Well, I’ve finally taken a break from baby books and have entered back into the world of reading for pleasure. First up… Talking With My Mouth Full - My Life as a Professional Eater by Gail Simmons.
Why this book? Well… a professional eater? I mean – isn’t it obvious? Yes, I pretty much want to be Gail Simmons (career-wise at least). She is a judge on Top Chef (one of my favorite shows). She is also a food writer and the Special Projects Director for Food & Wine Magazine. With a career like that, I just had to read how she made it all happen. I’m only halfway through the book right now, but I am loving every minute of it and getting more inspired with each page.
First of all, when she graduated college she was unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. All of her friends went off to pursue professional careers (doctors/lawyers/etc.) She wasn’t interested. A family friend advised her to make a list of what she likes to do and use that as a guide to find her passion. Her list… “Eat. Write. Travel. Cook.” (Sounds pretty good to me). She decided to she had to go to the food capital of the world (NYC) and attend culinary school – with the goal of becoming a food writer. And off she went.
That is where it all started for her – and with her passion and dedication, she continued on that path through apprenticeships in the kitchens at Vong (a Jean-Georges restaurant… now closed) and Le Cirque, two years in a grueling Assistant position for Vogue’s food critic Jeffrey Steingarten, three years managing special events and projects for Daniel Boulud’s multiple restaurants (Daniel, Cafe Boulud and DB Bistro Moderne), eventually landing at Food & Wine, where she’s been since 2004. She ”directs special projects for the magazine, acting as liaison between the marketing and editorial teams on magazine events and chef-related initiatives, working closely with the country’s top culinary talent.” (Amazing… now THAT sounds like my dream job). She also oversees the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
So, I’m reading Talking With My Mouth Full on my iPhone on the subway. I’m at the part where Gail and her family take a trip to Paris and on Jeffrey Steingarten’s urging, they lunch at Pierre Gagnaire – a famous three Michelen star restaurant. Here is a little snippet that I especially enjoyed:
“I had venison for my main course. Pierre Gagnaire’s signature style is that every course has many accompaniments, plated individually. With my venison, there were four or five different plates, each with another bite or taste that played off the meat. It had a deep fuchsia-colored, savory sauce made of wine and chocolate. Rich, earthy, divine.
Then came the dessert. I did not hesitate to order the famous Grande Dessert Pierre Gagnaire, still a staple at his restaurants. It included a dozen or so different plates, each more exquisite than the last. When it came to our table, I inspected it thoroughly, then I looked up at my father and burst into tears.
Well, it was more of a half giggle, half cry. My father could not help but laugh along with me. My senses were so overwhelmed that tears rolled freely down my face as I sat there. It was all so painstakingly beautiful. Someone had thought up all of these combinations, then carefully, meticulously brought them to life. The artistry of our meal had far surpassed satisfying our expectations and our stomachs – it had struck a deep emotional chord. “
This description of Gail’s food epiphany also struck an emotional chord in me. I sat there on the subway with my eyes moist with tears. I could totally imagine myself being overwhelmed in that same way… literally brought to tears by a once in a lifetime food experience. Experiencing a master’s take on something you are totally passionate about… it doesn’t get much better than that.
So I’ve been thinking… you know I’ve always wanted to go to culinary school – but not to become a chef. I know I don’t want to be a chef (just like Gail). But I do want to be a trained, badass cook. And potentially a food writer of some sort. A food blogger? (I do that already – but professionally)? A restaurant critic? An editor at a foodie magazine? A food photographer? A consultant/marketing guru for small foodie businesses? I don’t know – all the possibilities seem thrilling.
I guess the only thing I worry about is that now I have a family. I know it’s all still possible, but man… if I could go back to the age of twenty-two and start a career path from scratch I would so take this road. When you’re in your twenties, you are willing to work like a dog – crazy hours, crappy pay – all for the experience and the cred. Will I be willing to do that now that I’ll be sacrificing time with my family?
I don’t really know. But I do know, that culinary school (if I go) will not happen for a few years at the earliest. In the meantime, I’m going to read all the foodie books I can get my hands on, study up on the world’s great chefs and restaurants, continue to teach myself how to cook recipe by recipe (and also without recipes!), talk to the vendors at the farmer’s market every week and taste as many varieties of fruits and veggies as I can (recently been taste testing squashes!) And I will definitely keep writing about food right here on nellsdish. Next on the reading list, The Man Who Ate Everything – And Other Gastronomic Feats, Disputes, and Pleasurable Pursuits by Jeffrey Steingarten. It is the book that changed Gail Simmons’s life. I’ll keep you posted.