Be a Cook First.

“You plant your garden and then you tend to it.”                                   Chef Jeffery Buben, Washington, D.C.

Jeff seemed to get the essence of our reason for being.  Us cooks, I mean.  He was a mentor of mine, at the ripe age of 25, when I began at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown in 1981. (Other great advice he gave me was 1) if you ever get a chance to work with Jean-Louis Palladin, stick it out as long as you possibly can, and 2) don’t let hotel security catch you with that joint.)

I owe Jeff a lot.

My first month at the Four Seasons I was assigned to fill in for the ‘garde manger’.  I was lost.  I had my work area with its stainless steel tables, walk-in refrigerator, and massive recipe book, but no clue.  I started day one with a list that included 300 dainty tea sandwiches: watercress, rose petals, cucumber, and such.  It took me three hours.  “Tomorrow, do them in two hours” Jeff directed.

And so it went.  Next it was twenty gallons of vinaigrette, three hundred cherry tomatoes stuffed with cheese and olives, then 150 deviled eggs, six vegetable platters, eight decorated cheese platters, four asparagus terrines, and don’t forget the six bowls of guacamole.  Then clean down everything and take your lunch break, we have a lot of work to do this afternoon.

I get a lunch break?

When I actually did get a chance to work for the great Jean-Louis Palladin, it was lunch and dinner with a two hour break in between.  Our work consumed our lives.  If you weren’t cooking, you were thinking about what you had to do for tomorrow.  And I need to tell you this: Jean-Louis may have been the greatest chef of the day, and certainly entitled to perks, yet in all the years I knew him he worked the ‘line’ every single night, unless he was cooking an event or out of town.  Not once did he say “hey guys, I’m going to take off tonight and hang out with my family”.  Thank god we were closed Sundays.

He wasn’t in it for fame.  At that time there were no famous chefs in America, at least so far as the dining public knew.  An award was nice, but not a goal.  A good review meant we would be busier and a bad review meant “we must work harder”.  He was a cook first, and a chef by default.


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