Why Do You Cook? Chef Corwin Kave Answers
Editor’s Note: This is the latest in our series “Why Do You Cook?”. Thank you to Chef Corwin Kave for his insightful essay on why he cooks.
Why do I cook?
I’ve spent the past few weeks repeatedly asking myself this question.
The first thing that comes to mind is, it’s what I do for a living. I cook to make money so I can ski, travel, eat, drink and take part in all the wonderful indulgences that make me so happy. Of course cooking is not all about the money for me or anyone else who cooks professionally. This career is too challenging and low paying to be all about the “dough”. My reasons and motivations for pursuing this craft dot a timeline waiting to be plucked like turnips. Mmmm turnips.
I started cooking because I was bored. Even though I didn’t realize it, I was struggling with my perception of education and the job market I was to inhabit.
Growing up as a teenager in suburban Long Island, I was always under the impression that I would one day have to stop smoking pot, driving around aimlessly, playing hacky-sack behind the gym and enter the “workforce”. And what I meant by “workforce” I really had no idea. It was clear to me that I would never be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, physicist, stockbroker or whatever. I felt lost. So I started cooking, and before long found myself in a vocational studies program for half my school day. I worked long nights as a bus boy, prep cook or dishwasher (the jobs were interchangeable back then). It was through this program, my chefs and my mother’s inspiration that I found my path and realized I could choose to practice a trade. I felt comfort when working with my hands, and I finally felt confidant in school.
I could be a chef; and I would never have to be intimidated by the workforce again.
I immerse myself in the richness, full lifeblood ideas that weave into everything I do.”
Upon entering culinary school, my reason for cooking was simple; I enjoyed feeding people. I would soon have the humble honor of supplying one of life’s basic needs, and I took comfort in knowing that there would always be demand for my skill no matter where I found myself.
My time in school at NECI was challenging. In those days students were required to have at least 2 years restaurant experience before applying. This policy ensured a student body full of ambitious cooks who took their education seriously; and it also ensured that I was one of the youngest students in the culinary program. I was living and working with men and women who were 5-15 years older than I, with far more real world restaurant experience. In this profession I’ve learned it is always best to surround yourself with cooks that are better than you whenever possible, and it’s because of this progressive working environment that the reasons why I wanted to cook grew so rapidly.
I learned the difference between proper and improper raising of animals and gained immense respect for product. My diet changed and I stopped eating fast food. I started to take an interest in where my food was coming from and who grew it. I was cooking for new reasons, and my instructors assured me that I would never stop learning, which was truly exciting for me.
Not so long ago the answer to “why do I cook?” would have immediately prompted an enthusiastic; I love the fast pace, I love the heat, I love the long hours, and I love my co-workers and fellow industry people. I love this lifestyle. I love the quiet time after a service when I can sharpen my knives and enjoy my shift drink. I love the kitchen after all the shelves are wiped down and the overnight stocks and braises are bubbling away.
I cook late and wake up early for the right to get the first Tri-Star strawberries of the season, or so I can simply get to the market before Gramercy Tavern wipes it all out. Pride and competition are major motivators for chefs. We love to share ideas, learn, and to push one another towards perfection.
Now that I am a little older, the reasons for why I cook have changed again, as they will continue to change. I cook because I love to eat. Young professional cooks so often neglect the simple act of eating and resort to only tasting components of plates. Too often I hear other chefs say they haven’t ever sat down to a meal in their own restaurant. How can you know how a dish eats if you never eat your own food?
Recently I was reading some crap online about how chefs all eat poorly because they work such long hours and get paid shit wages. When the day is over you may find them at the local bodega or at home eating a can of cold beans and sliced bread.
As someone who truly loves to cook, you must eat well. I don’t mean you must always spend lots of money on your food and dine at the finest establishments, but you must search out bold and exciting flavor combinations to train your palate. A chef sharpens their knives, polishes their shoes, and cares for their tools. Your palate is the most valuable tool in your kit. But eating well goes beyond the boundaries of flavor. It is also your responsibility to support local farmers, artisans and purveyors. You are feeding the masses and must take a certain level of responsibility when doing so. The general public looks to you for flavor, creativity, and entertainment but you are also, and I feel most importantly, providing nourishment.
You must go the extra mile to find the most sustainable, nutritious foods you can, to not only serve in your establishment, but also to feed yourself. Garbage in, garbage out.
I cook because I’m passionate. I love it. Cooking food, growing food, hospitality, I just fucking love it.
The love is cranking the grill down low over glowing embers and watching chicken skin stiffen and crackle. The love is 3-star Michelin service that makes me want to cry it’s so intimate, caring and elusive.
The love is walking a vineyard, gaining appreciation for terroir and subsequently the wine in the glass. There’s love in taking part in the life cycles of your food whether it be rearing and slaughtering animals or germinating and harvesting vegetation.
I immerse myself in the richness, full lifeblood ideas that weave into everything I do. Flavor. Family. Life. Death. Indulgence. Frugality.
I was reading the other day about a distiller in Brooklyn who drinks less now that he distills whiskey. That’s a healthy relationship; a relationship that I hope to one day form with alcohol before I drink myself to death. It’s a relationship formed from a respect for the product you work with and I cook so I may continue to grow this relationship and share my passion with every single one of you.
Thank you for asking the question and I’m happy I gave myself the time to answer it.
I always argue one of the most important things I do is to stop and think. And eat. I’ve done ample amounts of both while answering this question. Cheers.
It sounds like a simple question, but maybe it’s not so easily answered, “Why do you cook”?
Photo credit: Corwin Kave
Chris Regan and Ashley Mayne produce a wide array of delicious greens for the Hudson Valley.
With his new book, Forrest Pritchard tells the stories of 18 farms from all across America.
Forrest Pritchard and Smith Meadows are prime examples of sustainable family farming.
Jonathan Waxman shares his food philosophy with Slow Films.
A group of star chefs play with fire for a good cause.