March 14, 2013

One Step Closer to Success

One Step Closer to Success
“When I first got to the CIA, I knew that I wanted to be the greatest chef that has ever lived. I wanted to learn as much as I could and work as hard as I could to get there.” – CIA Student, Bret Benedict Lunsford

As appearing in La Papillote, the CIA student newspaper
Article by Bret Benedict Lunsford, AOS Culinary

The closer that graduation day gets, the more I find myself thinking about what the future might hold. I think at the end of the day what everyone wants is to be successful. But what is success? And more specifically what is success in the food industry today? I remember watching different cooking shows growing up and how I began to idolize the personalities that I saw on TV. People like Ming Tsai, Martha Stewart, Emeril Lagasse, and Bobby Flay were what I thought to be the top of the culinary food chain. They were so full of knowledge and always managed to make the perfect dish. I later came to find out that through the magic of television, any disaster could be edited out and something beautiful could be presented to the viewers at home. I started caring more about shows like Iron Chef and Top Chef. I felt like those chefs were who I wanted to be one day.

What is actual success? Is it the amount of money that I make? Is it who I work for? Will being a name that most people recognize mean that I have somehow made it and that I have finally achieved success? Can success be determined by the number of restaurants a person owns or how many Michelin stars are by his or her name? I used to think I knew.

So how do I feel about personal success?

Before, snatching a seat on the gravy train could have meant having my own line of specialty nonstick pans in a Dillard’s in middle America or that my face was on a bag of potato chips that contain a flavor that I created (see Chicken & Waffles, Sriracha, and Cheesy Garlic Bread Frito-Lay potato chips). Things that make me feel successful in the culinary world have changed depending on what situation I was in and I feel they will continue to change for the rest of my life. When I was a cook at Sonic Drive-In, banging out twenty or so cheeseburgers at a time made me feel successful. Being on “restaurant row” at the CIA, having a great service with food that is cooked and seasoned properly can be a sense of accomplishment too.

When I first got to the CIA, I knew that I wanted to be the greatest chef that has ever lived. I wanted to learn as much as I could and work as hard as I could to get there. Gaining the respect of my classmates would give me the success that I wanted. I then went into gastronomy and we were introduced to the great chefs of the past and present; I learned about Grant Achatz and Ferran Adria. I knew then that if I wanted to be successful I needed to take after them. I knew that constantly working with new techniques and trying to reinvent what people consider food to be would help me gain a part of their successfulness. That dream was shattered pretty quickly as I made my way through the kitchen classes. My knife cuts were train wrecks and my cloudy consommé that I made for my second term practical was proof then that I had to change my mindset of trying to reinvent the wheel. Cooking good food became important to me and I became much more focused. Success is different depending on who you are talking to. To one person, learning to make the most perfect potato leek soup can be success. While to another person having a family and a job that supports them is all that they need in order to feel successful. The more experience that I get and the more time I have to reflect on what I think success is makes my own definition change depending on what stage in life I am at.

To me, at this moment, success is knowing that graduation is just around the corner. It’s knowing how much I have grown as a cook since I started here. Success is having a group of friends that I make here that I hope to keep for a lifetime. At the end of the day success for me will need to be just a couple of things. I need to have a job that I enjoy going to every day. My culinary education cannot stop here. Every day, I must learn something new. I used to want to be respected by my peers in the industry. Now, I think, pumping out great food in a smaller restaurant that I own will be the definition of success for me. Some people will never enter another kitchen after graduation is over. They might want nothing to do with the restaurant industry, period. A successful life can still be had.

Success can be many different things but I think for anybody it can be measured by the amount that has been learned along with a positive attitude going into work every day eager to work harder and more efficiently than you did the day before. If the CIA has taught me anything it has been that success is something that is not handed out to us. It has to be fought for.