MAD Digest: How to Grow Old in this Industry
Legendary chef Guy Savoy talks career longevity; chef/rancher Sarah Knight explains how her time at Academy shaped her views on meat; and 1 baker and 2 actors from The Bear show up for MAD Monday
The Long Game
The details are fuzzy, but over a decade or so ago, David Chang made one of those bold pronouncements for which, even back then, he was already known. It was something along the lines of how the best work of all great chefs was already behind them before they turned...was it 30? 35? The exact age is blurry, and whatever evidence he presented to support this statement blurrier still. But the argument was clear, and although few others might put it in such blunt terms, Chang was expressing a perception that is still widely held today: being a chef is a young person’s game.
The hard physical labor of it, the long hours on your feet, your back bent in unnatural positions over a bench, the heavy pots, the sprint and stress of service—all these take a real toll, and help explain why for many chefs, the latter part of their career is often consumed more with business—opening farflung outposts, negotiating book deals and product lines and media appearances—than with craft. For some, the transition comes as a relief, but for others, it can bring a painful irony: they have stopped doing the very work they loved the most, the work that got them into the business in the first place.
How do you grow old successfully in this industry? We’ll periodically be asking that question in this newsletter, and speaking to some of the greats to find out how they are navigating the transition. First up: Guy Savoy, who four decades after he opened his restaurant, still delights in showing up to work there each day.
On Longevity: An Interview with Guy Savoy
Reported by Alexandra Michot
It’s been 55 years since Guy Savoy stepped nervously into the kitchen of chocolatier Louis Marchand to begin his first apprenticeship, and 43 years since he opened his first restaurant on a quiet street in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. Restaurant Guy Savoy earned its first Michelin star the following year in 1981, got its third star some two decades later, and has been ranked at the very top of the world’s best restaurants by La Liste for seven consecutive years. The time in between has brought the normal assortment of ups (the Legion d’Honneur; the opening of a second Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas) and downs (a devastating fire, the loss of the third star). But at 70, Savoy is still cooking, still at his flagship restaurant in the Monnaie de Paris every night it is open, and perhaps most remarkably, still effusive about the joys of the profession.
“I’ve been cooking for 55 years,” he says with an impish gleam. “Actually 110 if you count the two services a day.”
Savoy works fewer days per week than when he started—and beginning in February, the restaurant will be closed Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays to give its entire staff three consecutive days off— but the total number of hours is the same as when he first tied on an apron. His days begin around 8.30, when he checks the produce that has come in and adjusts the menu accordingly, and end somewhere between 23.30 and 01.00, depending on how busy service is, and who is in the dining room. “Sometimes, it’s a bit later if suppliers have come to eat,” he says. “Like last night, the oysters farmers from Sete who supply my oysters were in the kitchen having dinner. But that doesn’t count as work anymore. And I live 45 meters away, which helps.”
Read the full article.
5 Questions with Sarah Knight
Every month, Digest interviews a MAD Academy alum. In this edition, we catch up with Sarah Knight, whose resume would read like the title of a John Le Carré novel, if Le Carré wrote about food: Waiter, Chef, Butcher, Rancher. In that list of jobs is the story of an aimless American teenager who fell into restaurant work as a last-ditch effort at developing something resembling a work ethic, only to discover that she loved the hustle, and then, after ten years working front-of-house, that she loved cooking even more. At the relatively late age of 28, Sarah entered culinary school and eventually got a job working in the luxurious restaurant of the Baltimore Four Seasons Hotel. But something still gnawed at her. "I was learning from some Michelin-starred chefs," she says, "but I also started to realize that I didn't really know anything about where our food came from." And that is where her story really begins.
You've had a pretty unusual professional trajectory, from waiter to chef to rancher to educator. That leap from chef to rancher is especially interesting. How did that happen? What drew you to working with livestock in particular?
“Towards the end of my experience at The Four Seasons, I was working with the kind of high-end clients who want the absolute best and are willing to pay for it, which is fantastic. But that often results in a lot of waste, and I was becoming very disheartened by that. And simultaneously, I was feeling the same way about not having any real connection to our food. So I decided to leave and started a livestock apprenticeship at a nonprofit organic farm that donates everything to soup kitchens in Philadelphia.
I chose to work with livestock because there is a widely held opinion that raising animals for food only happens in a negative manner —that includes how it pertains to the labor conditions of the humans working with them, to the health of the land, and also to how the animals are handled. In some of the reading that I was doing, however, it became apparent that the way that we're doing it, especially in the United States is not the way that it has to be, that there are ways to raise animals humanely, to slaughter them in a stress-free manner and to raise them on pasture that mimics their natural way of living and is beneficial for the earth. I really wanted to dive into that.”
Read the full Q&A.
NEWS & EVENTS
MAD Met The Bear
In what was possibly the most star-studded MAD Monday ever, actors Lionel Boyce and Will Poulter—who play Marcus and Luca, respectively, in the FX series The Bear— joined Hart Bakery founder and series consultant Richard Hart on December 4 for a screening and behind the scenes conversation on how the show manages to get so much right about the industry. Some photos from the night below:
MAD Academy 2024 - Early bird applications
Thinking of applying for one of our Academy programs next year? Be an early bird and apply before December 14th for priority placement in either our Leadership & Business or Environment & Sustainability tracks. Taught by luminaries in gastronomy, science, business, and the arts, the 2024 courses run through April-May, and take full advantage of Copenhagen as a leader in the fields of cuisine and the green transition.