Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Great Chef: A Parable

There was once a boy who loved food. He would sit for hours and read anything that had to do with food and cooking, including the instruction manuals for the kitchen appliances. The boy began to cook by trying out simple recipes. He would make the same recipes over and over and over, until he understood how each part contributed to the whole. His father noticed the boy's near obsession with cooking, and arranged for the boy to apprentice a chef.

Though the chef was not particularly masterful, he was a good chef. The boy was enthralled. He studied every minute detail of the kitchen, every movement of the chef. He studied the way the chef assigned tasks to the others that worked in the kitchen. He studied the way the chef chose his ingredients, and prepared his recipes. The boy became familiar with every tool at the chef's disposal, and eagerly did every job assigned to him, from chopping vegetables to mopping the floor.

Eventually, the boy became a man and he decided to enter cooking school. The first few years were boring drudgery to him, and he learned almost nothing. He had already experienced the inner workings of a disciplined kitchen, and he had continued to be a voracious reader of anything to do with food and cooking. However, in the later years of cooking school a new world was opened to him. He learned cooking techniques only few in the world understood. He learned the potent and exotic flavor of each spice. He learned the magic and the music of cooking.

Delicate dishes were like a symphony, each part had its purpose, and when everything came together the person eating it shared in some great truth, it was almost...mystical. The man had such a profound and heartfelt appreciation for food and cooking, that he found he couldn't even explain it to anyone else. In fact, the only people he could explain it to were others who had the same deep appreciation for food and cooking.

The man excelled at cooking school. His instructors and professors loved him because he was a passionate student. He eventually felt as though his professors were his peers, instead of his teachers. He even taught them a few things as he experimented with creating some truly unique recipes.

Finally, the man graduated from cooking school with the highest honors that could be achieved. He had become a master craftsman, an artisan. He had become The Great Chef. He struck out on his own to start a restaurant. His restaurant soon gained acclaim as everyone recognized his genius. Reservations had to be made over a year in advance.

The Great Chef decided that he would try something that would tax his skills to the breaking point. He had always toyed with the idea of creating this one dish that everyone said was impossible to create. He set his mind to it. If he cooked the tomatoes just so it would bring out the flavor he desired, and that would combine perfectly with the mushrooms. The combination of spices would perfectly complement the other ingredients. He sought out only the freshest meats and vegetables that were at the peak of ripeness, and at great expense.

All of The Great Chef's life's preparation had led up to this moment. By following his finely tuned intuition, he had created a recipe where no single ingredient could be removed without causing the flavor of the whole dish to collapse, because each ingredient depended on the others to draw out and complement its flavors. He only had to make the recipe once to know that it was perfect. He had done the impossible! He had proven beyond any doubt that he had no equal, and in the process he had created a new branch of the culinary arts.

One day, a man came to have dinner at The Great Chef's restaurant. He wasn't a connoisseur but he liked to try strange new things, and when someone told him The Great Chef's new dish was the best, he had to have it. He had made a reservation a year ago, and had come in from out-of-town expressly for this purpose. When it came time to order, the man said he would like to try the new dish, but as he read the description he said, "Oh...I don't like tomatoes. Can you make it without the tomatoes?"

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