The Supermarket Gourmet, Buck Reed

We all have seen it on reality shows, at the movies, and even in Disney cartoons. The angry chef. It is almost cliché to say one plate of under- or over-cooked risotto might send them into a tirade—an over-cooked steak might bring you close to being stabbed, or an under-cooked piece of fish might get you sent home. They portray themselves as culinary masters who are one dish away from acting like murderous madmen, bent on destroying anyone in their way. The truth is, it is not an act.

The nice guy executive chef, the benevolent leader of the brigade is a myth, the white whale, an out-and-out unicorn, never to be seen in a professional kitchen.

If this is indeed who they are, then I submit that bakers are the complete opposite. I say baker, because I am a cook who is comfortable baking, equally a rarity in the culinary world. I learned to first bake in the U.S. Navy, where you do what you were ordered, and the better you did a job, the more they left you alone. When I left the service, I worked as a line cook in an upscale restaurant; I spent two weeks learning baking—there, called pastry chef—from a wonderful person who had the patience of Job, coupled with the meticulous adherence to detail any master chef would have envied. She was exacting, but kind, a good teacher who critiqued without demeaning.

I believe all good bakers have this quality. Yes, I have known a few bakers who did not possess these qualities, but then I do not think they were very good bakers.

If you ask a chef/cook why he doesn’t like baking, you almost always get the answer that they do not like measuring everything. Great cooks do not really even need recipes. Some will tell you that it is boring, that there is no room for creativity. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is always a fruit or vegetable right around the corner coming into season that you can try to figure out how to work into a recipe. Or you can try a different flour or sugar that might change the texture of your cookie. Some might even say it is an easy win, that slapping some chocolate on a pastry and hitting it with some booze is far easier than, say, seasoning a soup. They will say everyone applauds the dessert course, but the unsung hero is the guy who perfectly cooked your steak. But few realize that the true master of baking is in the basics. It is all about the appreciation of the ingredients and discipline of the techniques that make the baker. That is where the caring starts. That is where the respect makes a difference. That is where the love comes in.

At the end of the day, I am still a cook who knows how to bake, but truth be known, I would never call myself a pastry chef.

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