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Thomas Keller On Why Passion Shouldn’t Drive You

One of America’s greatest chefs explains why passion isn’t the driving force of his work.

Even if you aren’t a foodie, chances are, you’ve heard the name Thomas Keller—the creative culinary force behind The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon. A while back, I interviewed Keller for a piece on culinary schools published in Lucky Peach. But as with any article, a lot was left on the cutting room floor.

The best bit was a surprising tangent about passion versus desire. It’s one of those things that’s haunted me—in a good way!—ever since. And rather than let them rot away inside a Google doc, I thought I’d share Keller’s thoughts here with you:

It’s not about passion. Passion is something that we tend to overemphasize, that we certainly place too much importance on. Passion ebbs and flows. To me, it’s about desire. If you have constant, unwavering desire to be a cook, then you’ll be a great cook. If it’s only about passion, sometimes you’ll be good and sometimes you won’t. You’ve got to come in every day with a strong desire. With passion, if you see the first asparagus of the springtime and you become passionate about it, so much the better, but three weeks later, when you’ve seen that asparagus every day now, passions have subsided. What’s going to make you treat the asparagus the same? It’s the desire.

Of course, while Keller’s words refer specifically to cooking, there’s no reason this philosophy couldn’t be applied to your craft, whatever it may be. Because while anyone can do impressive work during those fleeting moments of inspiration fueled by a particularly good cup of coffee, it’s the love for the grind that make the good consistently great. Or so I’m told.