In a moment, I’m going to show you a picture that will mean nothing to you, but the story behind it changed my life in an instant. I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but we’re opening a second location in College Park, Maryland that’s at least twice as big. Therefore, we have a new executive chef that will oversee both locations. Because the College Park location isn’t open yet, he’s been spending a lot of time with us, just learning and listening. Eventually, things will change, but I admire the fact that right now, he’s just observing the way we work together and taking advantage of teachable moments. For instance, with salads, he taught me to “dress the bowl.” Dressing that is sufficiently liquid (in my case, balsamic vinaigrette…. not sure how well this would work with Thousand Island….) goes around the top inside of the bowl, and the “legs” drip down. This ensures equal coverage over the entire salad, and doesn’t crush the leaves. It’s little things like that where I just kvell, because I am excited and interested by learning.
But tonight, there was this moment… one where I almost had to excuse myself to go cry (in the walk-in). I let myself fall apart for one second, and then got back to work. One second was all I could afford, one momentous thought that my education had changed in an instant. This chef, who I’d spent all of two or three days with, made me feel comfortable enough to say, when he said that I needed to chop something smaller and more evenly, that I had monocular vision. I’m not sure, but I think the only other cook I’ve ever told is Dana, because I didn’t want to look stupid.
Or perhaps stupid is the wrong word. Most people have never heard of monocular vision, and therefore, I can explain it all day long, but that doesn’t mean that they get it.
But this chef didn’t even bat an eye. He said, “you can see in 2D, right? Hold the knife and the spring onions closer to your body and look straight down at them so you don’t have to use depth perception.” Tears came to my eyes that I tried to hide, but this was life-changing. It worked. Chef saw that my eyes were watering and he said, “hey, life is just a series of workarounds. You’re going to do great things.” And oh, boy did I ever want to squall my eyeballs out then. To my credit, I did not. But if I think of this conversation as I’m drifting to sleep, I have no doubt that joy will leak out of my eyes and onto my pillow.
If you look at the picture closely, you’ll see that everything is not exactly perfect, but such a vast improvement that I can’t wait to get back to work and keep trying. I know my chef well enough to know that perfection is not the goal, excellence is. But I want at least a few moments of perfection for myself…. which I got today, actually. About half to 70% were completely without fault. Of course I want that ratio to go up, and it will. I just need to practice over and over (and over and over). Because of this, my own chef (as opposed to the executive chef) wants me to go to the CIA, where he went. I don’t think it’s for me. Learning on the job has been much more rewarding than taking classes, because plenty of people who’ve already done the same sorts of programs are in charge of my education now, and I would find that just about anywhere I cooked.
It is enough to have people in my life who truly see me with both eyes.