I find myself drawing a lot of parallels between music and cuisine. Having once been a musician, I know first hand about the long hours of practice, of dedication, of living your work. In music, in a musical performance, perfection is paramount and many people don’t know how many hours of training, tears, and stress can go into a 20 minute performance (or a 30 second solo in an orchestral concert).
Like music, cuisine is an art that demands a perfect performance every day. Roasting or sauteing a cut of beef to order, the plating of a dish and of course the beauty of a dessert are all part of the performance that is presented before the client at every meal. And like music the audience is fickle: a missed note, an off-key passage, an under or over cooked dish, an ugly or too-sweet dessert and you’re likely to lose that audience for good. Day in, day out, you have to be on and ready to perform. No matter the weather, your cramps, stomach pains, headache or bleeding finger. Perform and smile. Everyday.
When you start to prepare a plate, it all begins with that first cut. Slicing an onion, a tomato, a piece of meat, or putting a dot of chocolate on a plate; if you fail that first motion, the plate is ruined and you have to start again losing time and sometimes precious product – like foie gras.
This has been my lesson of the week. Just like when I used to start my practicing in the mornings, taking up my oboe, I would have to prepare myself mentally and physically with that first breath to play each note the best I possibly could. So too with my knife or the piping bag. Before I cut, before I squeeze the bag over the plate I have to think about the motion first; see it and feel it in my head and in my arm and hands before actually doing the action.
I wish that I could say I found the one as fluid as I once found the other. Maybe it’s that I’ve only been in the kitchen for three weeks and have long forgotten the early years of learning an instrument. But where playing the oboe came naturally to me, the precise motions required in cuisine – and especially in pastry – have not. Some days I can’t even clean the floor after lunch service properly. And Pastry Chef B loves to scold.
Doing things the easy way – that isn’t me. For some reason, I like to go about it backwards, throwing myself into the middle of the maze and then finding my way out. So I practice. Dicing, mincing, slicing. My cuts are more regular, my thumb and finger stay habitually clear of the large chef’s knife, and my whole arm moves with a fluid albeit slow motion.
I’m learning a lot in the kitchen, but mostly I’m relearning about performance and perfection. Where and how it begins- with that first cut.