Monday, January 30, 2012

Seeing Strangers

Posted below an advertisement for my alma mater, The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). I know it's going to sound a bit crazy, but, it's following me!

I've seen this advertisement at least 15 times in the past three days. That may not seem like a lot to you, but it really makes me wonder about the research dollars that goes into online searches. Also, on the more devious side, what about the subliminal messages that one could transmit via these ads? Subtle brain-washing coming to you through social networking? Ahh... the future! But, that's a deeper conversation for another time. Back to the ad.

I've seen this particular e-vertisement enough times for me to instantly think of ICE when this smirking toque-wearing guy flashes across the screen. In fact, I do know him. His name is Chef James Briscione. He's an instructor that reached mediocre notoriety on a reality TV show called CHOPPED. By day, he's the teacher that makes all the ladies swoon. At night, who knows, maybe he's still searching for stardom.

My interaction with chef James was brief. He subbed for my class one day. Unfortunately, his cheeky smile was the only engaging part of the lesson. The rest of the time, our class longed for the iron-fisted order of our usual teacher, Chef Ted. The kitchen is a funny place. Like Machiavelli suggested in "The Prince," sometimes it's better for a leader to be feared rather than loved. When you're going to war (as service is often compared to), you want to believe that the guy that's leading you isn't going to waver. He's going to lead you through each battle with the least amount of casualties. Where the nice guy wants everyone to like them. The leader does what they believe is right. So who cares if a few egos get checked along the way.

Where chef James revels in the social pleasantries, "Teddie," as we affectionately called him behind his back, was an odd mix of Disney's Shrek meets the Encyclopedia Britannica: Food Edition. He could spout out all the right temperatures and techniques off the top of his head. But, in the next sentence he could make a grown man feel all the insecurities of a boy. The key was you learned. One of the most useful things he taught me (besides the perfect recipe for pasta) is how to check if a protein was cooked properly from touch alone. From then on, with just a touch of my thumb, I could tell you if something was well, medium, rare, or, in worse case scenarios: raw. It was simplest – albeit most valuable – lesson.    

Like Paula Dean and butter, diabetes, Southern comfort cooking, for me, chef James will always trigger memories of ICE and dreams of aspiring celebrity chefs. So many people want to be famous – for people to recognize them instantly. While others, like Teddie, just want to teach you what's right. 

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