I say reluctant because unlike a lot of people in this industry it was never my dream to grow up and be a chef. I grew up in a working household, both my parents were very busy all the time so meals, which were always eaten together, were about efficiency rather than exotics picked from the farmer's market (which wasn't around when I was young anyways). In that sense I'm just an average American. Eating in the car while on the way to somewhere undoubtedly very important, high end eating reserved for birthdays, anniversaries, or relatives visiting from out of town. Culinary experimentation? Never heard of it.
But then I got my first job, working in a restaurant of course! Man those cooks were cool. Bunch of bad asses swearing and yelling, bossing everyone around, fire and knives... Yeah, that was where the cool kids hung out.
It wasn't until I got to college that I got my first cook job, banging out fast food. The intensity, the noise, the fast pace, the team work, it was just like I hoped it would be. Good stuff and good times. Still had no interest in becoming a chef, though, I just wanted to be the boss line cook, the guy who anchored the whole place, the VIP on the busiest nights, the lynch pin. Worked on becoming that in a few places but then made the mistake of working with some creative people who made things from scratch and loved making beautiful plates, as opposed to just banging out food as fast as possible.
Things started to change. This new type of food was HARD. The pace wasn't any slower, but the technical challenges were increasing. It was the difficulty, the challenge of it all that drew me in. And there was something else, something beautiful started to emerge. Looking at a plate I had just put together gave me satisfaction, the artistic urge to create was being fed like the diners I was serving. I could put a plate or ten in the window and sit back feeling full myself, even though I was physically ravenous after forgetting to eat AGAIN before service began. Eventually I realized that I needed some real training if I was going to get to the next level so I dove in to culinary school, once again not to become a chef, but to become a top notch line cook.
Fast forward another couple of years and line cooking is getting repititous, mostly because it seems like annoying chefs keep getting in my way as we line cooks try to rock out some good service. I guess if you can't beat 'em, you need to join 'em, eh? An opportunity to run a whole KITCHEN (not just a saute station on the line) presents itself and I realize that this is yet another mountain to climb, another challenge to overcome, another very difficult thing to try and do so I leap at it.
If you're sensing a common theme here, you should. I arrived at where I am professionally not because I followed a dream, but because I followed the work. It was not fulfilling a fantasy to open Sage, it was the removing of the last obstacle (owners who were in the way) to finally just get a chance to work without anyone bothering me. Reluctant chef? Maybe that's not quite the right title but it seems to fit.
Here's a quote from Uber-Chef Marco Pierre White that sums it up the best: "I wish I wasn't a cook. I wish cooking was just a passionate hobby, but it's an obsession. I caught the bug at the Box Tree [restaurant where he worked] and it's terminal. I used to dream about food - smells, tastes, textures. That must be how dishes come to me. All these ideas steam away in my head like old cabbage leaves in a compost heap, and then one day something clicks and they get translated into beautiful food on a plate."