Commentary

Chef’s Sunday: A Young Cook’s Dream

Duck Escabeche, a Creole Classic

Is it luck or a curse to be born in a family with a lot of gastronomic culture? If you do not like to cook, it must be a curse. You are always needed to peel potatoes or stir a dressing. Luckily for me I enjoyed cooking and especially receiving the culinary traditions that pass from generation to generation.

The art of cooking is a gift that you may receive at birth and that no one can take from you. There are many empirical cooks, as they say, that is those without formal culinary training, who are very successful in comparison with with many cooks who graduate from the best culinary institutes. They harvest success because of the passion they cary in their veins. They cook for pleasure and not because it is a fashionable profession. That is the great difference.

But it is also good to study in order to improve and expand the knowledge acquired at home.

Once you have entered a good culinary school, you realize that what you thought you knew is really nothing. There are so many culinary cultures from countries that are so ancient;  sophisticated cooking techniques that you could never imagine;  intense flavors or subtle textures far beyond the classic crispy or soft to get a contrast in flavors that only the best know how to accomplish in order to create an outstaning dish, so that with only a small taste your mouth will explode in intense flavor and you will feel the pleasure of eating.

Mixing a Sauce
Mixing a Sauce

On finishing school, you have great dreams of owning a restaurant, but those dreams seem unreachable once you enter your first job. Cooks with years of experience bring your feet to ground as you realize that school was only the first step on a long road whose end no one knows.

From the outside cooking seems a dreamy tale in which you happily cook in the company of a big-hearted and handsome chef, just like everyone believes.

Then you start thinking that studying gastronomy was the worst error of your life. The kitchen becomes the most stressful place where time passes without you being aware and its end is the most valuable thing of the day.

Lomo Saltado, Another Creole Classic
Lomo Saltado, Another Creole Classic

Each day in a restaurant, the cooks arrive hours before the restaurant opens in order to have everything ready. This is the time of what is called the mis en place, a French word that means prepare for the day of service.

MInutes before opening you are properly dressed with everything gleaming and in its proper place in order to wait for orders to begin.

Once the orders arrive dishes start coming out little by little according to their various times. But sometimes you realize you are surrounded by orders with the chef shouting out commands. Sometimes what he says is ten dishes ahead of where you are working. After a while all you here is blah blah blah blah blah from the sheer quantity of the dishes. This may sound funny, but a good cook has to have a great memory in order to not slow down the kitchen.

When you are new, you live in fear of messing up something. And, at some point that fear becomes a reality. Then the biggest monster of the kitchen attacks you, the chef. You have to keep doing things quickly while the chef releases all his stress on you. You have to receive insults worse than any you have every received in your life. But those insults make it so that you don’t make a mistake again. You become faster and your memory improves. You develop the perfect combination for a cook.

Sidewalk Cafe in Cuzco
Sidewalk Cafe in Cuzco

After spending time working in some of the best restaurants in Lima, I finally felt the security to leave my family and try my luck in other places.

Now I am in Cuzco trying my luck. I am looking to find a place to begin a restaurant to share my knowledge and art. I hope to help the people of Cuzco become more demanding of the restaurants that offer both national and foreign food. But this is just one step of my culinary adventure.

Sunlight in Cuzco
Sunlight in Cuzco
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