A shortage of chefs is bedevilling restaurants across Australia according to an article I perused in The Age today with culinary creativity apparently no longer a popular career choice for young people.
A French Master Chef recently visited TasTAFE to not only pass on his expertise with food, but also help reduce the increasing drop-out rate of students in cookery courses.
It seems ironic that at the same time there is a plethora of cooking shows on TV, with untrained and unqualified wannabe chefs competing against renown culinary masters on several shows on both commercial and alternative TV networks. Indeed, one channel is now devoted exclusively to food. There are also specialist culinary supplements in our daily newspapers with recipes a particular focus on weekends.
Puzzled by this paradox, perhaps the reality is that being a career chef and slaving over a kitchen bench and a flaming grill for umpteen hours is ‘too hot’ for most wannabes to handle. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, as the saying goes. Indeed, one young apprentice chef commented recently on TV that his life was all “work”, no other time available for extra-curricular activities.
For me however, I can only applaud the attention food receives in the media as growing up studying home economics as part of my compulsory school curriculum in Years 7 & 8 left me uninterested in the culinary arts. For 12 months at school, I engaged in cooking rice puddings, suet rolls and date scones, occasionally trialling my newly acquired skills at home after dinner. Despite enjoying eating these treats, the artistry of creative cuisine did not feature on my future agenda.
My mother was not a culinary champion either with mealtimes a necessity of life rather than an opportunity to explore and experiment with enterprising, creative concoctions. Despite my father oft presenting our family with yummy French toast and pancakes for Sunday breakfast, dinner time was strictly my mother’s domain.
For more than a decade after leaving home and gainfully employed, I respected restaurant revelry, indulging my desire for delicious delights at dinner in a dim lit ambience, instead of preparing passionate plates of my own at home. With money to expend on expensive wining and dining, my creative culinary talents were waiting to be discovered. At 28-years-old, bored with continually ‘eating out’ and money a problem, I embarked on a whole new endeavour in the kitchen. Simultaneously, I was on a regimen to eat healthily and regain the fitness I had surrendered in pursuit of the ‘good life’, however erroneous and misleading it was.
As the beginning of an exciting journey into creative cooking, my pleasure in the kitchen was heightened by wanting, moreover needing, to consume tasty and tantalising food, playing passionately with the herbs, spices, and condiments as well as carefully choosing an array of vegetables to diversify my menus. Living in London on a strict budget, meat was expensive as was salmon, with my meals mainly consisting of mixed vegetables, various pastas and occasionally a steak sprinkled generously with a French garlic powder I espied in a European delicatessen. Enjoying my own cuisine inspired more forays into food, remembering all the Spanish gourmet meals I devoured and aspiring to replicate them myself, cooking tortillas, garlic and olive oil drenched prawns and a variety of edible tapas.
Back in Australia, I continued to traverse the tapestry of taste, inventing my own individual recipes with borrowed wisdom from books, newspapers and TV programs. Cooking is now a favourite pastime, thriving off discovering new taste sensations with a toss of a spice or a vegetable mixture hitherto untried. Reading recipes and chefs’ advice, I design and deliver meals I really enjoy, often surprised by my own culinary artistry and innovation.
With some serious suggestions from a friend, I have adapted and evolved new techniques to create new flavours for different foods, ensuring I don’t get bored with my own creations. There is always something new to try; something new to experiment with and how it tastes on the plate is a mystery until I actually taste it. I recently read a chef advising cooks to ‘love their mistakes’, but if the result tastes great, is it a mistake? Art involves trial and error and facing a blank canvas, a clean, white page or an empty plate challenges my senses to create; albeit without knowing exactly what the outcome will be. It can be a childlike pursuit, a gambit to toy happily with a range of ingredients similarly to dressing up a doll in fashionable garb by mixing and matching apparel according to style and elegance.
The accompanying smells and visage of my culinary creations serve to enhance the enjoyment of eating, mostly alone at my dinner table as I never married or had children. Cooking for friends as I do is a bonus, hoping their stomachs surrender pleasurably to the sight and smell of the meal, success writ large around my table. Organised, tidy and disciplined, cooking well does not necessarily demand hours in the kitchen; indeed, I prepare most of my meals in about 30-minutes., cleaning up as I proceed leaving a reasonably neat kitchen that only involves washing the dishes after eating.
As many people bemoan cooking as a repetitive chore, opening the fridge door with glee not glumness can herald ‘orgasmic’ taste sensations with a whole new horizon of sensual excitement; a joy to be savoured not a basic, boring routine.