I have been on the planet long enough to have wandered into and, then, out of many popular beliefs and philosophies. Of all the pop psychology or self improvement advice I’ve heard, I suggest that the one you should discard first is: “Do something you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I’m not that lucky, for me, there is a reason they call work, “work.” It’s been my experience that no one wants to pay me to stare at pretty girls until they catch me and I blush, ride my road bike to the brink of physical exhaustion, or eat potato chips while watching the Godfather for the millionth time. Nope, these pursuits have all cost me money, some more than others. Next to these, my very favorite past times, cooking comes in a close second; tied with writing, playing bad guitar, and standing in the ocean up to my neck while stingrays swim by. Of all of these pursuits, cooking is the only one I could go pro at and even then I could earn no more than your average illegal alien line cook. But man, I LOVE to cook, it’s a creative art, it’s an act of love, and it is, somehow, stimulating and relaxing at the same time. I’m pretty sure that I love to cook more than I love to eat, and that’s saying something.
If you want to come over for dinner, I will be happy to demonstrate some of the skills I’ve learned in the many cooking and wine classes I’ve taken from Italy to Florida. I am a pasta making, pesce grilling, tomato stuffing demon, who actually knows when Orvieto or Pinot Grigio is your best pairing. I even do the dishes (sometimes… and grudgingly). So, a few weeks ago, when I saw someone tossing a pizza on television and proclaimed to my bride: “I need to learn to do that,” Teresa was all over it. It happened that she was already looking at Le Cordon Bleu’s Orlando campus to select a class for us as a Father’s Day present and no sooner were the words out of my mouth than we were signed up.
I have to tell you, I headed for Pizza Night (which was really held on a Saturday morning) with some trepidation. In my mind, a cooking class at someone’s restaurant, or someone’s home doesn’t have the intimidation factor of LE CORDON BLEU. I’ve seen the way real chefs talk to their trainees, I know a little about the Brigade System, and I was determined to keep my mouth shut, smile, and say “Yes Chef!” even if the snooty bastards rapped my knuckles with a spatula. I carefully selected the proper biking tee shirt, the right sneakers, and, in general, took more care getting ready than I do for a work day. I was, much to my surprise (and my wife’s delight) nervous!
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about, the entire experience was nothing less than great fun. After all: We made pizza!
Here’s the thing, we didn’t just make pizza, we also made an antipasto salad, a caprese salad (we made the mozzarella) and a fried dough desert thing that we rolled in honey and toasted pine nuts, and we did them simultaneously. That was the difference between the class at Le Cordon Bleu and the classes I’ve taken elsewhere, this class, though aimed towards home cooks, was taught in the manner that professional chefs learn, as if we were in a busy restaurant kitchen. The friendly, respectful, and professional staff of instructors and culinary students demonstrated all of the dishes for us and then sent us to our stations to duplicate what we just watched. Umm… yea, we’ll get right on that.
The stations were laid out with everything in place (mise en place), containers of ingredients, mixers, knives, spatulas, cutting boards and right next to commercial ovens. It was just a little scary, I mean I know how to chiffonade, but suddenly my knife seemed unwieldy, and my cuts were not clean enough; I was sure my knuckles would be rapped at any second, or my romaine would be poured into the garbage while I was mocked in front of the other 25 students. I was worried about nothing, nobody got chopped. One of the Chefs from the school, it turns out, is a fellow cyclist and we talked for a long time about my upcoming cycling tour of his native Puerto Rico. Before long, I was cooking comfortably and Teresa was there to do the real hard stuff and keep us on track.
Everything came out pretty well, and magically, at roughly the same time: we were chefs! The pizza tossing? Well, I need to go back to the minors and work on my tossing. I told Chef Enrique that I had really come to learn to master the pizza toss and he spent extra time helping me form the dough and demonstrated a toss, which I mimicked, and rather poorly at that. Part of the problem was that we were working with personal pan size pizzas, I think a larger pie would be easier to spin. I also think some bit of hand-eye coordination on my part would have been a handy attribute. The pizza, however, was wonderful, our crust seemed to have a lot more flavor than the stuff we usually get from our local pizza parlor (or, God forbid, a chain pizza). We brought home a huge bag of dough to experiment with, I’ll be tossing dough every chance I get.
So, back to my point, would I want to get paid to cook? I don’t think so, the mere idea of someone sending one of my dishes back to the kitchen is more imaginary conflict than I can handle, much less the critique of an imaginary blogger who watches the Food Network (oh wait, that’s me). Practically speaking, becoming a chef is all but impossible, I’m not about to buy my own restaurant and learn the business on my own dime, and I’m sure not going back to school or start washing dishes somewhere. Practicalities aside, I think once you start putting the pressure on your hobby to earn money, it stops being a hobby and a lot of the fun goes away. I know artists, chefs, and even pro golfers who no longer like the thing that they used to love. I used to know a golf pro who gleefully quit his job in the pro shop to sell phone systems! Phone systems!
The point of Middle Aged Crazy, when I created it, was just this: to find your passion after you already have a career going and roll around in it. If you love to cook, or dance, or sing, or whatever, DO IT!!!!! Enjoy it, see it as the gift that it is without making it about money. While you do that; I’m going to try to avoid spinning a pizza onto the dog, not that he’d complain.