I was asked to be part of a discussion panel at IICA’s graduation day about a month ago, and the title of this post was the topic of discussion. Here’s what my perspective was.
Imparting knowledge of food production in a cost effective manner, to maximise both quantity and quality of output to organisations such as those involved in social welfare and reform, thus helping them make the most of usually scarce resources. Quite a few people know how to cook. You however, are training in the production of food. Your skills when applied to such situations could make all the difference to quite a few children for example, who may not otherwise have been affordable to that organisation.
Just as we have ‘Doctors without Borders’, we can also have ‘Chefs without Borders’; chefs travelling the world to regions affected by all manner of calamity, using their knowledge and skills to optimise available resources and create food production capabilities for those effected.
With an addition skill – a basic knowledge of nutrition, properties of different nutrients such as sensitivity to heat, cooking techniques for maximum retention of various nutrients, and the nutrition content of different foods, the food production systems you design in the above two scenarios would become nutrition delivery systems, making your work and role even more valuable.
We live in busy times, with barely any time for ourselves and our families and it is usually our bodies that suffer due to misinformation or lack of knowledge about food and nutrition. Armed with knowledge of both, food production and nutrition, a chef is also ideally placed to teach the principles of both, food production and nutrition to the masses, giving them a fresh lease on life, avoiding the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease we’re looking at, as a species, worldwide.
During times of economic crisis, when not only are prices of essential kitchen commodities high, but there’s also a cash crunch in most households, a chef can help the general populace cope by teaching techniques that allow a home cook to not only cook with a minimum of the basics, such as onions, but also how to stretch a rupee to the max, from a food quality and quantity point of view. At a time when families may not be able to afford to eat out, but still crave restaurant style food, your knowledge will go a long way in keeping families happier than they otherwise would, having found comfort in foods of their choice as well as having saved a few rupees.
The preservation of the cultural aspects of food can be done in two ways primarily – via academia through theoretical conservation and via the population through practice and exposure. Chefs can play a key role in the preservation of such historical knowledge by first acquiring this knowledge and then exposing it via the establishments they’re associated with, not just via time limited promotions, but as full blown menus, with the kitchens too adapted to historical styles of cooking.
One might say this isn’t really stepping out of the kitchen. I would argue that the outcome of such an effort, when carried out in a sustained and consistent manner would result in greater cultural security of the people, resulting in lesser inter community strife given the comfort one gains from knowing one’s culture and history is safe, in addition to the numerous benefits gained from historical knowledge, which is being re-discovered by modern medical and nutritional science. In effect, this would enhance and retain the mental and corporeal health of our population in addition to keeping our multi-cultural society healthy, vibrant and happy as a whole. That, certainly is outside the kitchen.