Top 10 Culinary Things I’m Thankful For

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For most chefs, holidays aren’t exactly the time for getting caught up in all the festivities and merriment of the moment.

In fact, we’re quite often the ones preparing the meals and the parties for other people’s festive moments and merriment.

Yep, part of the deal of being a chef is understanding early on that your dinner jacket is white and accessorized with an apron not a cumberbun. And your holiday parties aren’t social occasions; they’re work commitments. Because if you’re a chef, red numbers on the wall calendar mean black numbers on the bottom line.

In spite of it all, I love being a chef. And this time of the year, before it really gets off-the-hook busy, I like to step back, take a deep breath, and appreciate all the things I can be truly thankful for in this crazy food business.

1.  From the category All My Taste Isn’t in My Mouth: Spending a career serving customers a product in a public environment really opened my eyes to what does and doesn’t work when it comes to getting what you’d like in a restaurant or anywhere in the food service business. Nice guys really do finish first. I’m thankful I learned that lesson early on.

2.  I know what good food tastes like, and when I’m having a great meal, I feel bad for people who are paying good money for bad or mediocre food without realizing it. Having the education and experience to know when something is prepared exceptionally well is a gift I was given quite young, and I’ve never stopped being thankful for it.

3.  And speaking of education, if you can’t be thankful for the opportunity to have studied at and graduated from THE most prestigious culinary school in the world, The Culinary Institute of America, well, then there’s no hope for you. My years on that campus in Hyde Park were pretty darn special.

4.  I’m thankful there is a Food Network because it’s made a contribution to the notion that perhaps chefs aren’t dumb cooks after all (in spite of the fact that there are still WAY too many willing contestants on stupid reality shows trying to prove otherwise).

5.  Extended courtesies: I have to say that there are so many times I’ve been comped meals or received special treats from the kitchen that I feel guilty (but thankful!). Along with professional discounts at the national cookware stores, these things are among the best perks in the biz.

6.  Of course, unlike so many guys, I’m REALLY thankful I know how to cook–and cook well. I take it for granted that I can kick out an extremely high-quality meal, without recipes, anytime I’m in the mood.

7.  And each time I DO make a meal at home, I’m thankful that I have a professional, restaurant-quality kitchen to work in. It’s beautiful, efficient, and great for entertaining. I’m blessed, and it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Being a chef kind of justified it all, so I’m once again thankful to be a chef.

8. I know how to read between the lines of a menu. Chefs can write anything they want on paper. Executing it is quite another thing. When you know the staff is thin on Tuesday, you note that things on the menu aren’t exactly seasonal, and you know which vendors they buy from, you can easily figure out what you do and don’t want to order off the menu. Thankfully, I’ve suffered through fewer bad meals than most as a result.

9. There’s nothing easy about the food-service industry. We face long hours, stress, sharp knives, burns and other job-related hazards. Amidst that all, I’m thankful for the many fabulous relationships and life stories that have come from it. When you’re in the trenches with your fellow team members, lasting memories are the results.

10. Last, but not least, it’s a chef’s dream to be working at Nino’s, which is literally an ingredient toy chest. And when it’s time to be creative, a stroll through any one of our stores always inspires me to make something delicious. And who wouldn’t be thankful for that?