Being in tune with your “chef personality” will make you happier in the kitchen, cook food that’s more authentically you and – the goal of all us cooks – delight your diners. But what are the chef personalities and how do you know which is you?
You see, I believe that there are three primal chef personalities. Each of these chef types has a strong and unique view on how to create good food, what the diner’s relationship is to food, and the greater social purpose behind cooking. The three primal chef types are:
Chef Personality: The Explorer
Explorers search for new lands and new adventures. Cooks with this chef personality are risk-takers, thrill-seekers. The Explorers among us challenge our conventional thinking.
One of the hallmarks of the Explorer is a focus on innovation.
One example of Explorer cooking is micro-gastronomy, with its search for new techniques (and often new ingredients) that change our thinking about the very nature of food. Likewise, fusion cuisine tries to change how we think about food by harnessing the cultural friction that can come from exploration.
Chef Personality: The Rebel
The second type of chef personality are the Rebels, who want to change the status quo. Often driven by social concerns, they look for ways to transform the world as we currently know it. Rebels can work to influence our thinking, although occasionally they take more forceful approaches – with mixed results.
One of the hallmarks of the Rebel is a focus on technique.
Two of the most current (and environmentally critical) examples of Rebel cooking are vegetarianism – and more recently veganism. Each seeks to upend our food supply chain by reimagining and demolishing existing industrial agri-business models in an effort to address climate change.
Chef Personality: The Romantic
Romantics are the last archetype chef personality and they use cooking to create an emotional connection with the diner. Romantics embrace food memories often through rustic (although not always simple!) food that triggers strong emotional connections.
It’s no surprise then that one of the hallmarks of the Romantic is a focus on taste.
The shift away from haute cuisine to regional cooking is an example of the Romantic cooking movement. The enduring popularity of Italian cooking and the rise of “chicken and waffle” restaurants underscore the power of Romantic cooking.
Each of us is a mixture of all three of these primal chef types. The exact ratios are unique to each of us. For example, some of us prefer the path of the Explorer, with a hint of Rebel. On the other hand, there are others who opt for a Romantic approach sharpened by clashes that the Explorer brings. It’s incredibly useful to understand what combination of these three primal types of chef you are – for in understanding, you’ll find a cooking style that brings you happiness. And a happy chef cooks better food.
Last weekend, for the first time in a long time, I had a chance to cook for people who were not in my immediate family. Thanks to COVID-19, this sadly continues to be a rare and special treat for many us. As I created the menu, I was struck by the approach that I was taking to the dishes:
- Polenta with roasted mushrooms and cartelized onions
- Roasted chicken with pine nuts and olives
- Charred cabbage with crispy pork belly
- Cannellini beans with rosemary and olive oil
Simple flavors. Associations with family and friends. I was leaning heavily into my Romantic chef type for sure! But this wasn’t dinner at Nona’s house – contemporary techniques and ingredients were there too. My Rebel was showing more than just a bit too.
I was happier in the kitchen than I’d been in a long time. You often hear chefs talk about cooking “their food.” Apparently, I needed a global pandemic to remind me that “my food” is Romantic with a hint of Rebel. What’s yours?