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From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: Cooking Without a Tattoo

The earrings I've been wearing in both ears for over two decades did not stifle the opportunities presented to me.
01/27/2015 11:15am ET | Updated March 29, 2015
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Tattoos, overhauls, long beards, and really customized gadgets seem to be some of the prevailing personal and professional statements in restaurant kitchens these days. The industry is increasingly in the hands of a generation of fearless artists who seem to be on a perpetual hunt for invention and re-invention, alike. Conventional and conservative thinking might be that we are possibly losing too many core values and some of the rigor as they relate to the art of cooking. "Where is the respect for tradition and culture?" some may wonder. To be a bad-ass in the kitchen is to be great. While the passing of the culinary baton may be on hold, it is inevitable. From all it seems, the industry is increasingly in better hands each day because many young cooks seem to genuinely care about its well-being and continue to turn the wheels which keep it moving forward and aligned for a better future. Some are learning to be urban farmers in addition to being ambassadors for their craft. They are questioning the status quo just as they are celebrating tradition. Contemporary and often unique perspectives are challenging the comfortable. I'm not singling out the tattoo. It is simply a metaphor for all that may be construed as being edgy. Unfortunately, the same tattoos which shine as beacons of artistic expression are sometimes being embraced impressionably as a guarantee of ability.

I am neither a traditional nor a tattoo-bearing bad-ass. I am a cook who welcomes tradition, culture, change, and adventure in the kitchen. I bow to the masters as much as I am inspired by the youth of today. After all, many will undoubtedly be the masters of tomorrow. To deem decades of knowledge gained by deep thinking and masterful practice obsolete or irrelevant is to turn back the clock of the very same progress that is being touted by contemporary methodologies. By the same token, it would be foolish to disregard the potential of progressive-minded modern-day cooks who are re-thinking and even improving standards of achievement and legacy.

There is merit in the belief that it is harder to push the envelope of creativity in the kitchen these days than it perhaps was a few decades ago. Almost everything has either been done before or abandoned for good reason. One would be hard-pressed to not find a recipe online for just about any combination of ingredients. The world is a much smaller place and frequently, the old adage of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, is being both distorted and abused. But credit should be given where credit is due. The best young cooks are doing many things the right way. They are being consummate students of history as they trail blaze their way through the culinary landscape.

In the perfect world, the practice and teaching of great cooking should not be too far apart. The professional kitchen is a place to experience both. And one doesn't need a tattoo to blaze ahead of the group. Although, having one in and of itself doesn't preclude the prospect of success. Thankfully, the earrings I've been wearing in both ears for over two decades did not stifle the opportunities presented to me.