Following find an article written by my friend Randy Burns which I would like to share with you all :
“I heard this proverb recently and I must admit that the impact of it made me stop and think, it resonated profoundly with me.
Regardless of one’s personal perception/reaction to this sentiment every Cook that I spoke with about this liked and appreciated it, they all felt an affinity with it as I did.
This simple phrase is a thread that I can grasp and follow 500 years into the past to gain an insight into my predecessors as well as the kitchen mentality in general. This phrase resonates with me as it is just as poignant and applicable today as it was when it was first uttered so long ago. Our history is very long and volumes can be written and discussed, (in my last article I mention that we have been cooking over fire for 1.5 M years!),
But what does it mean? What would have caused someone to formulate a concept such as this? (and why do cooks have such a positive reaction to it). It’s always difficult to second guess someone one else’s meaning and context, especially when it has been removed by 500 years, but I will offer you my interpretation.
Simply put; Life in the Middle Ages was brutal. Working in kitchens was no better and in many ways worse than other professions/trades. Conditions were very unsanitary, smoky/poor air quality, long hours of hard work and HOT Kitchens. (not much different than a Cook’s life today? LMAO!). All cooking was done over an open fire, indoors. There was no refrigeration and “fresh” being a relative term meant that most “creative” cooking was to mask and disguise tainted and even rotten food. Perhaps it is only a servant of the Devil that can survive and excel in this environment? They say that little slices of Heaven can be found in our world; are kitchens a little slice of Hell?
It is high summer here in Northern Alberta, we hit the 36 degrees C outside today and one of the younger Cooks complained about how hot it was in the kitchen. I looked at him and without even thinking about it I said;
“If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” (LMAO!!!)
I don’t think one has the luxury of that choice in Hell; do you?
Is Thomas Deloney’s proverb a commentary on the heat in a kitchen? It seems to be a constant throughout our history, and NO, not every one can hack it. Only the most ruthless survive as a Cook.
Merchant and Craft Guilds were prevalent throughout Europe at this time which included several Culinary groups. This development was a boon for trades/professions as it began the organization, standardization and structure for all; Cooking was no exception. This is where and when our apprenticeship program began and although the “Guild” system diminished around 1800 the “City & Guilds of London Institute” was resurrected in 1878 to continue the education/certification program. Virtually every Cook/Chef that I’ve worked with from the U.K. has gone through this excellent school.
At it’s peak there were over 100 Guilds, further reading can be seen in the “sources” section at the end of this post, (and it is fascinating reading), but I would like to mention one and offer a brief history.
“The written history of the guild of “Les Oyers” or “Goose Roasters” has been traced back to the year 1248. At that time, King Louis IX assigned Étienne Boileau, the Provost of Paris, with the task of bringing order into the organization of trades and guilds, developing young apprentices and improving the technical knowledge of guild members. He gathered together the charters of more than 100 of these trades, among them the Goose Roasters.
In 1509, during the reign of King Louis XII, some new statutes were introduced, which resulted in the change of the name of the guild to “Rôtisseurs” and the restriction of its activities to poultry, game birds, lamb and venison. In 1610, under King Louis XIII, the guild was granted a royal charter and its own coat of arms.
For over four centuries, the “Confrérie” or brotherhood of the Roasters cultivated and developed culinary art and high standards of professionalism and quality—standards befitting the splendor of the “Royal Table”—until the guild system was disbanded, together with all others, in 1793 during the French Revolution. The Rôtisseurs were almost forgotten until 1950 when Dr. Auguste Becart, Jean Valby and “Prince” Curnonsky, and chefs Louis Giraudon and Marcel Dorin resurrected the Society and created La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs”
I mention “The Chaine…” here as I’ve been a very active member, in the past, for well over 20 years. Along with “The Chaine” I’ve also been active with other gourmet groups/societies and Chef’s Associations. Looking at it from the perspective of this article I realize that this could be considered as “Culinary Evangelism”; Yes I’m spreading “The Word”.
One of the most appealing and gratifying aspects, amongst many others, of participating in The Chaine is the education and that feeling of connection with our past, our history and heritage.
Obviously I talk a lot about history, I believe that it’s important, especially in our business.
We need to know where we came from, to know how we got to where we are today; we need to see the bigger picture than just the microcosm that is your personal kitchen; and it is a very big picture indeed! Besides the educational aspects I find the history fascinating and enlightening. For anyone interested in reading more research Auguste Escoffier. For any Cooks out there not familiar with him, and yes there are some, this is mandatory reading;
Although I knew that the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs had, (and still have today), their own coat of arms, (which I always displayed in the dining room of my restaurants), I was not aware that other culinary guilds were awarded them as well.
Note that most Coat of Arms have a “Motto/Battle Cry” along the bottom, generally written in Latin.
See first the Coat of Arms of the Butcher’s Guild
“Sub Pedibus Omnia Subiecta Oves et boves”
“Under the Feet is Subject to All of the Sheep and the oxen”
Here is the Coat of Arms for Cooks
“Vulnerati non Victi”
“Wounded not Defeated”
Admittedly my Latin is a little rusty so I researched these translations and used several sites to determine the most accurate. I researched the Butcher’s first, fairly straight forward.
Then I did the Cook’s; I freely confess that I almost had a baby when I saw this translation, this is the “mood” of a Cook; and not in a negative way. It expresses the indomitable spirit that one needs in order to survive in the kitchen; it’s perfect, and it’s been around for over 500 years but it is as poignant and applicable today as it was back then. Could it also be an expression/illustration of the circumstance that the Devil is in? (after all weren’t we sent by him.) Maybe the healing is our redemption but until that day comes we will continue doing what we do, and enjoying every minute of it.
In closing I would like to remind everyone that the Devil was once an Angel and although he’s fallen from grace even he has a chance for redemption, as we ALL do. Perhaps we are his redeemers paying his penance in the daily grind of “Hell’s kitchen”. Perhaps we are all paying our penance in the kitchen for redemption. As I constantly say there is no where else I’d rather be and nothing else I’d rather be doing, nor is there a more worthy or noble cause. How about a little sympathy for the Devil?
I talk and write a lot about the “mood”, the psychology/philosophy, the history of kitchens, cooking and Cooks. Obviously it is a life long passion. It is an alternative lifestyle and as a Wise Chef told me a long time ago, “The kitchen is NOT for the faint of heart”. I can absolutely vouch for that. A Cook is many, many things and yes we can be irreverent, rude, crass, explosive along with passionate, dedicated, motivated. One of my favorite “Culinary” authors is Anthony Bourdain, (R.I.P. Tony). His writing “cuts the crap” and shows not just us who we are, but exposes us to the rest of the world; for the better in my opinion. Tony has some great adventure stories of us swashbuckling Cooks!
I believe in “The Yin & Yang” of life and in order to have the divine within us, we must also include the Devil; you can’t have one without the other, embrace them both.
OK so maybe I’ve finally lost it; the over 40 years of “baking my noodle” in a sweltering kitchen has finally taken it’s toll and it’s time to put me out to pasture but I feel a real affinity with both Deloney’s quote and with the Cooks “Battle Cry”. They both express, personify, and illustrate a Cook’s mindset and perspective brilliantly. Time to resurrect a little history.
I think all of you Cooks out there can relate to this; for all of you non-Cooks out there just ask a cook what they think of Thomas Deloney’s proverb and see what their reaction is to the motto/battle cry on our Coat of Arms, I believe that you’ll get a sparkle in their eye, a big smile, and an emphatic “Hell Yah!”
Happy Cooking Everyone!
Further reading on the Psychology/Philosophy of kitchens;