The Future Chef

Before this thing gripped us and seized us chefs and cooks by the back of the neck and squeezed; ere it grappled, subdued and tortured bartenders, dishwashers, servers and managers-restaurants were fun.

And prior to this insidious element? The one that took everyone spiraling down into the penumbra of unemployment netherworld, which is decidedly not fun…my thoughts were I had it all figured out.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

What seems a lifetime ago has only been a few months. But the way that fun is supposed to be, it hasn’t been. At all. Being smart is never fun. That’s how it feels, anyhow.

I started cooking because it’s fun, I’m good at it and it brings me joy. I certainly didn’t start cooking because of high pay, holidays and weekends off, early nights, safe work environments, drug and alcohol abuse, asshole chefs and even worse servers.

That’s all bonus. Part of the deal.

For the same reasons I started teaching others how to cook. College kids took my classes because they wanted to invest something in themselves. Turns out I’m good at that, too. I wanted to reach more people so I started a radio program. The Grand Table is all about food and music, and then that turned into a podcast. Five hundred shows and eleven years later, I’m still at it. It fills my soul.

Restaurants are dying.

The meteor is one that isn’t leaving a smoking crater, though. It’s invisible, like the fever that it is. Restaurants are not required activity, although they should be. They provide a social scene. People are social animals. Most of the cooks and chefs I know are huggers. We like touch, we are tactile. We cook, therefore we are. Cooking is a craft-it requires technique, competence and ability.

Morimoto shut down his New York City joint. Another great chef having to face his own version of a peculiar reality that relative few saw blossoming on the horizon. An event horizon, as it turns out. The food world has always been under the stern direction of Darwin, and it hasn’t been this evident of that ethos since, well, the Fall of Rome, perhaps?

Time to adapt.

After the Culinary Institute of America I became the private chef for the governor of Minnesota. For his first term, anyhow. Four years of cooking at a very high level; and now I find myself thanking my universe for the proficiency. Restaurants are dying, and part of me is dying, too.

In March of 2020, there were 162 restaurants in our little mountain town. If and when this thing gets under control, I would love to see all 162 restaurants back. Variety is the spice of life, no? But I’m plagued with doubt. Chef’s are an adaptable lot, it’s what we do. We don’t have to like it, it might not be fun, but for the most part we’re a smart lot. And being smart right now isn’t fun.

Chef Jason