I pity the fool
“I won’t treat you differently here, just because you’re a woman.” Alain Ducasse
“That’s all I am asking for.”
This anecdote has seared itself into my brain. The first comment was made by none other than Alain Ducasse and the second one – no surprises there – by Sophia Rudolph.
Alain Ducasse – basically, the human allegory of Haute Cuisine. A chef of the century! To this day he is the only human to call three three-star restaurants his own. So far, so good. If you can’t picture who I am going on about, I suggest you consult your search engine. I might be doing him a disservice, but to me he is the epitome of the old, white man. I have thought long and hard about whether his comment makes him likeable. I have come to the conclusion that the answer is “yes”, at least for me. At least in French, it sounds a lot nicer.
The fact that this brief anecdote has cauterized my memory is probably the reason why I found it so hard to write about Sophia. She has a special place in this book. Sophia is an extraordinary person – and only in the most positive sense of the word, but she also plays an important part because she is a woman. I hope that this book does not lack female characters in the gastronomy of Berlin. I wanted to paint a balanced picture. Sophia is one of many women to grace these pages, but she is the only one who is a chef. Her passion, her devotion and her success are (unfortunately still) something extraordinary in this male-dominated world. Another remarkable thing about her is she is free from egoism where egomania is still regarded as something to bust a gut for.
Is that why she is a little less successful than her male competitors? I pity the fool! Sophia moves in the world, and it, itself. Sophia is a player at the highest level.
Am I reducing her to her gender instead of emphasising her outstanding skills?
By highlighting all this, by prefacing her post with that quote, I am doing exactly the opposite of what I think she would want. Perhaps I am mistaken. Ultimately, I am sure my motives are understandable to the topman, but I also don't want Sophia's contribution to "degenerate" into a passionate plea for more gender equality and diversity in her industry. Many, though perhaps not everyone, are aware of this - still nothing changes. Or at least not to an extent that would be desirable. The recently published new “red book” reflects nothing else at least.
Does this text have more to offer than just a few male ani who think they are the elite? Please wake me up! With this in mind, I would like to segue into something completely different. This doesn't necessarily have that much to do with Sophia, but it should at least serve as a transition for a pending compliment. I have also decided to include these thoughts in at least one of the contributions to this book – since Sophia's is one of my last, it's about time. Is Sophia an artist? Is cooking an artform? I have deliberately had many talks with people about this topic and it is not limited to the faces in this book. The answer to my question whether cooking is an artform was (almost) always the same. Maybe it is unintentional, but for me there is sort of an arrogant undertone/understatement in the answer. Me? An artist? No, never. I can't quite reconcile that with the self-image as the archetype of culinary creation. Women belong in the kitchen! But when it comes to real cooking, it's better to do it yourself. Leave that to the men. And we men feel so incredibly important. I made fire!
Now I’ve inadvertently opened the same can of worms again, even though I wanted to talk about art. Alright, let’s leave the rassclaats behind us and get back to the topic at hand: art.
What is art? When I pose this question, I am chucked back in time to my first semester at university. Of course, I could not have imagined facing it here and now.
The open concept of art sees the characteristic feature of an artistic expression in the fact that, because of the diversity of its content, it is possible to extract ever more far-reaching meanings from the representation by way of continued interpretation, so that a practical, inexhaustible multi-level conveyance of information results.
What a mouthful. Is this supposed to be an argument for or against my point? For! Isn’t cooking the conveyance of information on two levels simultaneously? A visual and a flavourful one? Of course, the goal is to destroy said "work of art" with as much pleasure as possible. Well, I can't nail a play to my wall at home either. I therefore conclude: definition - subsumption - done.
Cooking is an artform:
“Palates may be formed by socio-cultural influences, but the act of cooking itself is a spiritual pursuit.” Rudroneel Ghosh
In my book, you can’t get more art than that.
Sophia cooks. Sophia is a master of her art. I wouldn’t describe her style as French although her training in France – under the one and only Alain Ducasse – has left its marks, no doubt. Her need for perfection and precision over even the smallest detail is first-class. Even the vegetables for the stock that no one would ever lay eyes on are perfectly draped. Now you may ask yourself, what is this nonsense all about? Well, I don’t think it is nonsense. Sophia doesn’t either. It is applied consistency all the way through. It does something to you. It did something to Sophia as well. You can feel and taste it to this very day in all of her dishes/creations.
I enjoyed my interview with Sophia immensely. Sat outside in a café in the gorgeous summer sunshine, it was more of a conversation than an interview. I perceived her as a very meditative person with a healthy sense of self. Likeable, friendly understated and not the usual “oh no, not me!” even though she would not ever call herself an artist.
Some time passed between the interview and the photo shoot. My impression of Sophia’s new place, the Lovis, somehow didn’t surprise me at all.
Sophia leads the kitchen team. Playing to her strengths, she empowers Lovis by understanding and engaging others. Just as she has transformed the former location, she makes complacency the enemy, and motivates her staff through guidance, leading by doing what she loves. The fact that the tone in the kitchen is sometimes a bit rougher is certainly not a widespread misconception but more a widespread reality. I would say there is a fine line between respect and fear. Sometimes I’m not sure if my male comrades are aware of this difference. Those who command respect do not depend on the fear factor. Sophia is respected by her team. I did not encounter any roughness other than in the history of the place now home to Lovis. A former women's correctional facility, transformed over many years into the place it is today with a meticulousness you don't come across very often. Lovis captivates with its minimalist charm that is also something of a (likeable) understatement.
“Doing nothing else than cooking would not make me happy in the long run and I would feel underwhelmed.”
Sophia is so much more than just the artist I have designated her in this post. I think I understand what she means with her comment. I don’t want to, and I shall not limit Sophia to her gender or her profession as a cook. It would be foolish.