The conversations we have with one another can be strange, surface-seeming at first. To play the game usually you have to find out where someone has worked, who they've worked with, and if you know people in that city it becomes the game of who-and-what you know. I spent some time last week in Boston having lunch at a server friend's new restaurant, and when his chef and sous chef came out to chat us up, we fell into cook talk. Where you've worked. How hard you've worked. Getting out of the hotels. It's a shorthand banter. I asked the sous chef where they got their fish from, and he started complaining about the deliveries being inconsistent. Same Thing With Our Egg Guy, I commiserated. He Can't Commit To A Number Of Cases. You shrug; what do you do? What can you do? I asked him about farm raised or wild, we discussed salmon.
When regular people find out I'm a cook, the questions tend to fall along a couple lines. They go for the how-did-you-get-into-THAT? tact, especially if they know I'm a writer with a masters degree. Or the cool-where-do-you-work (oh-i've-never-heard-of-it)? Then there's the what's-your-specialty? question. It gets interesting when people ask you what you make, because a lot of the time when I answer them directly (brown butter sponge cake, coffee pastry cream, cardamom ice cream) I am fairly certain they have no idea what the process involves. I can try to talk about what it's like to roll truffles between your hot hands while trying not to get cocoa powder everywhere to melt the chocolate. Or what it feels like to stand next to a hot stove in the unexpected heat wave drinking water all day long yet always needing more. Or what it feels like to shape fifteen loaves of bread quickly, so some brunch cook can have the space next to you, and then later to take them out of the oven with the pizza paddle and pile them up strategically so they don't fall. But I'm never really sure what information gets translated. I think part of the appeal of food television cooking shows is that it always looks easy...or at least manageable. Do you need the visuals to understand cooking? Or if I describe the process of making anglaise for ice cream base what do you take away from it? Are desserts less approachable than savory food? How does food media and food writing affect the conversations cooks have with one another and with others?