What happens when we die? Do our loved ones bury us in our coats? Are we laid to rest with our favorite knife? Are our prep guys the pallbearers? How does this work I wonder? I know its a bit morbid to think about but its something that eventually happens to us all. But the real question isn't what happens to our bodies when we die. It's what happens to our legacy. The food we created, our passion, the lessons, all of it. What happens to it. To answer that we have to look at the energy. You know what energy I'm talking about. Let me show you. It's Valentine's Day, Friday night. And your rail is full, and the ticket machine paper needs to be changed again. This is the third time today it had to be changed. And still, they keep coming. No end in sight. But you still just keep cooking. Your hands hurt, but that's not stopping you. Because you know that when you get off shift, your solace is that nice green sack that you picked up right before your shift. Closing time can't come soon enough. But still, you don't give up. Because even though it sucks, it'll end eventually. You've been through this shit before. You live for it. You look down the line and see the sweat dripping from every orifice of your crew's bodies. They love it though. You see nothing but drive and determination. And smiles forced through aches, pains, and burns. You can see and feel that energy. That's what I'm talking about. It's the first law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of conservation that states that energy cannot be destroyed or created. Only transferred or changed from one form to another. Damn einstein, you were brilliant. Who would have thought that something as complex such as energy, would ever be applied to what we doing in the kitchen? That changes your perspective I'm sure. It's not always our skillset that pushes us forward in what we do. It's our passion that creates the energy to focus our drive. And that energy cannot be destroyed. But it is created. But what a minute, according to the first law of thermodynamics, it can't be created? So how is it that we all of a sudden want to be a line cook after a certain action in time? I'm sure most of you will argue this. And that's fine. But I feel like we create a passion for art. And art it surely is. Taking some of the world's most obscure ingredients and making a succulent meal from them, that's art. The best kind in my opinion. The art you can taste. Now that's passion. How do you think Picasso would feel if you could taste a moment in time while he was painting in his sunflower field? Can you imagine tasting a fine wine while sitting in a field of sunflowers? Well, in pasta you can taste that energy and passion I'm talking about. You want your pasta to taste like the sea, and your sauce to taste like the earth. Those two combined are what drives us to enjoy Italian cuisine. I know a guy that makes fresh pasta every day. That's his life. Getting up early in the morning, saying hello to the cold sunrises of Michigan while he grabs his coffee and starts getting ready for his day. He knows that he has a day full of dough ahead of him. I've often asked him how much dough he makes daily. He jokes and always tells me it's not enough to buy a boat yet. Although he gets up early every day, he doesn't mind it. For him, making pasta is his yoga. It's the relaxation from it that he enjoys. It takes patience as we all know. So it would make sense how many of us find this relaxing. But the energy that goes into it, well you can taste it. That's the key to good pasta. Time and patience. If you don't have a good mix of both, it'll throw off the taste. Making great pasta is nothing more than a good time. It doesn't need much but a good bass line sometime. You know, a good rhythm, and flow. The type where you don't worry about the world around you. Just the pasta. From start to finish, that's how energy is created. But where does that come from? It comes from those before us. The ones who teach us without ever knowing it. The ones who just have the swagger learned from the kitchen's rhythm. That kitchen heartbeat, that love. That's where the energy comes from. My good friend the pasta maker loves doing this every day. I've asked him if he would ever change it for anything else. He told me that he would rather cut his fingers off with a pasta cutter versus changing careers. So for the sake of his passion, let's hope he doesn't. I feel like if he did that, his son would be pretty upset. He has told me on many occasions that his son is the real reason he does what he does. His muse if you will. And I can't stress how much I enjoy hearing that. Whenever I say that to him though, he always remains humble and kicks the credit back to a chef he worked with once. This is where his smile turns into a temporary frown. This chef has recently passed away unexpectedly. But the passion and energy that remains in his place. that 's something that any person who cooks for a living, would be jealous of. And yet, he goes out on top as he deserved. I never personally got the chance to know him, but many I do know, have had that pleasure. And his passion and energy pass on through them. He taught many people. His legacy will always be passed down in memory and method of his craft. How could it not be? Such skill to be witnessed, all that knowledge and energy pulled together from the universe around him, only to end up in a small, bite-sized piece of love commonly known as a ravioli. When you taste something made from passion, it tastes like a happy memory we have from our childhood. That feeling you get when you revisit the place where you grew up. That energy around those golden tinted memories. The ones that make you crack a smile for a second. All of that comes out in a taste. At least for me, that's what passion tastes like and how energy is passed from one person to another, through memories and feelings.
I feel like this is how we make friends into a family in our industry. That feeling you get when you just vibe with someone. That feeling where you don't even have to call out a ticket, it just gets read and executed. All without question, just read, then made. Perfection at it's finest. Which is always the best ingredient in my opinion. But creating something like this cannot be bought only learned. And you can't learn it right away. This takes years of practice and patience as my friend can attest. Though he will admit that he haphazardly fell into our line of work. But in the end, he wouldn't do anything else. As long as I've personally known him, he has always been a person to keep pushing for greater things. And holy shit is a drive and passion to contend with. I can only imagine the sacrifices made daily to pursue his craft. I've heard of a few, but only in passing. Nothing more than an explanation as to why he does what he does. Never anything negative, which as you know in this line of work, it's hard not to say anything negative from time to time. Think about it, we are all some sort of weird. And it's that weirdness that causes us to adapt and overcome all the other bullshit in life, only to find happiness and realness in the kitchen. Which I feel is a fine way to die. Looking back on it though, I can't help but think that we pirates of the line are hard to kill. And yet, we are some of the most passionate and caring people. Who else can meet a stranger and teach them the in's and out's of their kitchens. All while knowing that you both just "get it". It's that vibe like I said. A vibe that can't be matched in any other line of work. I once had someone I met in a coffee shop on a random day off, ask me if they could ask me a few questions. I agreed, and for my time, they paid for my coffee. The person then went on to explain that they were a psych major and wanted to interview someone with a stressful job. And seeing me wearing my hat with a chef knife on it, they assumed I had just what they were looking for. Also, considering that I was at a coffee shop right near a major college campus, this didn't strike me as odd at all. I cook for a living, nothing shocks me anymore. This person asked me a few things, and we sat and talked for a while. The only real thing that stuck out to me, was that they kept referring to cooking as a form of Stockholm syndrome. That's when it clicked. Yeah, it kind of is. I can see how someone could and would argue that. But I told them, that all in all it's all about perspective. For example, one person's trash is another person's treasure. And that as human beings constantly evolve so we sometimes can shed the need for certain things almost instant if we want to. It's all about how something makes us feel. And cooking makes me feel like I have a purpose. So I've been blessed by the kitchen gods with the ability to harness that passion and do it every day. No matter how much I may hate it at times, ultimately my passion for my craft wins in the end. Even when I fuck up, I still get to learn from that mistake. No one is perfect. But everyone can learn from something now and then. No matter how small or big the lesson, learning is the best form of growing into whatever type of person we were meant to be. When I told them this as my response, their jaw dropped. They then told me that they would never expect an answer such as that one, to come from someone like me. Now, there are those people out there that would take offense to this. And that type of person wouldn't make it a week in my line of work. As for me, it's hard for me to be offended. And that's come from my time behind the knife. This retort caused them to tear up. So I inquired as to why their eyes were leaking. They said that they can only imagine what people in my line of work had to go through mentally to become the person I was. Asshole was the first word that popped into my mind at first, but that was their point and I knew it. After asking what type of person they were talking about, they told me that they had no idea that a place like this existed. So I advised them to pay attention to the world around them more. And continued to say that if I could do it from a window-less kitchen, that they could do it threw people out in the world.
I never found out what happened to that person after that day. But I can tell you that they left learning a great deal of what I dealt with. But that’s just me, one person. Now imagine what all of us go through daily. From vehicles not running right, to the death of a loved one. There’s a huge spectrum of things that can happen. And it’s all about how you roll with the punches and strike back. And it seems like we misfits are the only ones who do it with precise strikes and concentration. This more than likely stems from how we execute our daily lives. With skill, drive, and determination. All the things that we learned along the way in our line of work, have led us to be who we are. And we are the most real form of human beings that anyone could meet. We have all sorts of different backgrounds, styles, flavors, languages, etc. all coming together over a simple plate of food at its core. The same love brings us together. And that’s why we do what we do. So keep doing it. Keep moving forward. But never forget where you came from. Because we all are going to the same place eventually. Don’t make someone else’s journey harder than yours. That’s how you end up in a dish pit purgatory. And no one wants that. So keep being the badass you are. And respect the fallen cooks and chefs that we have had the pleasure of knowing along the way. All the people you’ve met have a reason for influencing your life the way they do. Grab that lesson and run with it. It shows in your passion. Don’t be a stranger to this.
Rodney Lienhart is a Chef formerly of McKenzie, TN but is now working and residing in Lansing, MI area. Starting at the young age of 7 years old. He worked his way through the ranks in his mom’s kitchen in the hills of Tennessee. With a background in nouvelle and southern cuisine, he uses what he knows to learn more about what he doesn’t. When he isn’t putting a flame on a saute pan, he can be found reading and researching about what makes people tick. A massive overindulgence in psychology has led him here to share what he has witnessed in his experiences. You can follow his story and insight into the world of cooking food @chef_rodney_117 on Instagram.