Monday, September 7, 2009

The Art of the Wok

I just finished reading Grace Young's elegant story of Cantonese cuisine and the simple but critical tool (aka - WOK) used in its creation. I'm fascinated with food (and wine) and this was my first dip into the complex world of Chinese cuisine.

While reading about the life of a Cantonese chef I was struck by how much patience, dedication, and discipline is needed to excel in an art form that seems, from the outside, to be so simple and straightforward. Get wok hot - add oil - quick saute - serve. One wok - a hot flame (often over 100,000 BTU) and simple ingredients...easy. Not really. The average Cantonese Wok Chef first apprentices for 3 -5 years before ever manning his own station. Once graduated, he achieves the first of 4 levels of wok chef. Each level might take upwards of 5 years to achieve. Most master wok chefs have over 25 years of experience with the same tool, heat, and limited ingredients.

Artistic excellence takes time - dedication - and mastery. Whether ceramics, oil, piano, or wok, to contribute good art to the world requires a level of dedication and devotion of time to your craft. The results speak for themselves. In his new book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell suggests that we need roughly 10,000 hours to bring any craft up to a level where success and/or excellence is possible.

Bottom line - fine something you love, have base level competency with, and work your butt off.