Is it a bad sign that I'm already fantasizing about dropping out and starting a restaurant or bakery? On my bookshelf, waiting to be read cover-to-cover, is a copy of Culinary Artistry, which is about cheffing. Dorenburg and Page distinguish between three kinds of cooking:
- "Cooking as a trade", where your primary goal is sustenance, and with your limited repertoire you're hoping your customers go away thinking "I'm full."
- "Cooking as craft", the style promulgated in the greatest cookbooks, has its main goal enjoyment; a chef should have a wide repertoire of classic dishes, and hope that the customers go away thinking "That was delicious."
- In "cooking as art", on the other hand, a chef prepares her own recipes, and any given night the menu will be very limited; customers should be entertained, and go away thinking "Life is beautiful."
This trade/craft/art distinction is useful in other disciplines. Everyone should be able to (but many can't) do mathematics at the most basic of trade levels — monetary arithmetic, being duly suspicious of newspaper statistics, etc. It bears remembering that tradesmen often have incredible skill: Alice Waters a few years ago left the artistry of Chez Panisse a few years ago to try to reform the public school food; she is now cooking trades food for the masses. I wonder whether an actuary considers her mathematics to be trade, craft, or art.
I feel like the majority of expository mathematics writing, and the entirety of an undergraduate math major curriculum, falls under "mathematics as craft": classic results presented (hopefully) well. There is certainly an artistry to teaching well, but the teacher-as-artist focuses on the delivery, not the mathematics itself. I have not yet tried serious mathematics research; I know I am excited by artistic mathematics, but I also know that I adore teaching, and I have often comforted myself with the reminder that, if research is not for me, I can have a good life teaching at a liberal arts college.
To do original, beautiful research, however, requires the creativity of an artist (and lots of crafts- and tradesmanship). A calculation can prove a new theorem, just like a recipe can create a new meal; a few geniuses create new recipes, new fields, new mathematical insights. If I can learn to be a mathematician-as-artist, then I will stay in research.
An advanced social dancer is an artist, although often not a great trades- or craftsman. An advanced ballerina is a virtuosic tradesman. When I go to Pilates, I am engaging in movement-as-craft.
Chez Panisse has a fixed menu every night: Mondays are $55 + drinks + 17% tip + 8.75% tax / person, and the price increases through the week. Other great restaurants also have small, constantly changing menus. Moosewood offers a limited, changing vegetarian menu every night: your choice of three or four entrées, a couple salads, etc. In both cases, recipes are original, based on seasonal organic ingredients and the tastes of the chef.
If I were to start a restaurant, I'd want it to be like the Moosewood. Cooking as craft does not excite me. I like knowing how to make all sorts of dishes, of course, because I like to understand how food works — the science and history — but I would never want to work in a restaurant where customers pick dishes from an extensive fixed menu, and I make those. As chef, I am the dom: I pick and create a menu that you will eat and hopefully find transcendent.
But the fantasy is not that I would run a restaurant (at best, I'd be a member of a cooperative restaurant like Moosewood). Rather, I'd like a bakery, making gourmet breads, and possibly serving pastries, coffee, sandwiches, and soup. Here it is food-as-craft, but as baker I don't serve anyone. I still make my loaves, and then sell the completed objects to you. Your choice is limited, and what I have available will change: there will be some staples, of course, but each day two soups will be available, and they will change by the week (one on Sundays, one on Wednesdays), and salads will be based on seasonality. If the bakery is successful, I will continue to expand: breads first, then pastries and coffee, then sandwiches and salads, and then dinners with a daily-changing menu. Such an operation is much more work than one person can manage.
In fact, however, I will never own a bakery, although I will continue to bake for myself, friends, and family. What I like best is that I can create everything from scratch, from raw ingredients. And I like sharing my food, and eating what other people have made, also from raw ingredients. I'm exceedingly happy when I am spending my time creating not just food, but also objects: I would love to learn more about woodworking, plumbing, pottery, knitting. However, I do hope to remain an academic. I love thinking about mathematics and communicating it.
The current fantasy, then, does not include selling food, but also does not include purchasing much. I'd rather move away, as much as possible, from the industrialized economy, towards one populated by human craftsmen and artists. Thus, the fairy-tale future involves a university, yes, where I will work six to nine months a year, but also a large house on a lot of land, outside the city but within the public-transportation network (there is no vehicle I enjoy more than the train, except possibly the bicycle). For the three months of summer I will be a full-time farmer, growing, pickling, and canning enough vegetables to live on.
Especially in the North, where the growing season is short but furious, I could avoid too much overlap between Spring planting, Fall harvesting, and Winter teaching. I have grown up in the West, and would like to return to the Pacific Northwest; on the other hand, I have no real desire to stay in the U.S.; perhaps I will live in British Columbia. At such latitudes, in this fairy-tale I will practice mathematics by night and farming by day.
Many of my recipes, some posted here, some e-mailed, some posted elsewhere, are available here.