For some of us food is no more fuel—eating as an animal instinct, muscles in need of glycogen. For others, food may be a vocation, an avocation, an addiction, or, as many highfaluters would have it, art. Like art, which you can enjoy much more after taking a class in its appreciation, the more you know about food, the more you will like the good stuff, and the less interested you’ll be in eating for fuel alone. This isn’t snobbery or sophistication, it’s civilization. In my mind, cavemen painted their cave walls by the light of fires over which they roasted their mastodon meat.
I don’t, however, think of chefs as artists, but rather as craftsmen. (One Stone Ager with a good palate cooked the meat on a stick, and the guy with some perspective drew the hunting party with charcoal on rock.) Some chefs do have artistic minds and affectations, to be sure, but what other artist works thirteen-hour days in often unhealthy, sometimes dangerous conditions, just to create art that, if it’s any good, will be consumed (and thus destroyed) as soon as possible after its creation? And do it again the next day? If chefs are artists, they’re masochists.
But if they’re craftsmen–who learn by apprenticeship from forebears and then go on to stand on their shoulders, who churn out a necessity of existence hour after hour, day after day–then their passion is not for the End, at which there is no time to stand back and look and frown over and retouch (because the meat will get cold and the sauce will develop a skin, etc.), but in the Means, the process of creation, of building that Craft, like one would build a piano or a transmission or a boot sole, so that it can be passed on to another who will enjoy, utilize, and be comforted by, and not just take aesthetic pleasure in, its existence. My syntax is questionable, yes. Food is art, no.