A BOLD CULINARIAN Master and Commander OR Culinary Guerrillas in the Midst I studied culinary arts at the CIA, that same venerable institution that produced the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Todd English, Alfred Portale and Roy Yamaguchi. Never wore it on my sleeve. Ever. When I went there it was a GI Bill off-shoot with a bunch of ex navy burger-flippers in attendance that had no idea of “cuisine”. The extreme “cluster” was the dichotomous culinary blend there of ex-GIs and the new gay foodies. Of course, I was a complete food snob at 19 and thought I knew it all. I see the same neurosis today. My ego changed (immediately) when I was a crack broiler cook schlepping over 500 steak dinners nightly a couple years later (the only job I could get in rural Maine). Cuisine as we know it today did not begin to come into its own until the ‘80s. Today at my alma matter, there are students who do understand work and discipline, and God bless ‘em. But there are also some who just want to coast and get on reality TV shows and become celebrity chefs (a one in a million shot for certain). And we see them getting away with it. This is a profession and an institution (the CIA) in transition. Gone are the good ‘ol days of the traditional kitchen is an autocratic master-apprentice model, where all the students say is 'Oui, chef.' Now, creativity and improvisation are most important, and my school is struggling with how to reconcile the two cultures. Thus I can hardly wait, with baited breath, for the 2016 graduates of the CIA to proudly start serving their inspirational personal statement dishes like rondelles of house-cured artisanal squirrel with dollops of foamed Dominican alligator liver, poached goldfish fin essence and fermented Kopi Luwak beans drizzled with Japanese cod sperm on a nest of anise-brined frisee and pungent durian-infused sustainably harvested Nigerian cane rat. From Bayou to Barrio OR We've sold our souls to "Wok 'n Roll" The concept of soul food brings up a myriad of imagery, that of a Louisiana home kitchen, the streets of Detroit or the banks of the Mississippi. Now...to me, one's true soul is reflected in the food that is eaten. Clearly…”you are what you eat”. In ancient cultures that retained their soul, the food eaten is in direct relationship with the society of the nation as a whole... its climate and location, type of economy or agriculture and mix and body type of its people. Importantly, food connects to the spiritual dimensions of a country's people. In fact, the nature of a population's inner being is expressed through its cuisine. In these cultures, learning how to eat was in direct proportions to learning how to live. The word "diet" stems from the Greek "diata". "Way of life". Modernity and the emergence of the “global village” have changed food forever. Everyone anywhere can now explore tastes, textures, and alternative cuisines from around the globe. The “foodies” (god…how I hate that word) are now even blogging about culinary nothingness. Cultures have seen the cross-pollination of Thai, Szechwan, Vegetarian, Indian, Southwestern, African, new age organic and a slue of fusion and alternative cuisines. Given the current changes in global economics and demographics, a growing interest in world peace, nutrition, health and spirituality, there is an increasingly sophisticated consumer audience geared towards sustainable "intelligent eating". Through this all, I still love the street food of congested and filthy Bangkok. Now….there….lies a culture’s soul. To me, and importantly, the creation, preparation and consumption of food should be a complete "experience" whether food is served in a themed restaurant, spa, resort hotel, roadside shack, or on the floor of a Vietnamese, Thai or Philippine home. The experience should represent a mix of real food, prepared with care (operative word), and served in a manner conducive to a theme or purpose, complemented with an atmospheric elements (perhaps) that might include music, mischief and maybe even some chaos thrown in. (II can talk about good interior design, lighting and graphics and service techniques….but why?). Blending these elements can and should flow naturally. Be both relaxing and fun, regardless of where the food is consumed. In recent years, I would gladly trade ANY restaurant to sit on a floor in a rural province and shut up and…LEARN. No ego, omniscience or pomposity. I’ve been in that strange land. Try sitting on that floor….and absorb. That is soul. Trust me.