Speaking at a culinary education graduation was certainly a first for me... but still a good experience. And since it involves our granola and Amos House who hosts our little company, I thought I'd post part of my little speech.
I’m not really a chef, but I like to cook.Though to be honest, I’m not sure my father really approved of my cooking.He never said so, but I could kind of feel it—that the kitchen is a place for women.Men go in there to fix the toaster or maybe change a light bulb, but they don’t mess with a garlic clove.They certainly don’t mess with a turkey.I can’t be too hard on my dad since he’s not here to defend himself.He’s never asked me what I love about the kitchen, so I’ve never told him.But as your graduation speaker, I figured I could at least tell you.
One thing I love about the kitchen is that cooking involves reality.To cook well, you’ve got to respect and understand your ingredients and it’s good for the soul to live in reality rather than some fantasy world where there’s no pain and always a happy ending.Ingredients are like that. Making food taste good is an exercise in reality.If you want a certain bite to your pasta then you can’t let it boil until you feel like taking it out.And if you want a pie crust that’s flaky, you can’t treat the dough like play-do. Sure, there are mysteries:sometimes, when we make granola, five minutes in the oven is the difference between an amazing batch and a boring one.That’s a mystery—but there’s something real behind it—we just haven’t figured it out yet.
Each ingredient has its own qualities and requirements and possibilities and limitations.An almond won’t ever be a walnut.And it all matters: technique, attention, timing; the humidity in the air, what you chop off and throw away.The ordering, portions, and temperature—they all matter.So the kitchen can be a good place to develop respect for the little things that matter.I, like you, only get one life, so letting the kitchen teach me to live in reality has got to be good for me.It encourages respect, and attention, and curiosity, and groundedness.
The second thing I love about the kitchen is the way people have to work together.This is especially true in a commercial kitchen where all the pieces need to move together and with and around each other in order to function. That’s a picture of what relationships can be like.All the jobs in a kitchen matter.I love walking in this kitchen when people are cooking with Cornelius.It’s tight quarters.People have to look out for each other, and think ahead, and estimate how many seconds it’s going to take someone else to open and close that oven.It’s like a dance.And when it’s done gracefully it’s kind of magical.When it’s not, it can be a disaster.
I know kitchens are stressful.Believe me, we have our moments making granola.At the first job I ever had in a kitchen, one of the chefs got mad and picked up knife and nicked somebody.But that didn’t stop the dance.Someone cleaned up the blood and someone else got the fighters out the door, and someone else started pounding the veal picatta… and together we got back to the real business of getting the food on plates and out to the customers.That little dance had a purpose—a job to do that couldn’t be stopped.At its best that dance is a picture of what meaningful relationships are like.Each person is looking out for and interdependent on the other.Life outside the kitchen can be like that too, especially when a family or team of people know they have something important to do, and the kitchen is a great place to learn how those kinds of relationships work.
The third thing I love about the kitchen is the reason we do all this taking the ingredients seriously and working like dogs in a hot kitchen:it’s so people can enjoy the food.Cooking is an act of love to bring joy to other people.A nourishing joy.The other day I came in here Cornelius was alone working on these beef short ribs—making a little gift for his class.He was obviously happy.He knew you were going to love those ribs.He wanted me to try one because he knew I was going to love it.And I did.I feel that way when we make good granola and people get to eat it.It’s nourishing and sustaining; it tastes good, and makes people happy.I hope some of you walk or drive through this neighborhood on Tues or Wed nights and get a whiff of nuts roasting and honey caramelizing.It’s wonderful—a smell that brings joy.I think of it as our little gift to the neighborhood.
I’ll tell you something else I’ve realized:when my father comes for dinner, I think he forgets that men aren’t supposed to be in the kitchen.He gets busy enjoying the food, and you can tell he likes it because he always wants more.That may seem like a small thing, but not every son gets to bless his father.I get to do that when I cook.I get to bring some joy into his life.Maybe that’s what cooking is all about.It’s not a great way to get rich, but it’s a way to pay your bills and keep things real and count as part of a team by doing something that matters.And one way we know our life matters is if we’re blessing other people.
I’d like to say congratulations.We’re all here to say congratulations for your hard work. And we want to wish you well as you look for jobs in the kitchen.And we are happy for you that the way you live and cook could be blessing to other people.