March 4, 2011

Am I a Chef or a Cook?

"You can't call yourself a chef, you're a cook." Someone said that to me once. The terms "chef" and "cook" are a lot of times used interchangeably but technically speaking, you are not a chef unless you have been professionally trained to work in a kitchen where you head a team of cooks. So she was right. I'm not a chef, I'm just a cook.

Although it seems silly now, this comment had been bothering me until pretty recently. I never went to culinary school nor have I worked as an apprentice chef at a restaurant. I feel like I made it through this far just with my enormous appetite for food and strong passion for cooking.

I always loved cooking, even when I was a kid. I often went into the kitchen to help out my mom to prepare meals. When I was in junior high and she was away for her part-time job, I would come up with the menus and cook dinner for the whole family. There was a point in time when I thought about going to culinary school; it just didn't seem like a good idea to narrow my options down to just one thing. So I started working at a company and continued to cook just for fun. I would dream about having my own little place where people can come and pick up some food, but it was just a dream. I didn't even think I would be cooking in the future to make a living.
In 2006, I decided to go to Massachusetts to learn macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute. I had lived in the U.S. off and on for 12 years by then and always wanted to come back to brush up on my English. My plan was to stay there for 3 months and go back to Japan. Many many great things happened and I ended up being there for 18 months. I volunteered in the kitchen for 4 months and then became a full-time staff. I learned so many things by assisting teachers in cooking classes and did a whole lot of cooking as one of the head chefs preparing meals for the staff and students there.

My "dream" came true in 2009. My business partner and I opened a small vegan/organic takeout restaurant. "Vegan" meaning we didn't use any meat, dairy, eggs or anything that had to do with animals in our food. The business did not last very long unfortunately but I gained a lot from the experience. It was a pleasant surprise to realize there was quite a demand for good vegan/vegetarian food. Many people really enjoyed what we offered and said that, unlike food from other restaurants, it energized them instead of weighing them down. A lot of the customers grieved over the news of us closing and told us to keep them posted regarding our future plans. Now I finally had the time to think about what I wanted to do.

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