The Art of Being a Chef by Chef Chris Hill

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th February 2017

This month, chef Chris Hill, who opened his first restaurant at 28 after leaving the business world behind him, explains why cooking is art and what it means to be a culinary artist.

My life has been one incredibly tangled, confusing love affair with food, cooking and the kitchen.

CH quoteI’m not going to skate around the truth — getting here has been a challenge, day in and day out. I went more than three years of not getting paid, as a chef and restaurant owner, however, not once did I ever doubt the decision I made to become a chef. There were days I wanted to throw in the towel though. It’s been a tough road. Instead of ‘mailing it in’ like so many choose to do, and like I could have done, I decided to look myself in the mirror and ask myself the question posed by the late Scott Dinsmore (founder of Live Your Legend who tragically died at 33 years old):


Was that to become a chef or was it something else?

As early as I can remember I’ve had a fascination with food and the impact it can have on the people around me. As a young boy, I vividly remember the ‘restaurant’ menus my siblings and I ordered off of each other within the confines of our home in Atlanta. We’d create a very labour-friendly list of items, and for a small fee we’d take it in turns making meals for each other. It was in those younger years that I learned, not necessarily how to cook, but rather how it made me feel to cook for someone, as well as what it meant to just be around food and the warmth of the kitchen. Little did I know the profound impact this early realisation would have in the shaping of my life, and the way in which I would start to see the world.

Through the kitchen I discovered a life I knew to be true, at least for me. The sizzle from a piece of fish kissing a hot, oil drizzled pan gets me going and the waft of freshly baked bread seeping out of the oven can take my breathe away.

It’s more than that though.

I’ve found a home in the kitchen, and those are the things that remind me of that, often taking me to certain places and prior times in my life. The narrative runs deeper, though what matters to me are the things that drive that narrative.

CH quote2Those sentiments and the idea of cooking for or with someone else have stuck with me, and as a result they’ve made my world a whole lot bigger. The kitchen over the last 8 or 10 years has become a platform, a canvas to express who I am.

Because now, unlike most young men my age, I know how to cook and can do so well enough to insert my creativity and touch into a dish in a way that represents who I am. I think that’s the true beauty of becoming a chef or artist of any kind. We commit to nurturing our skills that over time equip us with competence and confidence. Then, before too long, we’re able to push past our limitations and are able to share our unique perspective of the world, the way we see it. It doesn't stop there though because in the process we share that with the people around us and mentor them in their journeys by empowering and encouraging them to find their own voice and way of doing things that works for them.

This is where the magic happens.

If you’ve ever created something meaningful for someone, or vice-versa, chances are it was personal for both parties involved. As chefs we have the opportunity to do that every day — the personality and vision behind the act of creation is what makes the act meaningful, versus merely satisfying one’s primal need to eat or drink. You can walk to the fridge or hop in the drive through on the way home from work and fulfill that need.

Far greater, I’d argue, is seeing food, cooking and the stories told through them as powerful ways to connect to a more primal part of one’s being — one’s humanity.

>>> Read more from Chris Hill here

I think a lot about why I do what I do and why I chose to become a chef.

Sure a part of it is the creative aspect — I smile at creating an experience for a guest, my family, my beautiful girlfriend, or even the dishwasher at the restaurant because in that creation, for whomever it might be, lives a piece of me. I didn’t have to share it but rather, I’ve chosen to, and on any given plate lives a summation of all of the experiences of my life, and how those ingredients have come to shape who I am at that very second of my existence. It’s no different than Picasso with a brush, Edison in the lab, or Bob Dylan with a pen, some paper and a guitar using their experiences to create things. One’s perspective as both an artist and a person lives through the expression of the craft they’ve chosen to share with the world and that’s always changing.

CH quote 3Expression is great, but I really live this life in hopes of having a positive impact on the people, and the world around me.

I do it in order cultivate relationships with employees, vendors and all of the people with whom I interact. I try to lead with generosity, heart and grit, hoping to leave people with an example of what they can do in their lives to make a difference by being generous and hardworking. I hope they can take these ideas and apply them throughout the various chapters of their own lives and down whatever road they choose to travel.

Working in a heated, intense environment of close proximity to one’s co-workers is the best way I’ve found to express these ideas in a way that builds trust, communication and respect — the building blocks for any relationship. In the kitchen you have to build these relationships or everything goes to hell.

So, my hope is that the people that I’ve touched, as a boss, co-worker, artist, or chef (whatever you want to call me) will then keep the chain of positivity going in their lives through their relationships and in the work of which they choose to make their career.

Cooking is art but only when the people making it connect to the ingredients, as well as the part of them that is most human. A story is woven through these ingredients and onto a plate, but underlying all of that, are interpretations of experiences from a group of people that we call culinary artists. They’ve chosen to be generous by bringing such a story to life; a story that tells the story of how they see the world.

I think  to be a culinary artist means to be able to express one’s self through the creation of food, and to be generous in how we come to do so — it’s more than just cooking. The kitchen is a pretty remarkable canvas to express one’s work and the food we put out into the world represents who we are, but in the end, none of that matters and our food ceases to be art if we don’t create a connection to it, and more importantly with the people around us. So, our hope, as artists — is that you appreciate, quite literally, what we dare to bring to the table — we hope that you’ll connect with it and in turn, us as well.

Chris Hill
Chris Hill

Chef Chris Hill left a job in the business world to follow his heart and passion into the world of cooking and the kitchen. Chris opened his first restaurant at 28 and grew into the role of executive chef.

Having taken his experiences in the corporate world, as well as those in the kitchen, Chris has built a large social media following centered around TV appearances all over the Southeast U.S., his writing, TEDx talks, and his mission of helping industry workers to lead fulfilling, successful careers.

Chris' first book comes out in the Summer of 2016 and is a dive into what makes for a successful career in the restaurant world, and includes exclusive interviews with some of the world's leading and most respected chefs.

You can follow Chris on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and read more of his work here.

>>> Read more blogs here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th February 2017

The Art of Being a Chef by Chef Chris Hill