Saturday, February 21, 2009

Anesthesioboist in the Kitchen

I've thought about this a lot, because of course I think about food a lot. Here are about a dozen similarities between anesthesiologists and chefs:

1. We are held up to ruthless criticism and often downright meanness during our apprenticeship.
2. We train for years.
3. We work brutally long hours. On-the-go-on-your-feet, blood-sweat-and-tears hours.
4. We work behind the scenes. Invisible like angels, and perhaps just as busy in our efforts to help our worlds run smoothly.
5. We work alone, in a way. It can be lonely. But we're also surrounded by invaluable team members without whom our work couldn't get done.
6. We have to be able to work quickly and do many things at once.
7. We have to have good instincts (from tons of experience) about when to turn dials, add ingredients, take things away, etc. Hence # 1 and 2.
8. We have to be able to design a plan of action meticulously and carry it out flawlessly, timing and all, but also solve problems on our feet, quickly, and move on to a totally different plan if necessary.
9. Few people understand what we do. Few people can do what we do. Few people even think of, much less acknowledge, the value of what we do. The work has to be its own reward.
10. Our work is often physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting because we work with our hands, arms, legs, and backs as well as our minds and hearts.
11. What we offer doesn't stay with people long but can be mind-alteringly wonderful (or terrible) while it's with them.
12. Our work helps sustain life.

"Our music will never be played on the radio. Like Vegas, what goes on in the kitchen, stays there. We work behind closed doors. We speak a secret language, wear our scars proudly, take oaths and share blood, read invisible ink, hear voices, follow an education that will never end, and that's all pretty interesting, if you ask me." -Shuna Fish Lydon

"When you cook for others, you become an intimate part of their lives, if even for a few hours." -Shuna Fish Lydon


Here's one idea my list above didn't elaborate on: anesthesiologists and chefs are both drug dealers of a sort. When I wrote "mind-altering" for item #11, I meant that quite literally. What we give to people changes them, affects their chemistry. We are manipulators of molecular biology - in one instance to protect against pain and suffering, in another, to promote pleasure and satisfaction.

It's simplistic to express it this way, but I blame the amino acid tryptophan for my love of comfort food. Tryptophan turns into serotonin and melatonin in the brain, and often does so better if we give ourselves a little calcium. So we feel good, and sometimes get sleepy, after some comfort food - some warm oatmeal with a touch of honey, maybe - enjoyed with a glass of milk. Here are the biochemical pathways if you're curious:

Or, if you just want to skip all this biochem and cut to the chase to foods and snacks that might help promote sleep, or see a list of foods high in tryptophan, that would be totally understandable!


And speaking of comfort food...

A chef and a heart surgeon once switched places so each could learn about the other's profession. Their exchange resulted in this recipe for Pan-roasted Stuffed Veal Heart (the article was interesting too). You can make it with moose heart if you prefer, though truth be told, I'm not quite carnivorous enough.

This one's more my speed: a recipe for my favorite cake, Tres Leches, which I got from Stephanie on

Tres Leches Cake
  • Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a rectangular (9 x 13) baking pan.
  • Cream together 1 stick (1/2 cup) of salted butter with 1 cup of sugar (if I use unsalted butter, I add a couple of pinches of salt to the batter with the other dry ingredients).
  • Add 1 tsp of vanilla.
  • Add 5 eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Sift together 1 1/2 c cup flour with 1 tsp baking powder and add to batter a little bit at a time, stirring well after each addition.
  • Pour batter into pan and bake for half an hour.
  • Poke holes in cake with a fork after removing from oven. Cool.
  • Mix together 1 14-oz can fat-free sweetened condensed milk, 2 5-oz cans (or 1 12-oz can) of evaporated milk, and 2 c regular milk. Pour over cake and let sit till milk sauce is absorbed. (Rate and degree of absorption will depend on the number and size of holes poked. If there is any milk sauce left over, pour off the top into a gravy boat and use as sauce for the cake.)
  • Serve with whipped topping (1 1/2 cups whipping cream, 3/4 to 1 c sugar, 1 tsp vanilla) and fresh fruit if desired, or enjoy as is.
(Photo: Filipino White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and sous-chefs, photographed by Shealah Craighead)


rlbates said...

I'll have a slice of that cake and a cup of coffee. :)

Nice post, as always, T.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully the "diva factor" is a little lower with anesthesiologists! :-)

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to dine at a place called La Pergolese in Paris when Albert Corre was still owner/chef. The waiter accidentally served me someone else's order and then embarrassedly took it back. A few minutes later, we heard screaming from the kitchen and Chef Corre, red-faced and glaring at everyone, stormed out of the restaurant.

-Transor Z

Lisa Johnson said...

I love tres leches! I haven't had it in years.