I wanted to be a rock star way before I wanted to be a cook. Even though being a rock star didn’t work out for me, I still have 13 guitars and 3 amps, and I got to travel the world. All I really wanted was to do something I not only loved, but that would also take me around the world. And to be honest, I find that there are a lot of similarities between being a chef and being a musician.
First of all, you get to create. To me that is the most vital part of it; that is what I live for. Then you get into the other things like being a leader and finding all the people who help make the show happen. And you can't avoid that there will be a clash of opinions from time to time, that promoters will get in the way, that equipment will break down, and some guest won't be happy. But when you get it right, and everything goes well, it’s simply beautiful.
And it isn't only beautiful for the person who creates, but for the guest experiencing it as well.
Food plays a very important role for each of us, but I don’t believe that it is as much about the actual food itself than it is about the experience it creates and how it impacts us. And that's where I find that food is kind of like music. Music is powerful in the way that you can hear a song and it brings you back to a certain place in your life, reminds you of a certain person, or even as specific as a moment and everything that surrounded it. There’s something about hearing a song that can bring me back to a happy place or a sad place or some other kind of place. And I find that food is the only other experience that is capable of that same power.
Both of my chefs and I were talking about this recently. How our food experiences make up a large part of who we are. And I think that this is something, as chefs, we are close to because we use our experiences around food to inspire ourselves to create. There’s this big trend happening now where chefs want to cook what their grandmothers cooked. Not making things over-elaborate, but making things really really good and tasty. Our Grandmothers tend to be our number one source of inspiration and we always try to redo their dishes. However, we can use the same ingredients, we can use her mixing bowl, her roller, her knives, her oven, but it NEVER tastes the same no matter what we do. And the real reason it’s so different to us is that she’s not there. I swear I’ve tried to make my grandmother’s cabbage rolls. I have the recipe, and they taste good, but they do not taste the same as my grandmother’s. And that’s because the experience of eating those cabbage rolls is more heavily tied to the fact that she was there than their actual taste. In a way, she emphasizes the taste with her presence. And that's what it comes down to with food. It’s really about the experience of being in the house with her, the smell of the oven, the smell of the food being made, that makes that dish happier, and taste better. And I think that’s what draws me to cooking.
The other beauty of food is that it doesn’t matter what country, culture, or background you are from. We all treat it in very similar fashions. My wife is Chinese, so every couple years we go to China with our kids. The first thing we do when we arrive (and keep in mind I’m usually jet lagged like a mother f*****) is go to a local restaurant where her father rents a private room, and we get together with family to have a big meal. People talk, they get news about us, the kids get their little red envelopes with money, and all sorts of Chinese traditions. But it always happens around food. Now when we go see my mother over in Newfoundland, which couldn’t be more culturally different than China, we do the exact same thing! We get together around food. It seems that in every single country around the world, apart from the different traditions, food plays the same role in all of us. And part of me believes that it’s not just about the food and how it tastes, but really it’s more about the way it helps us create experiences and externalize them through food.
There's a whole other side to food that we often overlook, and I believe that if we look at our experience with it throughout our lives, we can learn to appreciate the role it plays in our lives.
Chef Murray McDonald - Cluny Bistro