I became a chef at a time when it was not fashionable to be one.
When I began my career in the mid-nineties, chefs were not celebrities. There was no Instagram to show off dishes one cooked. MasterChef had not yet captured the imagination of millions. There was nothing to show what a chef did, except for long hours and a lot of cooking stains.
But many chefs are superstars now. And sadly, drugs, sex and rock and roll, swearing, and abuse are now commonplace in a chef’s journey.
This new reality affected me early in my career. Come Sunday, I would put on church clothes and temporarily change my life for a few hours to look like a holy person.
But my life during the rest of the week was far from what I portrayed on Sunday. This challenge plagued me even after I came to faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour.
Before long I realised I could not live a life of double standards. One life—on Sundays—as a Christian. And another life—through the week—as a chef as the world knows and defines one. I knew that all of my life had to be holy and set apart for his glory.
But I also understood the gospel enough to know that I could never attain holiness through mere meditation or even good works.
As my career as a chef unfolded, I wrestled and faltered. But in time, I began to understand that God has indeed given us a recipe to help us feast on his holiness, and through this, to grow in ours.
Here are three lessons on holiness that I have learnt through my career as a chef.
1. Holiness is an Invitation to Experience God’s Beauty
If you ask anybody, young or old, what they would like to be, you will hear answers like, “I want to be a fantastic engineer,” “I want to be an incredible lawyer,” or “I want to be a great leader.”
It is not often that you hear someone say, “I want to be holy.”
Often, holiness is the last thing on somebody’s mind. The word holiness can even be a turnoff to some. But it need not be.
In reality, holiness is an invitation to experience and enjoy God’s beauty.
True holiness is the true pathway to happiness. I began to understand that holiness is the best way to live.
The apostle Peter invites us to understand what holiness really means. He says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:14-16, Lev. 11:44).
This is a command. But this is also an invitation. We are set apart because holiness is one way to experience the beauty of God.
There is a hymn whose words, based on Psalm 96 go like this,
“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,
bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
with gold of obedience and incense of lowliness,
kneel and adore him the Lord is His name.”
I understood that God is inviting us to come to him, to understand him and his character. He chooses to give a piece of who he is to us.
Being holy, then, is not a distant reality. It became near, and possible when I understood the call to holiness as a call to know and experience the beauty of God.
This holy God is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ, the only holy one who came as a man, died, and rose again from the dead so that we receive and rejoice in his victory over sin and death.
This is how I began to understand who God is.
What did it look like when a holy God touched an unclean leper? Or when he ministered to Zacchaeus?
The holy God in deep humility did what he had to do to die for the whole world that was unclean and dirty by the fall of Adam.
The more we learn to see God’s beauty, the more it is reflected in our walk on earth. Reflecting God’s beauty slowly frees us from our fallen nature. When God invites us to holiness, he is inviting us to participate in his beauty.
2. Holiness is the Habit of Being in One Mind with God
The saying “never trust a skinny chef” is strangely popular. But I like to stay fit and healthy. One way I do it is by practising intermittent fasting. I eat only in an 8-hour window in a day.
But in my career as a culinary teacher, it is hard to keep this up.
At Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Melbourne, Australia, we expect our students to cook one sweet and one savoury dish in a matter of three and half hours after the dish has been demonstrated in our demo theatre.
During these class days, I am forced to break my routine and taste 16 savoury dishes and 16 sweet dishes, cooked by my students.
I do well health-wise when I keep the habit of intermittent fasting. I do not do well when I slip up.
Habits are important. Habits help us grow.
I have found it extremely helpful to see holiness as the habit of being one mind with God—loving what he loves, hating what he hates.
J.C. Ryle in his book Holiness says, “Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find his mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what he hates, loving what he loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of his word.”
That is a challenging habit to keep. But so is intermittent fasting.
Even as I cultivate habits of holiness, I also constantly remind myself that holiness is not about doing good works; it is about enjoying God’s beauty.
I would get this wrong sometimes. I need to remind myself that it is not about attending church service, reading the Bible, or being a part of the worship team.
These are all good and helpful. But none of these is an end in itself. They are only pathways through which I enjoy God’s beauty more.
The more I enjoy him and his beauty, the more I am able to live in one mind with him.
This is why habits are important to grow in holiness.
3) Holiness is Possible
When God invites us to be holy as he is holy, he is not giving us an impossible command. He is inviting us to enjoy his beauty, to be one mind with him.
Holiness is possible. Yes, we will never be as perfect as God is, in this life. But God is inviting us to understand his character.
Once, a father told his son to sit down. The son did not listen. The father asked him again, but he refused.
“Son, I am asking you to sit down now,” the father asserted himself in a firm and stern tone. The son sat down, but said, “Dad I am sitting down, but my mind is still standing up.”
Sometimes, we too reduce holiness to mere behaviour. Our heart is elsewhere.
True holiness can be the opposite.
A few years ago, my brother called me early in the morning to let me know that my mom had a cardiac arrest and was admitted to the hospital.
My heart broke. After I got this call, I was unable to focus on my class. I managed to teach. But that day, everything else was a distraction. My heart was absolutely focused on my mom.
True holiness is when our heart is totally gripped by God’s beauty. Everything else is a mere blur. When we understand holiness like this, we know it is possible.
When we understand God’s character, we realise he is worthy of such undivided attention. He is beautiful enough to captivate and satisfy our hearts above everything else.
Holiness is possible.
As a chef, I can confidently say, feast on his beauty and you will be satisfied with his holiness.