Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Changing Industry

Your career, in a very visible sense, is really a tiny microcosm of your life. You grow, evolve, and mature with each new experience and span; and hopefully, you learn from it, becoming wiser (incidentally, a serious relationship is also very much the same microcosm... but i digress).

As I have grown and evolved in my career as a cook, I have also had the great fortune to be smack in the middle of an industry that has gone through some dramatic and wonderful changes with me. In the last five years, food in this country has become its own celebrity. Its television has seen the MTV trajectory to stardom, acquiring a second channel to catch the overflow. It has even seen multiple international Movements, championed by activists like Alice Waters and brilliant scientists like the Adria brothers.

(Okay, if you're a biochemist at NIH you may chide me for that last example, but take it easy.)

It has been so fun to grow as a cook within such an exciting context. Even when I was in Spain, literally at the center of the recent molecular gastronomy movement and living in a suburb of one of the best food cities on the planet, I was not fully aware of how lucky I was. My time in SF directly thereafter also couldn't have been more serendipitous: to be in a city so obsessed with food, in a place that gets some of the best food and wine in the world, how could I not soak it all up like a thirsty little sponge? I have not spent a day without exquisite food in almost five years, mostly because I have surrounded myself with it, both intentionally and, admittedly, by wonderful, wonderful luck.

Now, as I am at a point in my career where I am beginning to see a more crystalized vision of what I want and where I'm headed, I have begun to delve deeper into an industry that is also changing, and very much for the better.

Catering used to be, in a word, uniform. Twenty years ago, you could go to twelve weddings in a year, and at each one you could bet your sweet ass you were getting a green salad and a choice of severely subpar chicken, steak, or salmon. Banquets and other events were grayscale and predictable. The thing is, nobody really cared that much because you didn't go to a wedding or a corporate event for the food. And yes, you may have gotten lobster when it was fancy or had some outside-the-box whatever, but the point is that standards were low.

But now, food has gotten sexy. Sexy can be slutty, dirty sexy, like short skirts and tube tops and lots of makeup (hello gravy fries, greasy pepperoni pizza, and bacon cheeseburger, you look delicious!); but it can also be jaw-dropping and classy, almost leaving you speechless. However it's done, food is no longer satisfied with being unsatisfying. It's been given some attention and knows it can make you drool, and it feels good about that.

Suffice it to stay, the standards in catering have been raised accordingly and significantly; companies and chefs are starting to treat food the same way restaurants do, with the same TLC and imagination. It's fun, it's exciting, and at its best it's exhilarating. Best of all, not everyone is doing it just yet, so there's still a sliver of unchartered territory to play around on.

Knives in hand, I'm still moving forward and loving it all.

(by the way, the photo at the top is courtesy of catering company CuisineStyle and chef Pamela Keith, based out of south SF. and it's badass.)

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