So a couple things. One is that a person who cooks is not necessarily a chef and a chef does not necessarily cook. Chef is a French word meaning “chief” (boss), thus a person who cooks for a living is not a chef if not in charge of the kitchen, they are a cook. And that is okay. A chef is in charge of everything that happens in a kitchen, from staffing, to costs, and of course the food. You’ll see why I mention this soon enough.
You may have gathered by now that this picture is me. It was taken on this very day 35 years ago, September 26, 1986. I’m standing on the steps of Roth Hall at the Culinary Institute of America on graduation day.
It’s interesting, and this is why I am posting this. Upon graduation I aspired to be a sous chef (under chef) and never thought I’d make it to be a chef. I never could have imagined that just two years after this photo I would land the job as chef; a position I would hold in various places for more than three decades. I’d also go on the study at Le Cordon Bleu (Ottawa and Paris) and be awarded full scholarship to study at the School for American Chefs in Napa Valley. I’d eventually write food columns and be published locally, nationally, and internationally.
So this is why I am posting this, and some of you may know this back story. I was a kid born in a public housing project on Buffalo’s east side. Both my parents made their transition before my 17th birthday. People in my family did not go to college, we got jobs. Yet somehow I was able to do this. And that, I suppose, is the moral of this story. One can do or be what they want if they truly put their mind to it.
Life comes in chapters. And as the big six-oh looms on the horizon I am in a much different place than I was 35 years ago. I still cook (but am not longer a chef) but now at a group home for the formerly homeless. To use a phrase from the theologian Henri Nouwen, I voluntarily chose “downward mobility.”
Life is about living, not collecting things or titles. I am convinced of this. And now I also do not dread getting older but look forward to it, not everyone has that luxury. There is still so much to do. And now I’ll step off my little soapbox.