Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cognac and beer

When I took myself out of the confines of the beautiful New England prep school world of Hotchkiss and moved to Gambier, Ohio, I stumbled on something new. The education was superb, and I am to this day ever grateful for the preparation Hotchkiss gave me (as well as meeting the future Mrs. Reinhardt), but Kenyon College was something different. Sure, there were New England prep schoolers, but there were mid west public schoolers, west coast montessori grads, and everything in between. I was not thrown off...quite the opposite in fact. I was drawn to the diversity. I thrived in it! I was so interested in learning about different students, their backgrounds, and their experiences. It was part of my education.

I think I had an advantage growing up abroad, getting the chance at an early age to meet people from different nationalities, language backgrounds, and general walks of life. But the thing that was most inherent of this education was not the quantity but the quality. When I graduated college, my father and I sat down for a heart to heart as we sometimes do. I was preparing to leave for my first job out in Chicago, and we were talking about the world.

He himself had grown up abroad, the son of a diplomat, and his father had said the same thing to him. "Charlie, it is important to be able to sit with the President for a glass of fine cognac and talk of the world. But it is just as important to share a beer and talk the same with a White House gardener. It's in the vernacular, and its what makes you a well rounded man."

This lesson is one that I try to live by. It becomes extremely important as a chef. You must know how to speak comfortably with the dishwashers, immigrant workers, and fellow chefs from different persuasions. But it is just as important to put on a fresh white apron and hob nob with the clientele. Being a chef is the perfect balance between blue and white collar work. I love the diversity and I love my father's message.


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