I’m a Chef, Not a Miracle Worker

Whenever someone new hears that I am a chef, I immediately get “I wish I lived at your house!” This is followed up by “I’d love to eat gourmet meals every night!” and “I’d be so much thinner/fitter/healthier if I lived with a chef, because you could make things I like healthier!”

Here’s the hard truth: I am a person with two jobs, both of which are fairly time-consuming. My fiance’ is a full-time student and works. And, I am a chef, not a magician.

What do these things mean? They mean that we largely eat simple meals we design to fit our schedules, not 4-course dinners. They mean that, just like pretty much everyone else in the world, I don’t have unlimited time to sit around preparing complicated food. They mean that we often eat things that are healthy, filling, and reasonably good, but not super-gourmet awesome. And, they mean that I cannot turn unhealthy food magically into healthy food, so living with me is unlikely to give anyone who has bad eating habits better ones  just because they eat at my table.

Each week, I post what we’re  eating at our house in my On the Menu series. Sometimes, you’ll see something super fun and fiddly, but about 98% of the time, you’ll see food. Healthy food, but not fancy food. Slow cookers, batch cooking, and planning ahead means that we cook 95% of our meals at home, and that we have reasonably good food to eat; but, we don’t have the time or budget for what most people consider gourmet food every night.  Can I cook gourmet food? Yes. I do it every week for my clients. Which, like most working stiffs, leaves me precious little time to cook it for us. Instead, I try to use the time and money we have wisely by planning basic, flavorful, SIMPLE meals that don’t take hours on end to make or the entirety of our paychecks to buy.

It also means we eat a lot of “weird” foods. These foods are not actually weird, they’re just not typically American.  And I certainly don’t spend the time I do have to plan, shop, and cook finding exotic ways to mimic unhealthy food with “healthier” options. We just eat healthier foods. Meaning that if someone doesn’t like vegetables and refuses to eat them, living with me isn’t going to make them magically eat vegetables. It’s just going to mean they go hungry and get pissed off a lot. We know, because we’ve dealt with this in former roommates. I don’t find ways to hide vegetables in cake, macaroni and cheese, or pizza. We just eat those unhealthy foods less often, and opt for things like lentil soup and crustless quiche far more frequently.

Could I figure out a way to make mac & cheese healthier? Yes. Actually, I don’t have to figure it out, because I already know how–and it’s incredibly time consuming (making a squash and yam puree isn’t quick, for example). There are some dishes that don’t take extra effort to make a lot healthier, like my meatloaf and lasagna, so of course I do that. I am just not going to go acres out of my way to do it when I could just opt for something that is naturally healthy and less work.

People need to stop looking for excuses as to why they eat poorly. Being a chef doesn’t change reality–either you make healthy meal preparation a priority or you don’t. If you have other priorities, that’s fine–we all have our own lives. But, me being a chef doesn’t mean that I somehow have less to do than other folks, or that I just walk into the kitchen and food transports itself in from some alternate food dimension and onto a china plate on my dinner table. I probably have some advantages in that I am faster at chopping vegetables because I do it more, and that I probably have more recipes at hand; but, the reality is that most of my more advanced cooking skills aren’t deployed at home all that regularly.  Almost anyone can read and execute a slow-cooker recipe. And no chef I know doubles as Houdini in the kitchen.

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2 responses to “I’m a Chef, Not a Miracle Worker

  • Gaylin

    Preach it, sister. I think sometimes people get confused when we describe things too. I mean wouldn’t you rather each “Garlic-Roasted Breast of Chicken with Balsamic Reduction Served on a Bed of Zucchini Paparedelle Noodles” rather than “Chicken and gravy with Zucchini”? The first one is way sexier sounding than the second. It’s all in the selling. 🙂

    • shwankie

      This is totally true, as chef’s it’s our job to sell our food. It’s always funny when someone realizes that what I’ve just described to them that has them oohing and aahing is, essentially, vegetable casserole 🙂

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