By: Chef Rick Powless
I open my knife case, getting ready to prep dinner for friends and family this evening. I look at my blades and I think to myself…how did I get here?
Enjoying a sip of hot coffee with great pleasure (because most Chefs don’t ever get to taste a hot coffee) and contemplating my career. Where I started, where I am today and where I am headed. I’m thinking about those who inspired me, even at an early age, when I didn’t know I’d become a Chef or where it would take me. But here I am, well travelled and I’ve seen so many things…the good, the bad and the ugly.
Thinking about the restaurant my parents owned and being so busy that us kids had to learn how to cook because it was the only way we were going to be fed…lol. I was only 5 (five), yes, I said 5 yrs. old when I first learned to cook. My first dish was a vegetable omelet. It was understandable that being in a family that cooked, that all of us children (there are 5 of us) all became very good cooks though, I am the only one who chose this as an actual career.
My first disaster in the kitchen was when I was 11. Spaghetti Bolognese with Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread. Pretty simple, right? I learned a very valuable lesson that day about pasta and water! My auntie was visiting from out of town. I adored her and asked my parents if I could make dinner, partly because I wanted to cook for her, but I also wanted to show my somewhat rough skills in the kitchen. I made the sauce from scratch. I had 4 hrs before my auntie was to arrive, so I salted the cold water in the pot, and figured I’d let the pasta sit in the water until I needed to cook it. 3 ½ hrs later, I came into the kitchen to start dinner and to my bewilderment, the pasta had become a huge ball of nastiness. I was so upset but my parents supported me and offered to help fix my error. Dinner did go off well and my parents gave me the credit for everything.
My first professional cooking job lasted 1 whole week. I was so excited to be in the industry now and thinking to myself how overwhelmed I was at the pace of this small kitchen. What put me over the edge was the owner was thawing frozen shrimp in the sink…using hot water! Even though I was wet behind the ears, I knew that was wrong and when it was discovered, he tried to blame me for this disaster. On to the next kitchen I went, a little bit wiser and on my way to becoming more aggressive, more confident in the kitchen.
Yes, I have met many cooks who I consider my brothers and sisters. Yes, I have forgotten many of them by name as I am getting older and a little bit more forgetful, but I have never forgotten the many memories I have experienced with my culinary kin. I have worked for and along side some amazing Chefs who have mentored me along the way. I have seen how alcohol and drugs have become a staple within this industry. Sexism and promiscuity were everyday occurrences amongst the staff. But the one thing that I learned throughout my career is that the cook standing next to you during prep or during service is always going to be someone you can count on and trust. The kitchen is like a well-oiled machine. When one part fails or is out of sync, the ship goes down quick. Those moments make you a better cook, a better Chef.
Becoming a Chef Instructor has only given me more gratification because I am now passing on my knowledge to others, hoping one day that I will have made a difference in their lives in one way or another. I hope that what I pass onto others will find that diamond in the rough, as I once was, and they will carry on the glorious traditions within the commercial kitchen.
Do I know what tomorrow has in store for me? I have no clue but each morning I awaken, I am glad for the choices I have made in my life, both personally and professionally. I am looking forward to seeing what tomorrow has in store for me. I am grateful to have the skills and knowledge that I have obtained and polished over the life of my career…thus far.
So, here I am, working through my prep list for dinner and thinking to myself that I am blessed for the knowledge and the skills I have developed because of those before me who shared their knowledge. I take what I do seriously, with great pride and responsibility. With each cut of my Chef knife, I feel my grandfather’s and my dad’s hands guide my blade. I can feel the cooks and Chefs I have worked alongside guide my blade. I feel my culture and my community guide my blade.
Both my dad and grandfather were army Chefs. My mother was an amazing cook who never used recipes for anything other than ingredients. Both my dad and grandfather never got to see me enter this profession, but I know they are looking down on me every day, proud of me…
…guiding my blade.