Why The Kitchen Is A Lot Like A Giant Rock Face

Chef Quinn Hatfield on scaling mountains and building yourself up.

July 10, 2017 ● 2 min read

As told to Priya Krishna by Quinn Hatfield | Image iStock

I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, where there were a fair amount of mountainous areas.

When I got to be a teenager, I was really into skiing, backpacking, and camping. But one day, when I was at an outdoor store, I noticed the rock climbing gear. I was amazed by it. I don’t know if you have ever seen rock climbing stuff, but it is fluorescent and colorful and very cool looking. Based on that assessment alone, I decided to start teaching myself how to rock climb.

This was the late ’80s, so you couldn’t just look up on the Internet how to rock climb. My friends and I bought and read a lot of instructional books. We climbed for about a year or so, just going off the cuff, but I ended up shattering my heel and got sidelined for about eight months.  

You’d think that injury would knock me down, but really it just motivated me to be better. I had fallen because of a stupid mistake. I wanted to learn and improve. A little while after I got better, I moved to San Francisco to be a cook. San Francisco is a great place for restaurants, and it’s also a pretty interesting place to be a rock climber. There are tons of rock climbing gyms and urban climbing spots. I just immersed myself in it. I started going up to Yosemite on my days off to train myself in how to climb these massive walls — again, I was totally winging it. The first time I did El Capitan — it’s thirty-three rope lengths over a few days — it felt really amazing. I ended up doing that climb over a dozen times.  

Eventually, I got hurt again. I injured my hand, to the point where I couldn’t climb for almost a decade. I got really into cycling instead. And then my daughter was born, and one day I noticed her on the monkey bars — she was really good. I took her to a climbing gym, and she was awesome, and really into it. Rock climbing became her thing, and I’d spend time with her at the gym, but I rarely climbed.  

Then you wouldn’t believe it: I injured my groin, which meant I couldn’t bike. So I decided to restart climbing since my kids were already doing it. It started with just two days a week, and now I climb all the time — very often alongside my kids. I feel so lucky that I have been able to instill in them my love for climbing. It’s an amazing sport: it’s beautiful, it’s fitness-oriented, it’s movement-oriented, and it can put you in some of the most amazing, unreal places in the world. To me, it feels a lot like cooking: you have to throw yourself in and build yourself up. If you really stick with it and focus and are humble and can learn from your mistakes, you can get really good. It can become effortless, smooth, and rehearsed.

Climbing big walls is like uphill furniture moving. You climb 150 feet and then you drag 300 pounds worth of water and gear. It’s exhausting, it’s like solving a puzzle, it’s immensely physical — and it’s so rewarding.      

Quinn Hatfield is the co-chef/owner of Odys and Penelope and The Sycamore Kitchen in Los Angeles.