We do not opt for a culture process that leaders are not on board with, a process without clarity on purpose and values, a disarticulated process without continuity, a process that doesn’t correspond to the organization’s realities and to the real persons it comprises, a process that doesn’t link the culture of actions and of strategies, a process that doesn’t seek to emotionally commit people through inspiration.
Because of this we must insist:
We don’t conceive of the culture strengthening process as an intervention that turns humans into superheroes.
Just as in culture, in gastronomy there are elements we opt for and others we don’t, there are ways of thinking we align ourselves with and others we don’t.
Thus, we ask ourselves:
Chef: To be or not to be?
Certain cooking schools have created confusion surrounding the craft of cooking by offering their students the title of Chef. Nobody graduates as a chef. You get appointed chef, but you study to be a cook. In the 90s, when gastronomy became fashionable and some people thought that this was all about becoming famous, everything changed. Now many don’t just pay to study, they pay to be seen: they have communicators, representatives and community managers.
Independent of the title you want to give yourself, there are many conditions and characteristics inherent to those of us that do this job, 90% heart, 10% reason:
Insomnia and long nights: a passion for the pots is not enough. This calling requires effort and dedication. Many people say they are passionate about the kitchen, but have little to no passion for the work. We work during the week, even more on the weekend, and on special dates and at Christmas when everyone celebrates is when we have the most work. And although we enter by the back door, we’re very happy.
Love: we live between marriages and divorces. We work in hot environments, full of hormones, during long daytime and nighttime shifts that foster forbidden loves behind closed doors. Culinary odors and humors make lasting relationships difficult. We get home wanting to sleep in our beds and smelling like a fry-up.
Art: Neither the vanity of the artist, nor the humility of the artisan, but both. Some have confused the art of cooking with dishes from the Guggenheim, with minimalist presentation to be able to charge a lot and kill with hunger. A cook’s art is flavor; flavor is memorable. Nobody remembers a sprig of rosemary on the plate, just like nobody forgets a great flavor. Table fashion is ephemeral, but the classics are eternal.
Riches: It’s easy to become rich with a multinational fast-food chain, especially when immersed in a culture where everything seems so expensive. Whoever is studying to become rich still has time to choose another career. In 99% of the cases, rich cooks were already rich before they started studying. This is a job where you have a good time. We accumulate riches with the smiles of happy customers.
The Pastry Chef: (Translator’s note: In Spanish, the word “pastelero” which translates literally as “Pastry Chef”, is also used to denote a person who copies other people’s work to get good grades in class) Not the person making pastries, but the person that copies others. His best idea is to do what successful cooks do. If you’re studying just to copy, you’ve lost your money. The goal of any cook is to create his or her own dishes, discover new flavors, develop what your mother calls “spice” and the academics call “alchemy” or simply “a hand,” integrating talent, study and instinct. Necessity is the best university.
Sad people: insomnia means not sleeping because of your own difficulties, but it’s disgraceful to lose sleep over the success of others. Standing at the entrance to their business, they don’t complain about their own empty tables, but about their neighbors’ full ones. Resentment corrodes them. They waste their energy.
Colleagues: Only through union and by working together is there a future for gastronomic culture. If we all do well, each of us does well. It’s better to make friends than competitors, even if it’s just to get a discount on whisky.
Gastronomy bloggers, critics and journalists: These appeared suddenly from one day to the next. A few are knowledgeable and objective, others improvise and sell themselves to the highest bidder. In the rest of the world, they are gastronomists with hidden faces; here they mingle with the celebrities, eat for free and write for pay.
Gourmet: This used to be a noun that referred to a person that spends their life travelling, eating, researching and trying food: a gastronomist. Here it was turned into an adjective to serve small and charge big. Today everything is gourmet: empanadas, tamales, mazamorra and masseuses. When everything is gourmet, nothing is gourmet.
Customers: The beginning and the end of everything. To build a culture of gastronomy, we need to educate knowledgeable, intelligent and challenging customers, who know how to make critical demands. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which a happy customer is multiplied according to an arithmetic progression, and an unhappy one according to a geometric one. Speaking badly is captivating.
The New Chef: The new chef goes off to Chocó on a vacation dedicated to finding herbs and comes back convinces that a cock’s crest foam is a manifestation of the Pacific’s cultural roots. They swear that they’re supporting farmers when they go off in their trucks to haggle the price of tomatoes down to a fourth of what they cost in the supermarket. They do their utmost to make presentations full of decorations that get thrown out, or worse, are moved from dish to dish.
This caricature of the trade, is really a portrait of a few, very few. Fortunately, we’re filling up with talented people that study and go out of their way to find the best flavor in the world. We’re growing, and that’s where the glory is.
The recipe: find a farmer’s wife or a humble woman who needs the money and who makes real arepas for sale. The arepa is the holy communion of the Colombian table. The start of everything. Grill it until it has the traditional burnt spots and smells like glory, spread a lot of churned butter on it and then two slices of good fresh artisanal cheese. Using a knife, spread it all around the arepa. Sit down and laugh and think that we could live in a better world, a world like an arepa.
Álvaro Molina Villegas, the son of Jorge and Gloria, all three of them cooks.