Food Is Not Art, and a Chef, No Matter How Great, Is Not an Artist

The age of the diva chef who acts like an opera or a rock star has been with us for pretty some time.

One of my first Philadelphia restaurant jobs became a busboy gig at the Barclay Hotel on Rittenhouse Square. The chef at that time changed into a soon-to-be-well-known nearby TV chef who later has become a global celeb. His tirades within the Barclay kitchen covered appearing out with butcher knives and screaming f-word invectives that filtered out into the ocean of white linen-blanketed tables in which there have been constantly groups of hatted girls.

I thanked my fortunate stars then that I was only a lowly busboy and out of the chef’s firing range and no longer one of the haggard-looking, psychologically overwhelmed down waiters, wounded from Chef’s verbal bullets. Chef was like a mad king because you never knew what could dissatisfy him or when or how he could lash out.

“Chef is having a bad day,” the maitre d’ might announce, as though describing an intellectual patient in a sanatorium isolation ward. In the one’s days, I could nicely understand why an actual artist like Cezanne or Picasso may throw his paintbrush against the wall or even break a canvass or two. However, I couldn’t wrap my thoughts around the same kind of emotion spent on developing food gadgets. Food is something you consume at a rapid tempo; it turned into by no means intended to be an artwork form.

Art, in spite of everything, is something that lasts, not something that finishes up in the human stomach, in lavatories, and in metropolis sewers. Food isn’t artwork, and a chef, regardless of how exceptional, isn’t always an artist.

Working a the Barclay Hotel had its perks. In the dining room, I met lots of Philadelphia’s movers and shakers. (Years later, while a waiter at John Wanamaker’s Crystal Tea Room, I met Margaret Hamilton, the witch from The Wizard of Oz, whose coated face nevertheless conjured up pictures of munchkins and swirling broomsticks). One day, Philadelphia civil rights pioneer Cecil B. Moore, a flesh-presser recognized for desegregating Girard College, turned to me (in between lengthy puffs of his cigar) and stated, “Boy, get me another glass of water.”

True, I changed into a boy, but Mr. Moore’s use of the word “boy” that afternoon appeared to have a unique significance. I had a wonderful impression then that Mr. Moore went around to all the restaurants in town and made it a point to call all of the white boys “boy” due to the fact he became dead set on making emotional reparations. No doubt Mr. Moore become out to show a factor approximately civil rights, and I fell into his firing range.

In Wanamaker’s Crystal Room, I barely noticed the chef there, which suggests that he turned into maximum not a diva but more of a chef line prepare dinner, a trifling first amongst equals. The Crystal Room’s largest draw became tea sandwiches and soup, an object with about as a lot elegant environment as the standard giveaway in homeless soup kitchens. The Crystal Room chef still wore the classic tall white hat, even though you’d never capture him strolling around the eating place shaking palms with VIP diners because of the “creator” of impressive minimalist dishes.

Today when a well-known chef walks among diners, he shakes hands like a baby-kisser regardless of the truth that his introduction has already disappeared into ratings of digestive tracts.

When I met superstar chef Wolfgang Puck many years in the past at a press event in Atlantic City, there was so much fanfare you’d have thought that an ex-president was within the room. As fellow journalists clamored to consume Mr. Puck’s trendy advent—flat-iron steak with peppercorn sauce and blue cheese butter—I observed little difference among Puck’s creation and an “ordinary” red meat kebob determined in maximum Asian eateries. I didn’t dare offer my opinion to the starstruck newshounds who ate with gusto and who didn’t appear to have any food troubles at all, unlike the percent of newshounds I traveled with to Israel a while in the past.

During that Israeli tour, one journalist claimed she could only consume gluten-free meals; another said she could consume simplest kosher meals while a 3rd turned into a strict vegan. The meals issues surfaced from our first actual meal when the gluten-unfastened author started out bombarding the waiter with questions. Would he list all the menu gadgets that were gluten-unfastened?

At one restaurant the vegan creator changed into a private investigator. “Is this truely vegan or is it pescetarian, pollotarian or is it lacto-ovo-vegetarian?”

“Let me see,” the server stated, disappearing into the kitchen to test with the chef.

Sometimes boost calls needed to be placed to eating places to make sure that vegan and gluten-unfastened dishes had been available. Our press coordinator becomes no longer organized for these meals issues. She very nearly had a meltdown while the ritual has become especially taxing at a tiny sandwich shop outdoor of Tel Aviv. All expectancies of grabbing a quick bite at the patio of this charming eating place earlier than our bus headed to Masada ended while the server started out taking orders. Once once more, the excruciating menu analysis the various foodies became a trial similar to dental surgical treatment. The server, who did now not recognize what gluten-unfastened become, needed to be given an on-the-spot lesson, and even then she struggled to recognize the concept.

The server wound up checking with the kitchen several instances for the duration of the 25-minute ordering manner, while the foodies stored converting their minds the instant they noticed something “purer” at the menu. When they canceled their orders due to the fact they decided they weren’t hungry in the end, our tour manual had had it.

“We spent twenty-5 minutes riding that bad server loopy, and ultimately, we walked out,” she stated, shaking her head. But because the excursion improved, matters concerning food were given worse instead of higher.

The quest for culinary purity became so extreme that we couldn’t even stop for water ice or a bagel without the recitation of the gluten-vegan drill. There became some remedy from listening to it while we ate at eating places that offered a buffet wherein I could watch as the foodies went down the buffet line and quizzed every prepare dinner or server approximately ingredients.

Our excursion guide exploded while the gluten-vegan drill slipped into overdrive.

“You Americans and your meals troubles,” she stated, her voice rising octaves. “I’ve in no way visible anything adores it. No depend wherein we visit consume; it takes a 1/2 hour just to order. In Europe in which I grew up, we were skilled as youngsters to consume a touch of the whole thing. Europeans do not have those troubles! You simply consume a touch of the entirety and also you stay healthful!”

I understand folks that are lactose intolerant, folks who hate mayo, peas, Brussels sprouts, lima beans, liver and onions, and bitter cream. I met my first strict vegetarian in Boston at age 20. He was a tall skinny man with a completely pallid complexion and for the longest time, I thought he become scuffling with a deadly illness. After he instructed me he became a vegetarian; I proceeded to invite him one hundred questions. Is he a vegetarian for spiritual motives? Is it about killing animals? What about fish? Then I requested him what he would do if it has been determined that vegetables had a few kinds of consciousness. Would kill a carrot be like killing a pig? Don’t mushrooms feel pain when they’re picked? I didn’t have the courage to ask him why the so-known as “more healthy vegetarian weight loss plan” made him so dangerous looking. Of direction, there weren’t many vegetarians within the United States in 1974. Vegetarians at that time were related to Indians in India, Hinduism, and the food in American Hare Krishna temples.

Let me say that while I enjoy some vegetarian ingredients, I could no longer want to turn this weight loss program into an obsessive culinary orthodoxy. That’s idolatry and idolatry is forbidden using the Ten Commandments.

Food, now not money, is the basis of all evil.