The Tao of Cooking….

By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef

I was thinking about this blog entry and what I should write about and I looked down and there on my forearm is my tattoo of the Tao, so I thought I’d mention it.  I’m no Taoist…but, as an analogy – you don’t have to play music in order to appreciate it.

Have you ever watched “Hell’s Kitchen” with Gordon Ramsey? When I was coming up in the kitchen, I worked for a few chef’s that had a little “spirit” similar to Gordon.  For some reason, a lot of people think that in order to get ahead in the restaurant business you need to be a drill sergeant and scream at people.  After all – you want them to do exactly what you say, right?  If the guest is upstairs waiting for their meal and the waiter drops the plate, your first reaction might very well be to call him “a donkey” or worse! I mean that little mistake is going to mess up the timing of the entire table, including the reservation’s book.  If a cook burns the Crab Bisque with $70 worth of crab in it, ripping his head off is your next step, right?  But…for some reason that type of kitchen “persona” a.k.a. temper lost its hold on me as I grew up.  Sure, when I was 19 and thought I knew everything, I thought that everyone had to listen to me because I was kitchen manager…yeah, big deal (whatever, I was naïve).  Anyway, I decided to make a change and I took a line cook job at a better restaurant while I went to school.  At school, I was introduced to something called the Tao.  When I heard about it, it was like I already knew it intuitively – so I latched on.  Like I said earlier, I’m no expert, this is more philosophy for me.  The simplest thing I can say is that the Tao translated means “the way”.  And the simplest way to understand the Tao and how it relates to my life and thinking is this:  you should not force a square peg through a round hole.  Pretty simple stuff, right?  But think about it.  Really think about it.  Isn’t yelling at someone trying to force something unnatural?  Is yelling at someone going to bring that food off the floor, un-burn the soup?   No, it won’t.  It is what it is.  Relax and take comfort in the way.  People will make mistakes.  By their design people are not robots, their minds get distracted.  How can you change that?  You can’t, so go with it.  I studied this philosophy for a year and when I got back into a leadership position I applied some of the understanding I had to stressful situations.  Now, you could look at me and think I don’t care when mistakes happen.  That is far from the truth, I care a great deal.  But, when something goes wrong, the first course of action is fixing it, not changing my state (ie, yelling). Plus I think of mistakes as learning opportunities. So I look down at that mark on my arm on a regular basis and apply this thought… am I trying to force this situation?  What are my incorrect expectations? Then I change my expectations and everything goes according to the Tao.  You should check it out.  There are lots of books on the subject.   If you ever see me and I look mad, pinch me – and remind me of my blog!

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