Things Chefs Know

I want to start with a true confession. Ever since I was little, I have loved not just well-cooked food, but eating out at a good restaurant – ever since the first time my father took me to the Jewish delicatessen around the corner and I had my first Reuben sandwich. Now you know why I am hooked on food. Since then, I have enjoyed writing for several small local newspapers and alternative weekly publications as a food critic. Now I get to share with you. A blog for potential has always been a dream of mine. It is almost as good as having your own show on the Food Network. Ha!

Today’s topic is ambient smoke – the kind that lingers in a restaurant interior or patio and ruins the patrons’ encounter with the food. The amazing flavor that rises from a freshly-prepared dish clashes with stale toxins in the air. Fie on cigarette smokers – or for that matter any other kind including pipes and cigars. I bring up this subject because recently I interviewed a few top chefs in my area for cooking tips for my column. I was shocked that some of them smoke. Foodies are usually health nuts. I guess not. What is this world coming to? (But at least they don’t do it in the kitchen.) It seems that the taste in their mouths would mar their ability to assess the state of a dish in preparation. Smoking affects one’s sense not only of taste, but of smell. Both are key to the evaluation process while cooking fine food.

They have tricks for clearing their palettes and getting rid of the smell of cigarettes on their clothing, which they got from this web site. First of all, they gobble mints like they are candy – which they are. They spray with products like Binaca. I get it. Then they spray themselves outside with Febreze to remove telltale signs of their nasty habit. They put on a clean chef’s jacket every day. It is not that they smoke in them (that would be ridiculous and just plain stupid), but the garment picks up the scent on their clothing. Off to the cleaners they go for their regular detailing.

I was skeptical despite the common-sense approach, but they assured me that smoking does not interfere with their skills. Otherwise, I assume that they would quit; but I know that it takes a lot to make an avid, long-term smoker stop. Since I don’t indulge myself, I don’t understand the attraction. A person into food needs to preserve his or her precious sense of taste and smell. It is so much a part of the pleasure. Other aspects that drive me forward in my career are searching for exciting and unusual recipes. The chefs I interviewed in toto provided me with enough fodder for a year’s worth of columns. Thus, I can forgive them for their offensive practice of smoking cigarettes on the job.