Monday, January 03, 2011
Too Old To Be A Chef?
I’ve been thinking a lot about cheffing recently, and whether my idea to get back into it is part of some sort of acute mental breakdown or, far worse, mid-life crisis.
I gave up my reporting job nearly two months ago now, and I’ve got a couple of restaurant trials lined up (more on that next time) but I still haven’t really got my hands dirty. And at my age, I shouldn’t be wasting any time at all. There is so much to learn...
But perhaps it is my age? Maybe I’m scared that I no longer have the energy to cope with what is undoubtedly a young man’s game? In a recent so-you-want-to-be-a-chef-style article, Anthony Bourdain wrote that anyone entering the trade in their early 30s was already too old.
I’m already eight years past that, but I suppose it really depends on what level of cooking you’re talking about. Eighteen hour days in Michelin restaurants are obviously out. But I’m not really interested in awards. And as an old chef friend from The Gull once said to me, “the catering business caters for everyone”.
By that he meant you could still indulge your passion for food by doing anything from running a simple sandwich shop or deli or pie and mash cafe to serving up trout candy floss for wacky celebrity-based cookery programmes (Heston please don’t disappear up your arse completely).
It doesn’t have to be the long hours and stress of a restaurant, there are lots of ways of doing it. Some even have better hours than “normal” jobs.
And just because you’re running a gourmet burger van (as I've been thinking of doing) and not a high-end restaurant doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it less, or be less creative, or take less pride in your food. As my stint at the Fat Duck proved, Michelin star restaurants can be very tedious, dull places to work in just banging out the same identical dishes night after night, all for the C-word that is consistency.
You can have far more fun in a bistro thinking of ways to use up scraps – and that to me is the truest and most worthwhile form of cooking: making ordinary ingredients taste great. Surely that’s why soup was invented? And soup, after all, is the best meal in the world.
I've been wondering about which path I should take, and whether the restaurant route is really for me. Then I started thinking about some of the passionate foodies I’d met on Twitter who’d also given it all up in their 30s or 40s to follow their cooking dream, and the different paths they’d taken.
There was Matt Follas (@matkiwi), the Masterchef winner who’d given up a lucrative IT job to open his own restaurant, The Wild Garlic in Beaminster, Dorset. He loves his job, and even though he has trained up chefs to cook for him, the long hours must take their toll.
There was @MsMarmitelover, who realised she was happiest cooking and opened a successful pop-up, the Underground Restaurant, in her London flat. Nice compromise because you don't have to be open every night.
There was Dave Ahern (@CorkGourmetGuy), an Irishman who decided to retrain as a chef after years of writing about food.
There was Tim Kinnaird (@DrTimKinnaird), who for some reason had ditched his job as a paediatrician to run a cake stall in Norwich.
And there were, of course, hundreds of food writers and produce makers determined to make a living out of their passion.
Indeed, friends have been asking me why I don’t just combine the cooking and journalism. But that seems like cheating somehow. I don’t want to just write about food, I want to cook it – and besides, how much is there to say about it? It’s only food after all. The art, surely, is in the doing?
But to plagiarise Beckett, I'll find a way...
You must go on.
I can't go on.
I'll go on.