One of the greatest joys of being an educator is seeing a former student achieve greatness. After more than 20 years in higher education, I can honestly say this is the real reason I keep at it…nothing is more rewarding. This past weekend I had a chance to catch up to Chef Chris Cosentino (Incanto, Baccalone, food network) in Chicago and spent time during the day tagging along with him for a while. Chris was one of my students years ago and his success warms my heart. He has always been exceptionally talented, hard-working if not irreverent, and gifted with creativity. His success is no surprise but years ago it was no guarantee.
We are in the kitchen in Chicago and Chris is electric prior to performing in front of five hundred spectators. He pulls me aside to show me a whole duck bloated with foie gras. In a few minutes he will demonstrate how to remove the enlarged liver from the duck along with other nasty bits and parts. The duck is gorgeous. Alongside the duck, Chris will demonstrate his new line of knives from Shun, he is giddy over these knives and tools. He always has something up, or tattooed on his sleeve as sponsors attempt to tap into his energy. The same was true last year when we connected; he was wearing a new pair of shoes form Mozo with honeycomb tripe printed on the toecap. He reeks of cool.
Chris has five minutes before he is due on stage and electricity is pouring out of him. While standing backstage he realizes that he hasn’t autographed the row of Kitchen Aid mixers lined along the wall so he darts off to tag a couple. In a flash he begins sketching a pig snout, eyes and ears on the front of the mixer and spins it around to squiggle a tail on the back, then signs his name just above the speed control while exclaiming “I drew a swine.” Where does this guy get his creativity?
Out front now, Chris begins his demonstration by carefully removing the livers from the duck, pulling out the lungs, gizzards and heart, joking “I left my heart in San Francisco” to a good laugh from the crowd. As Chris is cutting up with the crowd Chef Duff Goldman joins him and busts his ass for beating him during an episode of Chefs vs. City. The crowd is roaring now but Cosentino takes it in stride, never losing his concentration. He splits the duck down the sides removing the breasts on the bone, seasons all sides and places them in the oven at 500 degrees to roast. “This is old fashioned cooking…simple roasting done right” Chris shouts. While the breasts are roasting he sears a slab of the liver with salt and pepper, pulls the seared liver out of the pan and tosses in a spoonful of pinenuts and capers swirling them to heat. He has the final dish plated within seconds and on display and the crowd is going nuts.
Watching him I see that he’s found a way to channel his energy into something great. He’s comfortable, his skills are excellent. The life lessons and professional discipline he learned long ago while in culinary school provided just the foundation he needed to find his way. But the best thing of all is that he is happy. For nearly two hours while we’re together his joy is contagious; an affliction I am quick to appreciate.