One Toque Over The Line
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 8 Dec 99 23:22:03 -0800
Subject: One Toque Over The Line
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Forwarded-by: Keith Sullivan <KSullivan@worldnet.att.net>
ONE TOQUE OVER THE LINE
By Tony Kornheiser, The Washington Post, Sunday, November 17, 1996
Apparently, the hottest postgraduate school in the country today is not law
school, which promises huge incomes, or medical school, which promises huge
incomes plus seeing people naked -- but cooking school.
The boom, particularly in the Washington area, has caught most experts
unaware. Most experts are idiots. The reason is as simple as butter on
toast: Bethesda! Every night 1,595 new restaurants open in Bethesda, and
they need chefs. Any type of food you want, you can find it in Bethesda.
Kosher Mongolian food, nouvelle Eskimo cuisine with karaoke on Friday
nights, Polynesian-Hungarian, Swedish-Bangladeshi, Tex-Mex with a tatami-mat
sushi room. God forbid you should need to find a box of Band-Aids in
Bethesda. You would have to make do with a poultice of shellfish ragout
and leek confit.
Anyway, since there are so many jobs for chefs, the students aren't the
usual collection of deadbeats who attend professional schools like the
Certified Bartenders Academy. These are doctors, lawyers and bankers who
are eager to become chefs so they can get in touch with their artistic,
expressionistic side, quit their odious $180,000-a-year jobs -- and start
making $325 a week. There's a guy in Philadelphia who was an intestinal
surgeon for 15 years. For 15 years the man used his surgical skill to
reattach microscopic threads of human tissue and save lives. Now he's
stuffing translucent ravioli dough with wild mushrooms and chicken mousse.
(It seems such a waste. Any G.P. can stuff ravioli. A surgeon ought to be
Now I've got nothing against people changing careers. When I grew up in
the 1960s, it was typical for someone in midlife to decide that everything
he had devoted his professional life to -- say, investment banking -- was
a crass, selfish enterprise; overnight, these people became flower arrangers
or candlemakers or street-corner peddlers of tie-dyed underpants. There
was even a name for this phenomenon. Drug abuse.
It is not drugs, however, but economics that seems to be playing the biggest
role in this recent cooking phenomenon. The director of admissions at the
New York Restaurant School says he's "seeing a lot of people who have been
let go from corporations after 10 to 15 years." You ain't seen nothing yet,
pal. In a month or so you'll be up to your eyeballs in former Texaco
executives signing up to peel lamb membranes.
Every one of these new-career cooks seems to be a food snob. If there's a
sign-up sheet at these cooking schools, and one sign says "meatloaf" and
the other says "poignee de porte," everybody there would sign up to learn
how to cook poignee de porte, which is "doorknob" in French. There's
Francophile tyranny in these schools. (Just wait. In a couple of years
you'll be at McDonald's, and some former nuclear physicist will ask you,
"Does monsieur desire pommes frites with that?")
Accountants named Sidney or Marvin go to cooking school and when they
graduate, all of a sudden they're Jean-Pierre or Claude-Henri. You have to
have a hyphenated first name to be a chef. It's a rule. That's why cooking
schools are popular in places like Texas, where so many people are named
A woman I know is enrolled in one of these fancy-schmancy cooking schools.
She goes twice a week for three-hour classes. Her teacher is named
something like Claude le Snot. The class has spent the last four weeks on,
and I am quoting her verbatim, "eggs." I asked her if she is enjoying the
class, and she said that it is, so far, one of the most rewarding
experiences of her life. This woman is a veteran trial lawyer. She has
put murderers in prison for life. Egg whites excite her?
I never went to cooking school myself; life is too short to spend a lot of
time scooping melon balls. But I like to cook. Especially breakfast,
because it contains all the major men's food groups -- sausage, eggs, toast,
coffee, and lots of grape jelly.
The truth is, if I could have any job in the world, I'd be a short-order
breakfast cook at a diner. I'd put on a white, starched apron, tie a white
kerchief around my neck and make breakfast. Flip some pancakes, chop up
some potatoes and peppers and onions and grill 'em up. Put it all on a nice
clean plate with an orange slice garnish. People are so happy when you put
breakfast in front of them. I've never seen one unhappy person eating
breakfast at a diner -- that's not counting the guys who've come in with
gunshot wounds, of course. Yep, that's what I'd do, cook breakfasts at a
"And would you like to earn $4 an hour doing this?" my friend Gino asked
Well, actually I was thinking more along the lines of $200,000 a year. But
maybe I could supplement my income by growing a second head and appearing
in a carnival.
"See, I'd really like to be a mailman," Gino said. Gino is a big-shot
editor, which means he basically gets lots of money to do nothing. "I was
a mailman once, as a summer job in college," he said, getting all misty.
"I'd walk around in the fresh air, putting letters with people's names on
them into the right boxes. People were happy to see me. I was happy to
see them. I was doing something important, getting stuff to people who
"See, I can understand," he said, "why a tax lawyer would like to make
caramelized apple pouf-pouf. He's actually making something. That's the
problem with America. Most jobs produce nothing tangible. Unless you're
building houses or driving a mail route, you're probably an assistant
manager of the data processing unit of the human services division for the
office of the undersecretary of commercial fisheries management. Nobody
makes anything anymore."
Except, apparently, reservations.
(c) Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company
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