By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST
Mind, body, soul and spirit. We’ve seen these words together so often to describe so many aspects of our lives that they have almost become cliché.
If you are practicing in any faith, from Christianity to Hinduism to Buddhism, you surely have been exposed to what is described as a full and fruitful life if you have these four aspects of your life in order.
If you are an athlete, you too have no doubt had coaches preach the importance of keeping your body in good health, but also the need to be intelligent and focused—to be passionate about your game. And you will often be told that you need “to want it.” But I would argue that one of the occupations or places in life where this is the most important is the culinary world.
Sure, we may just be this fleshy bag of liquid and bones that we wake up to each morning while hurling through space on this big round ball. But look deeper and the body is a fascinating machine.
Cooking is as physically demanding as any other occupation and you will have trouble convincing me otherwise. We lift and push, we twist and turn, we bend and reach. We manuevure our legs, arms, hands and fingers constantly, under duress of heat, fatigue and pressure, for hours on end.
I have seen many colleagues not take care of this machine they have been given and watched it break down before my eyes, ending their careers prematurely just like an athlete. You only get one body, take care of it.
It comes equipped with an inherent, instinctive operating system that is more complex than any computer we could ever design. We can reason and problem solve. We can cook food, create recipes with multiple ingredients, build entire menus around these ingredients, then construct a large communal building in which to execute this vision for hundreds of people on a daily basis.
The amount of mental pressure placed upon a cook and chef on a constant basis can break many people and it often does. The list of things you have to be thinking about on a constant basis all the while being exposed to new exterior stimuli and trying to decipher what to focus on and what to disregard—I can assure you it is as fatiguing as the physical aspect.
Why do we do this? Why is it important to us? It’s the connection that makes many of us feel so good.
As I’ve said many times over the years, we are the liaison between a world of fishermen, farmers, ranchers, producers and harvesters and the many people we feed. We are a conduit of a perishable, ever-changing product that we can either make worse, improve or simply handle with care and pass on as-is so you get to experience it at its peak.
I equate spirit with passion and drive. It’s what makes some of us rise to greatness, while some of us do not. You can absolutely have spirit and never achieve great heights. But do you want to be a little better than yesterday? Do you want to make that recipe even better tomorrow with one little tweak? Can we exceed the guests’ expectations even more the next time we see them?
“Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the musician who plays it is 80 percent.” That is a quote from the legendary jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis.
As I think about all the great cooks and chefs, either world-famous, or ones I have known, you could take that quote, swap “note” for “ingredient,” and replace “musician” with “chef,” and you would have, in one sentence, what makes the greatest cooks and chefs a cut above.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.