because we love what that work entails.
I, for one, often wake up in the middle of the night because I can't stop thinking about a new dish, or how to cut labor, or why my food cost is 2 percent too high. Chefs thrive on this kind of stress — putting ourselves in situations in which we have bitten off more than we can chew, sometimes purely for the thrill of pushing ourselves. For example, I agreed to write this article.
I realize this sounds insane to some, but I'm certain that most chefs can relate to these feelings. This is, after all, the passion that drives us — the never-ending pursuit of perfection. The perfect loaf of bread, the perfectly cooked piece of fish, creating the perfect dining experience for a guest.
Sure, chefs often fall short of their own expectations or their diners' expectations. But the challenge to create something satisfying, nourishing, and thought-provoking, even if it means being at the brink of exhaustion, is why we keep showing up.
I find it inspiring to challenge myself in this way. It inspires me to work harder and faster, to push my coworkers. Because I know they have the ability to succeed, and that above all else they love working in a kitchen. They love seeing that smile on a diner's face when he or she has finished eating our food and they are completely content — with the meal, themselves, even life. The simple act of eating can be so satisfying and rewarding. There's nothing like it, and we in the kitchen love serving that kind of satisfaction.
So after 545 days, I've taken a moment to look back and reflect on our successes and failures, and I was actually a little overwhelmed at all that we've experienced. Because for every successful service, there was at least one small failure. It's what we learn from these failures that makes us better restaurant owners and better chefs. I've learned so much in this short amount of time, not just about cooking but also about being a good person. And I wouldn't change any of it.
I struggle with this question: What inspires me as a chef to create a dish? Is it the perfect piece of produce or a well-marbled piece of meat? I think, in part, it has to do with honoring the craft itself. But what that truly means is the question that plagues the mind of every cook in a professional kitchen. For me it is our creativity and the desire to put something beautiful in front of our diners.
I wish I could say that being handed the perfect potato is what inspires a dish, but it's so much more complex than that. I think the basis of any idea is really the story behind the potato as well as the person who grew it. My role as a chef is to be a liaison between those who grow our food and those who eat it. Creating a well-balanced, beautiful dish exemplifies the hard work someone put into an ingredient and is the least we can do to show our respect. So when the perfect carrot arrives on the guest's plate, I'm hoping that they see not only the chef who cooked it, but also all the people who devoted their energy to get it into our kitchen.
Taste, flavor, composition, and texture are the means by which chefs express appreciation for their diners and purveyors. So I suppose what truly inspires me as a chef is seeing the hard work of those who devote their lives to the endless pursuit of the perfect carrot.