Meg and I started watching Chef’s Table this week. Good heavens is that series a revelation in so many ways. It should be understood that I adore cooking. I love the planning of interesting meals. I love the feeling of leaving the market with everything we need for a week and paying less than I would for one decent meal out. I love the scents of a bouquet of spices lending savor and depth to a dish. I love it all. And I’d consider myself decent at the practice.
Well...only compared to some.
The chefs featured in the series are truly masters of the craft. Their creations give my appetite a life of its own. As I watched I felt it catch a hint of the imaginary fragrances wafting over my brain. It proceeded to float like a starstruck cartoon toward that culinary promised land on the winds of parmigiano-reggiano. Its eyes welled up at the radiant presentation of the sustenance we so often take for granted. My appetite was overcome. My brain was right there with it.
There’s something wondrous about watching people devise such beauty from something that’s also so deeply necessary to our survival. Food can blandly sustain us for another day...or it can challenge us, uplift us, and enrapture us. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere. Maybe food is always a metaphor for life. Yeah. We’ll go with that for now. I’ll have the steak and I’ll have it abundantly.
People who are so passionate about food can teach us a lot. Passion, after all, is the twin sister to care, and the roots of care rarely produce just one fruit. The first episode of the series was about an extraordinarily passionate man named Massimo.
I won’t go into all the details. You should really watch it yourself. But the moment that captured me most fully wasn’t about food at all. One of the other chefs that works in Massimo’s kitchen described dropping a lemon tart that took a significant amount of time to prepare. The tart cracked into several pieces and was obviously beyond repair. The chef was devastated.
But Massimo looked at the tart and saw possibility. He redecorated the plate and served it gorgeously flawed. Now every lemon tart served at his restaurant, the third highest rated in the world, is purposely cracked.
What a genius way of handling the situation. The repurposing was indeed unique and spectacular, but even more astounding was Massimo’s attitude in the heat of a trial. He had such control of his mind and character that his FIRST instinct was to create something out of destruction. To polish the disaster into a gem of victory.
Now that is an exceptional person. I can see myself growing towards a lot of positive qualities. I can at least understand the strengths of a lot of amazing people. But that sort of beautiful self-control is entirely alien to me.
Later that same night my self-control was, shall we say, prodded. As we were going to bed Meg reached over to brush my head at the exact moment that I was looking over towards her. The landing strip of hair and scalp was replaced with my horribly vulnerable eyeball and before I had time to say “patches” the rout was on.
She felt terrible, of course, but was giggling because I obviously wasn’t mortally wounded (as far as she knew) and because it was a rather funny situation. I couldn’t continue reading until ten minutes later. So I sat there biting back frustration and trying not to think of how much my eye stung while holding it closed. Nothing positive happened in my brain or with my time.
Shortly after my visual function returned and I was back to my night, I realized how much I’m NOT like Massimo. My first instinct when something goes wrong is to be frustrated, overwhelmed, and angry. Even in a best case scenario I can only manage calm damage control. I don’t have that fundamental creative positivity.
Our culture craves success and personal improvement. I genuinely believe that this creative attitude towards trial, this rulership of one’s mind, is more important than any amount of talent or intelligence. I know a ton of exceedingly talented people, but I don’t know a lot of world changers. I know I’m certainly not a world changer at this point.
The world changes when the rubble of catastrophe is cleared by people who can see the future in the mess.
I want that.
How does it look to get there? I’m not sure yet. So I’m going to train my mind through my trials, big and small. I’m going to forge things out of my struggles until it becomes second nature.
Eventually I’m going to be the guy standing there with a garden ready for fertilizer when the crap hits the fan.
And then I'll make some killer marinara sauce.