Building a community

“A community is a group of people who agree to grow together.” – Simon Sinek

Tucked away in a hot kitchen with sweat rolling down your temples, the printer ticks away and orders roll up onto the floor, it’s easy to disregard everything past the bin at the end of the line. In fact it’s probably been hours since you’ve had a regular conversation with a human other than “hot, behind”, “walking in…” and “let’s sell tables 42 and 76”. Though, outside of your safety zone, lies a whole host of people waiting patiently to have a conversation with you through your food.

As chefs, we’ve been trained that food is king. Treat every ingredient with respect and make sure that the new line cook pulls those scallops of the heat before they go over. And really there’s nothing wrong with that. Well except for the fact that that’s only our side of the story and our diners may be looking for the rest. Looking for a little more context, a lingering sentence of the story that holds them silent as they wait for you to continue. It’s this space where people take priority over the food. Where the plot twist comes in and you introduce a new character to the storyline.

I can’t help but admit I’ve been in the same situation too many times to count. Caught up in my own story and worried about the next paragraph while ignoring the ending. But last night I was reminded just how important it is to be a better storyteller and include the audience in the process. Tables of new friends, food and wine are never a bad idea in my opinion and usually set the tone for a great story that I can recall for years to come.

We (that means 20+ of us) dined at Perón Perón for a dinner with Chef Gonzalo Alderete. Gonzalo is a big and burly guy with a bushy beard, graying hair and a wonderful attitude towards sharing his passion with his guests. Besides the supremely tasty and seemingly never ending parade of food coming from the kitchen, it was the few short conversations I had with chef that opened my eyes to his wisdom.

A few thoughts I picked up from Gonzalo, paraphrased a bit due to the abundance of vino tinto that was also seemingly never ending…

“I could make my own chorizo, and it would be better, but then I’d run out of time to enjoy what I’m doing.”

“So many other restaurants worry about making money and forget about the people.”

“Most Argentines have five spices in their kitchen. I have twenty, and they all ask how I get so much flavor in my food.”

“I cook the dishes that my grandma made for me when I was a kid. So many people have forgot about them.”

Words from a man who’s only been cooking professionally for seven years. And in only one kitchen, and has never had formal training. I assume his past life as a psychologist lent some great insight into what make people happy. He told me he was tired of always ‘listening to the worst that people were going through’ and knew that cooking is what made him happy.

And happy he is as he showed off his tiny but efficient kitchen, the wood fired parilla at the forefront and a handful of also happy cooks turning out food with a smile. For me, a simple reminder that the human connection is key in the foodservice and restaurant world. For the rest of the group, they were joyful and content with glasses clinking and bellies stuffed. “So much good food” was a phrase uttered too many times as we walked down the street for after dinner cocktails. They may not have realized the depth of the story they took part in but it will be a meal remembered by all. A sweet ending to a great tale, just as good prose should be.

2018-02-22T08:57:05+00:00 January 26th, 2018|
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