When I was single and dreaming about having a family, one of the things I looked forward to a lot was cooking for my wife and kids. In those days I was feeling fed up with the food business and was tired of cooking for people I did not know, and I thought that it would be nice to cook for no reward other than the gratitude of my family.
Fast forward to about six months ago and discover that after 15 years of cooking dinner almost every night for my family, I've realized that I need to start cooking for strangers again. Sure my family is grateful for all the shopping and cooking and cleaning I do (At least I hope they are) but how I ever thought that gratitude and the joy of cooking alone was going to satisfy me, I'll never know. On balance, home cooking has been pretty rough job most of the time.
Anyone who has ever cooked every night for the same people year in and out, knows how frustrating it is when somebody at the table decides to use the occasion of dinner to vent something that for some idiosyncratic reason they could not have vented 10 minutes before you called them to dinner. Or how about this one:
You've been cooking for a couple of hours, dinner is ready, you call everyone to the table and instead of taking their places quietly, the kids (or whoever the non-cooking dependent others happen to be) start arguing about something. You try to put a stop to it because the call to dinner is supposed to be a joy and not a cry to battle and the bread is still in the oven and the vegetables need to be plated and you really don't want to be listening to some crappy argument and now your head hurts and you wish someone else was cooking.
Cooking for the same people every day is even tougher if you like to cook a wide variety of things. It seems that everybody besides you has a laundry list of ingredients that they don't like and arcane, but perfectly valid, reasons to dislike them. The net result of years of not cooking all of the things that my family collectively does not like to eat, is that my repertoire of dishes is about as sparse as the hair on my head.
For a chef like myself, cooking for a constant rotation of strangers is in many ways easier and more fulfilling. The not-knowing who you are feeding and what they like and dislike compels you keep trying new things and adding new dishes to your repertoire. With few exceptions, strangers are almost always more polite than family when they don't like something you cooked. And if you turn them off completely, instead of ranting and raving or diving under the table to protest what you have dared to try to feed them, they simply leave and don't come back. Now how cool is that?
Oh and strangers who come to your restaurant or in my case, Barn (Yeah, I cook in a barn) can certainly show gratitude too. Usually it's in the form of delight, but often people thank you for what you have cooked. It's a little weird to hear it considering that they are paying for it and it's really you who should be thanking them for coming. But frankly, when was the last time your family paid you and thanked you for dinner?
Of course, I will cook for my family until I cannot cook anymore. It's a tough job but I still love to do it because I love them. However, I'm very glad to be cooking for strangers again.