“Know why you cook.”

[This post brings together two previously unrelated drafts that were backed up in my blog writing queue. One was based on a talk I attended last November by René Redzepi, Executive Chef at NOMA, aka the best restaurant in the world. The two-star Michelin restaurant serves modern Nordic fare with an emphasis on foraging, (for) local ingredients, and a philosophy of cooking that celebrates “time and place in Nordic cuisine.” The other “draft” was a lone quote by Gustave Flaubert: “the art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”]

Here is a decent synopsis of the Redzepi talk, which centered on three specific moments that transformed him and helped define his culinary career. I particularly enjoyed his story of transforming the ugliest carrot he had ever seen (his words) into something incredibly beautiful and delicious–by gently sauteing and basting it with butter, treating it as if it were the most expensive piece of meat he could buy. The farmer who dared to send him this first apparent monstrosity now supplies Redzepi with a steady stream of such “vintage” carrots. During the talk, Redzepi also passed around plates of piquant pickled rose petals and ramp buds for the audience to sample. On the whole, he seemed like a pretty low-key guy, soft-spoken, genuine, charismatic in the understated way that people who possess a quiet confidence tend to be. There was a brief Q&A session afterward, during which one person asked the question most relevant to me: what advice can you give to an aspiring, presumably ambitious, chef?

His answer was plain, but full of conviction. “Know why you cook.” He said it again. “Know why you cook.”

When I was going through my blog posts today, this phrase for some reason spoke to me in juxtaposition to the quote by Flaubert. They seem to be saying sort of opposite things: one that you should have an idea of why you’re doing something in order to do it (well); the other, that you’re essentially discovering why you’re doing something as you do it. But what clicked for me just now, is that these two ideas are very much in tune with one another–you can’t know why you cook unless you’re cooking up a storm, and you can’t just hang out waiting for the beliefs that drive your writing to magically reveal themselves before your pen hits the page. One speaks to the process of knowing; the other the importance of it. There’s a reason why you feel compelled to cook, write, or [insert passion of choice]–find it, know it, run with it. God knows how far it will get you.

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Sole roulade with tapenade, pommes puree, vegetable medley, balsamic reduction, beurre blanc