I have always loved to cook. When I was young, my dad would take me down to my grandparents for a few days each summer, and we'd all work in my grandparent's saw mill. Grandma did the books, My cousin and I (just kids, 8-12 or so) would stack hammer handle blanks as they came out of the mill. My dad and Uncle would cut logs, and maintain the saws. My grandpa was the foreman, and would take care of whatever needed doing. Around lunch time the kids, my cousin and I could either sweep sawdust, or help grandma in the kitchen. He swept, I helped. My "help" mostly consisted of peeling potatoes badly, making a mess, worrying my poor grandmother, and doing a few dishes. I learned a lot. I learned how to make sawmill gravy, how to make biscuits, and generally how to move around in a kitchen. During the school year, being a latch key kid, I learned to make some very basic stuff at home, experiemented with ingredients, spices, mostly the microwave and made a few tasty things and a lot of really disgusting junk. By the time I got to college I could turn out a respectable meal, particularly with the help of a cookbook, and had even learned to improvise a bit.
My tastes were still pretty middle of the road southern all the way through college. Here and there, I had a few forays into interesting food. I had a girlfriend who'd lived her whole life in the city took me to a few places, but I didn't really understand food until I got my first real job and they shipped me up to New York City for several months.
I was a vegetarian at the time, and my hotel room had no kitchen. I had to eat out every meal. The only non-meat options were "ethnic" food. NYC is where I tried nearly everything for the first time: Thai food, Lebanese, Greek, Sushi, among others. It's also where I really got an appreciation for great Italian food (St. Louis has some of the best Italian places in the country, but I wouldn't have recognized them without that trip to NYC). When I wasn't working I would just wander the city until I got hungry, and go somewhere and eat. Being a vegetarian was actually helpful, because I couldn't just order a slab of meat, I had to throw myself at the mercy of the restaurant. When I got back to St. Louis I went all over the city eating everywhere I could. I would ask anyone who had an opinion where I should go, what I should get. I learned to become a discerning eater, and that in turn allowed me to become a discerning cook.
I am proficent enough that on more than one occasion it has been suggested that I make cooking my profession. I have worked in a couple restaurants in my lifetime, and had a short stint working at a deli in college. I don't really want to work in food. Working for someone else, unless your name is Batali or Flay, means re-creation, and repetition. I cook because I love it, I love the play and experimentation of it. Unless you're a top dog, there's none of that involved in cooking for a living.
All of this was brought up because I read This interview with one of my favorite "celeb" chefs, and one of the (if not the only) person who can be seen on TV wearing a CBGB shirt that I actually believe frequented the place. If you like food, have worked in food, and in particular if you have any aspirations of working in/with food in the future, read his first book.