Enjoying the work of Masters in other disciplines

I recently came across a cook book called “The Cordon Bleu Cookbook” by Dione Lucas. It was published in 1947. Dione Lucas was an English chef and the the first female graduate of Le Cordon Blue, the famous school for french cuisine. She was the first woman to be featured in a cooking show in New York, and helped introduce the omelette to the American palette.

The Cordon Bleu Cook Book

The book has an introduction by Dione Lucas, where she talks about how she views cooking as an art form, and expresses her love for cooking. She says – “The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living. I still remember one of my early teachers who initiated me into some of the intricacies of the kitchen; before becoming a chef he had been a sculptor with the Prix de Rome to his credit.

Until this time, cooking had only been an avocation, with a love of good food instilled into me by my English mother, who was herself supreme in the kitchen. As my training at the school progressed, I became more and more convinced that here was my niche. Whatever talents I had were best expressed in the alchemy of the kitchen. Transforming raw ingredients into a finished product, knowing that my fingers and my skill were responsible for this creation, gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction.”

She goes on to describe her routine when she opened a restaurant in New York, while continuing to teach. “My day in New York begins early, for planning and marketing to have fresh fish, meats and vegetables assembled for my morning class takes time. Students arrive early, for my classes start promptly, and at ten o’clock I am ready to give my morning lesson. I have found from experience that students absorb more if recipes are dictated to them. Following dictation, each student chooses the dish he or she would most like to prepare. Within two hours, everything is completed. Afternoon classes run from 3:30-5:30P M. Evening from 7:00-9:00 PM.”

“Saturday mornings I devote to classes for young children, for I feel very keenly that a love and appreciation of good food should develop early. If they can walk and hold a spoon, I will teach them to cook – simple dishes to be sure, but a real step forward in the child’s education toward better living”

“My specialty is the omelette. All these omelettes, I make in my special pan, which has not been used for anything else in the sixteen years I have owned it. Neither has it ever been washed, for water would cause the omelettes to stick to the pan. In my spare time, I take special orders for dishes to carry out, catering to those who have neither the time nor the inclination to cook dinner.”

“Many of my students ask me how I manage to accomplish the amount of work involved in running this combined restaurant and cooking school. I think the answer is abundant energy, together with a very real love of my work. I look on the finished product as something to be judged critically, but a dish, I hope, to delight the eye and warm the heart of those who eat it.”

“This book is an attempt to help others who love good food, to inspire them to the level of the creative artist, so that they too will know the real satisfaction that comes from dishes that come well prepared. Cooking cannot be relegated to the same category as dishwashing or making beds. Preparation of good food requires time, skill and patience, and results mean the difference between mere eating to exist and the satisfaction derived from one of the major pleasures of life. Surely there is nothing more uplifting to the soul or more joyful to the spirit than well flavored, well prepared food.”

While this whole introduction is about cooking, it is inspiring to anyone who loves their craft. The author has clearly mastered her craft, she loves what she does, and this enables her to continue to push the boundaries of what she can do. She is at the height of her craft, and it’s amazing to see her attention to detail – for example – she’s been using the same pan for making omelettes for 16 years! Her output is prolific – at a time when women were not as encouraged to have a career, she became the first woman to graduate from Cordon Blue and found multiple ways to share her art with others – her own restaurant, cooking classes, a book.

When learning any craft, it’s easy to look only at artists who are practicing that same craft. However, there’s much to be learnt and draw inspiration from artists in other fields too. I enjoyed reading this passage from a master, and thought I’ll share it you all! 🙂

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