Slideshow: New York Chefs Answer 'What Has Cooking Taught You?'

Daniel Boulud: Train the Next Generation
Daniel Boulud: Train the Next Generation

Looking back on your twenty years with restaurant Daniel in New York, what have you realized is most important to you?

I'm most proud of all the chefs and cooks that have worked for me over the twenty years, who have continued with the dream that I have and the journey we've done and continue to do together. Of course New York is very exciting, very competitive, and not for everyone. But at the same time I think it's the most exciting city, and for me to be on the first step of my twenty years... I'm very proud of that, and the team that has followed me into that. I'm inspired, motivated, and driven by new talent, all the time. And so there's always a good thing—having people that make you secure, and people that give you more insecurity but also more drive. And the customer; what's more important?! That's the key in our business, to have customers who will support you along the way. And that's been fortunate for me.

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Wolfgang Ban: How to Get Back to Nature
Wolfgang Ban: How to Get Back to Nature

What has cooking taught you about yourself? How has it made you a better person?

It definitely got me much more in touch with nature; figuring out what is important for produce, for animals, and how to raise them because it influences our daily life as well. And I think that gave me more peace. Five years ago I couldn't imagine leaving the city and doing something in the woods. But at this point I really want to be in touch with nature again. I want to raise some animals, in the most humane way possible. I want to give them a happy life, and then... hopefully make some good food out of them!

Lauren Resler: Maintain Order, Stand Your Ground
Lauren Resler: Maintain Order, Stand Your Ground

What has pastry taught you about yourself?

It's helped me become a very organized person and made me realize more so that I despise a mess, so I've developed my own neat-freak-ness. And also, working in a kitchen, I'm really sarcastic. Working in male-dominated field you learn not to take things seriously as far as what could come off as a rude or crass comment... you learn to laugh it off and come back with something harsher.

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Hung Huynh: Share Passion Through Food
Hung Huynh: Share Passion Through Food

What have you had to develop to lead your kitchens with success?

As I grow and am able I try to teach people; I try to get better and better everyday and translate my passion, my excitement, how I feel, what I taste, what my experience is. To express that to the cooks and inspire them to do what they do.

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Carmen Quagliata: Hospitality Matters
Carmen Quagliata: Hospitality Matters

What has being a chef taught you about yourself that you've had to overcome?

Danny Meyer has never taught me anything about cooking, but his philosophy and the things I've learned and overcome about my own personality and leadership style have done more for my food than I ever imagined. Let's just face it, it's a different environment, and the immediacy that you have to get better at something right now could make or break someone's dinner. Or you have the slightest alteration in doing right or wrong—you could do it 5% differently but that could exponentially change how the guest enjoys their meal. And those are hard things and hard lessons for people to learn, but there's a way to do it without demeaning people.

Most chefs my age would agree that we've come up in kitchens where you kept going and didn't worry about how it made you feel. But there is a way to have people feel great—not only about being around food but about where they're working and the chef they're working for—by doing it respectfully. It doesn't mean we don't hold them accountable or that it has to happen quickly with intensity, but there's a way to do it without scarring someone's soul. And that was my biggest challenge here. And I think believing that and knowing that's some place I wanted to be and do, given to me by Danny's culture, or by the culture that they established here, definitely has made my career better and longer than it would have been.

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Sue Torres: Go with the Changes
Sue Torres: Go with the Changes

Specifically because Mexican is not the cuisine of your people, what has cooking Mexican food taught you?

Well, I think what Mexican food has taught me is that I have many different flavors of the day. Some days I will prefer a habanero chili and I'll say, "That's my favorite chili!" And on other days I will love the chili meco, which is completely different—it's rich, it's smoky, it's got some heat. But a habenero is fruity and peppery and hot. So I think it's taught me that when I fall in love with something and say, "This is the best", I'll discover something new in a different preparation. And then that's the best. I think that we as people constantly change our likes and favorites, and that's what's so great about Mexican cuisine—there are so many different chilies that I can constantly fall in love with different ones, and they all hold a special place in my heart. And then I move on.... to the next exciting chili.

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Alexandra Ray: 'You Have to be on Top of Your Shit!'
Alexandra Ray: 'You Have to be on Top of Your Shit!'

What has being a chef taught you about yourself?

I'm a big procrastinator. I think I have ADD. I think I need to solve things the moment that they happen, and I think that's kind of counter-intuitive to my nature. And even in terms of staff you need to solve or fix things right away before you forget it and it keeps happening. I think managing a staff is really difficult—that's been one of the most interesting challenges that I've had. I'm a very fun, carefree kind of person, and I think you need to be more assertive in your role as a leader and a mentor. And that's a big challenge for me because I want to be everyone's friend. And to write things down—write recipes down while you're working on them in one spot. I lose recipes all the time. You have to be on top of your shit!

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Masaharu Morimoto: How to Do Good by Mom
Masaharu Morimoto: How to Do Good by Mom

What has being a chef taught you about yourself?

Hmmmm, I think that the best chefs are moms. In the family, moms are the best chefs. I try to be the same thing here: I want to see the people, I want to talk to the people.

Unfortunately when my mom was little her family had a lot of money and she didn't have to cook. But after the war she lost everything, and tried to do that, but she had no time. Then she married my father, and I watched as he tried to show her, but she wasn't good enough. That's why I wanted to be a chef, to be that for her. So I don't want to say she was a bad example but I watched her and wanted to make good food for her. Last year she passed away, so every time I speak that I have to look up and say, "I'm sorry, mom!" I wanted to make her feel good. That's my bottom line.

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Thiago Silva: Cooking Has Endless Rewards
Thiago Silva: Cooking Has Endless Rewards

What, to you, is the most important thing about knowing how to cook?

It's just so gratifying. Not only when you've had a rough day and you make yourself something but also when you do that for your family or one of your friends; they come home and are miserable and you see how much better it makes them feel. No matter what happens, or how bad life is, people always want to go out and eat. It's just something that you have to be able to know how to do, to cook for people and see how they feel, how gratifying it is. I think if you're a chef, that's why you do it—it's a lot of hard work, but it all pays off. I just want my son to eat everything.

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