Thursday, November 13, 2008

The other side of Green

I’m totally stealing this blog title from a short film by my new friend Lisa Camille Robinson just gave me to view on my return trip from Jamaica. I’ll let you find it if you can, but it was the perfect reminder that happiness is usually a lot closer than you think. And that often the things we chase as symbols of happiness create problems that are hard to anticipate.

So thanks for reminding me that things are pretty good Lisa.

I’m traveling the country. Soon the world perhaps, growing a family, and doing what I love. Cooking, and OK, eating. I have people who love me around. And with dramatic ups and downs of this swaying branch of a career, I have a stout, strong foundation at it’s trunk.

So I’ve done a James Beard dinner in Philadelphia, and some work in Jamaica since we left off. And I’m heading to San Diego, San Francisco, and New York City all in the next 7 days.

Why ?

This is a question some people ask. So I’ll give it a shot.

As a working chef for the last 13 years, I’ve dreamt about some of the things I’m experiencing now. I get calls almost daily to do demonstrations, cook guest dinners, make appearances, help charities, lecture, provide culinary entertainment, help develop products, and speak.

I’m talking with investors, some who seem to share my vision. I’m meeting with restauranteurs who want me to design concepts. I’m pitching and working on making a few television shows happen.

All of this is very exciting. All of this is, at times, frustrating and like tonight, exhausting.

Honestly, some of it is to put bread on the table. But most of it is to learn, experience and grow as a chef/individual/business.

I’m sure there are a ton of chefs who have or are ready to call me a "sell-out" for working with big corporations, pursuing more TV and the like. I'll admit, a few years ago I may have been one of them.

But I can tell you, as with most things, cooking on the road and talking while doing it, presenting an idea or vision, and making it happen with the normalcy of things always going wrong, and constantly being in the public eye is, well, as tough as running a restaurant. Or writing a sentence thats not a run-on ( wink ).

I’ve traded in the challenges of cooking in 30 minutes, for those of sourcing liquid nitrogen in a country that has difficulty sourcing hot water. I’ve traded the bottom line driven restauranteur, for the bottom line driven event planner, and I’ve traded the chopping block for a room filled with not Padma and Tom, but network executives.

The grass is always greener...



jim w. said...

being labeled a sellout usually just means you're successful enough that someone is jealous of you. easier to minimize you than figure out what they aren't doing right. ultimately, its a positive.

whodatdare said...

What is the name of the song on your website and who performs it? It seriously kicks ass.

Doughboy said...

Richard, I've been a fan since Fishbone.

I'll repeat what my mentor advised me just before I went national, then international in my career: "Enjoy, but don't forget to have a regular life."

joycean said...

re: "fresh local ingredients" and selling out.

i read this entire blog last night, and thought i'd comment about your disdain for chefs who advertise "fresh, LOCAL ingredients!" your criticism is obviously spot on, but i think it's strange that you don't see (if you don't see) what they're really doing with language when chefs say things like that: they're selling a feeling/lifestyle/point-of-view. they're saying to the diner, "i assure you X, so feel Y way about yourself when you eat!"

it's like--and i'm sure your reality TV experience will illustrate to you the viability of this example--if someone opened up a restaurant called "knife" or "knifework", and employed the japanese iron chefs or hung from s4 of top chef. this restaurant would draw a crowd first from the celebrity of its chefs, and second from the fact that "knifework" has been fetishized on later seasons of top chef as well as on food network shows. that fetishizing is targeted at non-chefs (like myself), to give them a talent to admire in a "technical chef". tom c on top chef isn't doing it when he talks about knife work (he's talking about knife work b/c it's relevant, surely), but the editors are doing it.

obviously, this restaurant idea should sound absurd to a chef, because "knife work? we all should be good with a knife. it's part of making food. what the hell?" and of course, the idea of knife work (like seasonal, local ingredients) wasn't invented by ad people; it's actually important, yeah. but fetishizing it is the first step toward selling it to a large market (i'd be ASTOUNDED if business people haven't tried to box you as "molecular gastronomist" expressly so they can further fetishize m.g. and sell it to an interested public).

so, the chefs saying this shit probably don't disagree with you, and they're probably (but maybe not here) not so haughty as to think only they care about fresh and locally sourced ingredients. they're keyed into how this kind of talk makes the diner feel, and they're riding it.

which gets me to selling out... what these chefs discussed above are doing isn't any different from the lifestyle selling of mcdonald's, or beer low-class to high-class, or this or that. the problem is NOT that these companies are making money from this idea (at least, that's not the problem for an artist; it may be a problem if you have opinions about the economy, but that's a side issue). the problem is that lifestyle selling often stifles creativity. they're saying, "here, X, Y, Z mean this. buy X, Y, Z."

the artist (you:P) responds to that by saying, "who says we have to do it that way? who says there isn't a more creative way to make food taste better, etc etc?" but unless "creativity" is what's being fetishized, this "artist's point of view" just disregards that the point of selling lifestyles isn't to make art, it's to make money.

it's not that art and commerce can't overlap (of course they can!). it's that selling lifestyles usually requires a FORMULA, which, when strongly construed, is anathema to creativity. you of all people know that you need to learn the fundamentals of how things work (ie formulas) before you can be creative, but that's besides the point of the formulas used to sell lifestyles. these formulas need to be rigid and to resist elaboration, so they can be applied efficiently to a mass target market.

i think people who call you a sell-out (that aren't just straight-up haters) see the ways that pushing a brand or "going the corporate route" can mean sacrificing creativity for marketability (just like "fresh, local ingredients" salesmanship sacrifices big-picture looking--"every chef does this, who do you think you are?"--for salesmanship).

does that mean you've sold out because you deal with corporate types, or that i (some guy on the internet) think you've sold out? no. i'm just pointing out that there is a tension between creativity and brand-pushing. if you can find artistic freedom anyway, and make interesting and good things, more power to you. my own view is that, while i HATE marketing, i think artists who passionately labor to make great art should get paid for that, and chefs aren't any exception.

so, yeah. i think the chefs you criticize for the local ingredient thing aren't doing anything worse than a lot of the corporate types you might now deal with. if you think such salesmanship is justified, that's fine. just saying, if you're confused or offended by the perspective of those chefs, one possibility is that they're doing what i'm saying.

best of luck to you, and i enjoy your blogs. hope to have some of your food some day.

Squishy said...

Remember fame and fortune is a wonderful thing but don't forget the family around you, that is forever. The fame and the fortune they may fade but family is forever.

Your not a sell out, if it were me, I would do the same, most of us would. Enjoy it!