Saturday, October 24, 2009

Focusing On Our Art

Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement.

Rita Mae Brown

We are all taught the invaluable lesson of staying focused early in life, being and staying focused reflects the quality in everything that we do.

One of my favorite stories about concentrating and focusing evolves around my daughter. As a parent, we attempt to instill the importance of focusing and concentrating, by such brilliant phrases past down through the generations "I don't think you are trying hard enough...", " can do anything you set you mind to...", etc. we all know the routine. One of my favorite lines was simply stating the word "concentration".

I value myself as being a quite good cribbage player. One year when she was about 8 or 9 I had entered a cribbage contest that was being sponsored in our little town of Dexter, Michigan. She was out playing with her friends and decided to come check up on me. Upon finding that Dad was getting his butt whooped, she lovingly slapped me in the back of my head and told me "...Dummy!!! you're not concentrating hard enough!!!" ha ha...I still lost the match, but it was one of those moments I will remember the rest of my life. It is funny when you are forced to realize that sometimes we need to practice what we preach

Focusing on tasks, no matter how menial, is a lesson that can be applied to each and every one of us, not only in our personal lives, but professionally as well. There is not a career known that can not learn a valuable lesson by evaluating the focus of the people that are our associates and developing that focus into newer, faster, more efficient methods of completing these tasks.

Dick Brennan, the son of the world-famous Dickie Brennan. of Dickie Brennan's Palace Cafe in New Orleans had once said that the key of getting and staying on top is specifically focusing on the three basics; good food, good service and good atmosphere.

Although the concept sounds easy enough, it is impossible to achieve any of these without disciplining ourselves to focus on details. From a chef's point of view, this can be broken down into a variety of sub-categories, such as purchasing the best food possible, preparing it with the care and expertise that our envisioned product demands, not only on a single ingredient, but each and every ingredient. Focusing on the entire method of preparation, execution and presentation. Giving one hundred percent of our focus on the task of completing our visions and ensuring that if we are preparing food for 2 or 2000 people that each and every dish is prepared perfectly and that the 2000th plate looks and tastes exactly as the first one. Without a vision and 110% of being focused this task would be impossible

As is with human nature, I take something that I think is well executed and attempt to find a quicker, more simple way to make it so that the next time I attempt this dish, this plate, that sauce or that next batch of 700 pounds of pork loin I have to prepare. I always evaluate the triumph of surviving the culinary war I just went through and wonder what I could have done differently. A Chef's ability to maintain focus in everything that he does as a chef, a cook, a culinarian is ultimately reflected in each and every thing he permits to leave his kitchen.

Although I have been in this business for quite a long time, thanks to my current mentor, Chef Bento, I have become more self-aware of this importance, thus taking me to another plateau of becoming a better chef and culinarian.

I personally have witnessed (and fallen prey to) the lack of focusing leading to a rough road right on the brink of failure, or un-success, if you will. When we take things for granted, is the time when we are setting ourselves up to fail. It used to be that I found doing a party of 25 more difficult than doing a party of 1250. In the words of Chef Bento I "...didn't respect the event...". A party of 25 demands just as much respect, discipline and focus as a party of 2500. For those of us that are serious about food and the hospitality industry, this is a very valuable lesson.

The old saying that practice leads to perfection, has never been more true than it is in our profession. Wolfgang Puck once said "When you have made as many mistakes as I have, then you will be as good as me". What it all boils down to (every pun intended) is that it is all about the basics. Discipline, staying focused, watching, listening, smelling, tasting, touching, slicing, dicing, marinating, teaching, learning. Mastering the basics of our art leads us to becoming better chef's, culinarians and gastronomes. But more importantly, it keeps us on top of our game.

This is who we are and this is what we do baby!!!!!

"Happy and successful cooking doesn't rely only on know-how; it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life."
Georges Blanc, Ma Cuisine des Saisons

Well, thanks for hanging out at the Chef's Office and reading the CheffyBabbles. If you care to comment on what you have read, would like to make a contribution to The Chef's Office on this topic, or have anything else you want to address please feel free to contact me at

Peace, Hugs and Cookies,


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