What is it about the food industry that has captivated so many of us? What is this draw that causes many to devote countless hours to perfecting their craft? Yet often, we limit this “craft” to what we find in restaurants. To be a chef or a server is what it means to be “in the industry”, but it is much bigger than that. It is the farmer, the food writer, the critic, the photographer, and food scientist. It is the grocery store owner and the coffee roaster. I like to think of the journey in food as walking through a house with thousands of rooms. You stroll from room to room, opening each door,pausing to peak in and taking a moment to learn from the occupants.
The past two weeks I have had the opportunity to talk to three people who have found their room. The first was a mixologist at our local speakeasy. Having a conversation with this gentleman is like getting a mini tutorial in cocktail history. He spends hours combing through libraries discovering old cocktail recipes. He is constantly making his own bitters, garnishes, and shrubs for his drinks. Give him any ingredient and he will make you something you have never tried before. Beyond making drinks, it is about embracing something new. Stopping yourself from getting the same thing and instead trusting the artist in front of you. After all, he has found his room.
Then there was the former employee whose dream was to have his own brewery. I have had countless conversations with him about beer, what he liked, what he has been brewing at home, and about when his dream would come true. Saturday he hosts his grand opening. His beer is proudly displayed at our restaurant and we spent this past weekend at a tasting. As he sat across from us describing each of his beers, he couldn’t help but smile. His expression was one of exhaustion and pride. He had settled into his room.
Tonight, I spent the past three hours talking with an Artisan Butcher. Not only has he spent the past five years devoting himself to butchery but he spent the past 90 days traveling in Europe working with butchers. He ended his experience with the infamous Dario Cecchini aka the Butcher of Panzano. He told me about why he wanted to be a restaurant butcher over a commercial butcher. In the restaurant, the chef will show you a cut of meat and you get to talk to them about what to do to get the flavor they are looking for. Need more fat? The butcher can tell you how to cut to get that result. As a restaurant butcher you see the end product. As a commercial butcher you focus on how clean the bone is, not what that dish becomes. We talked about the breeds of animals, the cuts of meats, and about whole animal utilization. We talked about how you explain to people that you are an artisan butcher and have them truly understand what it means. We deliberated on communicating your room.
As this industry grows and people focus more on their dinner table, there is a greater responsibility to describing this diversity of passions. To encourage people to grab a chair and stay a while in whatever room we find ourselves in. To show individuals how vast this industry is will benefit us all.
After all, what is it about the food industry that has captivated so many of us? Frankly, I have no idea but I hope that we all enjoy the stroll as we work to find our room.