Why Eat to Live When You Can Live to Eat?
By Randy Gold
GLT: Have you been influenced at all by Zen or maybe mindfulness?
LOGAN: Definitely. I do meditate. When I meditate I often question myself. Like, where am I most effective? Where should I be banking most of my hours? What should I be doing? How should I be experimenting? All these kinds of questions that kind of make you go: hmm, I didn’t really think about food that way. I didn’t really think of my mise en place that way. You know, I just really try and make sure that everything has the most developed and balanced and delicate flavors that I can get out of an ingredient. Even if it takes like using celery root. It’s a great, great ingredient. It’s kind of earthy and it’s got this really deep, balanced celery flavor that’s just wonderful, and roasting it is such a great tool, but then when you start asking yourself: well, what else can I do? How can I get a fresh flavor out of this? What if I use the stuff closer to the stem? You know, it’s all the tiniest things that make it incredible, especially in a dining experience. Another way that I really expresses my zen-ness inside of my craft is that I never cook the same thing twice. The more I look at this, the more Zen it is, the more moment, because I only make a dish once. I can’t even follow my own recipes. If you look at it that way, I’m kind of a failure at my own chef. What, you’re a chef and you can’t follow your own recipes? You wrote this! But it’s like: I got no clue. I’m always moving on to the next thing.
GLT: Gordon Ramsay was one of the judges when you won MasterChef Junior. Is he a mentor to you now?
LOGAN: A little bit, but he’s very busy. One of the things that he said at the Popup Restaurant that always rings in my ears whenever I cook is: if it’s not your best, you shouldn’t be putting it out. It’s why he is so much better because he won’t let it leave until it’s perfect, until it’s your best. He’ll just throw it away before then and say: oh, this isn’t your best. Do it again. That kind of tough love was really strong and it taught me a lot there.
GLT: You’ve said before that in finding your own inner-super power, that it is your ability to grit and grind. What does that mean?
LOGAN: In Memphis here where I live, where I was born and raised, it’s kind of our thing for our NBA team is grit and grind. Like just keep at it, grit and grind. Go through the muddy parts and the rough parts. It’s something that kind of the whole city shows. You can see it in the faces of the people that are here. You can see it in their jobs and how they’re gritting and grinding through them, and when we are faced with a problem we just grit and grind through it.
Sometimes it’s easy to get un-inspired. Especially when you have pressure to make everything your best. Growing up, the pressure to show everything and to share everything… you know, everyone has a bad day in the kitchen. Grit and grind kind of helps me through the days when I burn everything. Everything just goes bad. If you’ve ever been in the kitchen, you know what will happen. You know, it just won’t work. And those days, you’ve just got to step back and say okay, take a deep breath, and go order a pizza.
GLT: What advice would you like to share with other young people about dealing with the media or being a celebrity?
LOGAN: You always have to think about your image. You always have to think about what kind of person you are and who you want to be. You have to understand what you carry with you everywhere. I carry my brand with me everywhere. Anything I say, someone will pick up on. It makes it much harder to be silly with friends and adds a lot of pressure. You’ve gotta be really careful sometimes, especially when you get into these more difficult and more emotional situations where, you know, someone’s yelling at you. You want to yell back, you want to scream back, especially to the trolls, and you just want to fight back at it all, but you can’t because your hands are tied by all the work you’ve accrued and all those hours that you put into it. If you start down it, you’ll burn your brand. Any brand can burn in an instant, and you know, you’ve got to be very careful. Always remember who you work for, what your dreams are and where you want to go.
Being Logan Guleff
GLT: In your TEDx talk, you said, “Here is how I paint with flavor…” This idea that food is art, that one should experience the food with all their senses … where did this come from?
LOGAN: That came from how I see my own food. One of the things that happens to me a lot since I have a very heavy presence on social media, I have to cook a lot for the camera. I think that that’s not a really accurate representation of a lot of my food because you can only see. You can’t taste. You can’t hear. You can’t smell. Experience. You can’t live through it, so having only one sense available to you is extremely limiting, especially when I’m forced to focus on the thing that I focus on at the very, very end. Honestly, I put the least amount of work into making my dishes look nice, because every second I spend plating, every second I spend trying to be a traditional artist, I’m losing a second that I could have worked on the flavor. I’m losing a step. I’m losing smoking it, and then roasting it and then freezing it. And then adding all these textures and flavors… I can’t bare to invest time into something that really doesn’t do much to the dish, because as soon as you put your fork into it, everything kind of becomes a mess. So, why should I be spending hours on plating with tweezers when I could spend hours on so many other things?
One of the things about Supertasters is that they always breathe in right before and as they’re taking their bite. Smell and taste are so interconnected, that you know, aromas are really, really powerful. I kind of chose the idea that food is art. I went with that because everyone can say “yes, food is art.” There’s a painting on the plate, but I wanted to show you the painting in the flavor. It’s kind of this radical concept that you can finally see and experience flavor and texture with just looking at it. The art of flavor.
Logan Guleff has been named one of the Most Influential Teens by Time Magazine and a James Beard Blended Burger Winner. Since becoming the 2014 MasterChef Junior champion he has become a rising star in the culinary world. Logan was named Southern Living‘s Best New Southern Cook and earned a spot on Fortune Magazine’s 18 Under 18 list; he’s also the youngest certified judge for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, Tennessee, and the youngest chef to cook at the historic James Beard House in New York City. Early this year, “Logan’s Chef Notes and Half Baked Tales” won the prestigious “Best in World” Gourmand Award for first cookbook, and he recently presented a TEDx Talk on the subject of “The Art of Flavor.”
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GLT: You’ve referred to yourself as a flavorist. Can you tell us what that means?
LOGAN: There’s a lot of chefs out there, and a lot of different classes of chefs, and for me I kind of created my own: a flavorist because I focus on flavor and I layer it and I develop it and I nurture it. Through almost every one of my dishes, there’s a lot of complex flavor mechanics mixed into it. Since I spend so much time on flavor, I often get very rolled up and lost in it.
GLT: Recently you returned from a trip to Japan and China. How will that trip influence what you do as a flavorist?
LOGAN: One of the things I found in Japan and China and my entire Asian experience was their outlook on flavor and how their ingredients contribute to that flavor. Of course, I brought some of them home. When you have more of the local ingredients, like I bought some of the local salts, which are kind of really important to me, because if you want to cook a traditional, regional dish, you have to have their salt because it has a lot of nuances that you can’t really get without it. I definitely think that having some of those more interesting and exotic ingredients will definitely add a lot of unexpected flavors. Especially once I start putting different techniques on them, like searing them, and chopping them and roasting them and smoking them and seeing what kind of flavor I can coax out of it.
GLT: What are a few things you want people to know about Logan Guleff that they don’t usually see or read about?
LOGAN: I try and be a lot of fun. I try and make jokes and I try and have fun. You know, the kitchen is usually a very serious place for a good reason, but you know, there’s still so much fun that can be had. Like you can go: ah man, I never expected that to work but it does. There’s so many simple things that you can do in the kitchen that are amazing, like making homemade pasta. I just try and have a good time and I try and keep it all together and you try and make sure you stay true to yourself and your dreams. You don’t forget it. One of the things that I always thought about when I was littler and I was cooking was that you always need to eat. Let’s say I wanted to be a mechanic. Cars could go out of fashion and everything could be replaced by trains, but you’re still going to need to eat. You’re always going to need to eat. Three times a day. It’s one of the few things you’ve gotta do. There’s no way around eating, so why make it a pain when you can make it so much more? When you can make it like going to an art gallery. When you can make it into a memory. Why eat to live when you can live to eat?
GLT: Lastly: what advice would you like to share with other young people about finding their own inner super power?
LOGAN: No matter where you are, as long as you’re the best you, you can be, and you strive for your dreams and your achievements and you just go for it, you can make it anywhere. Don’t let anything stop you.