Monday, September 22, 2008

Iron Chef Impossible

I really like the Food Channel. I enjoy watching people cook. But my all time favorites are not the kind of shows that demonstrate recipes and techniques, but the most intense ones involving professional chefs trying to meet high standards in a short amount of time.

During one episode of Dinner:Impossible, a chef has to cook an international menu of comfort food for 150 homesick circus performers. He takes requests from at least 7 different world cuisines and starts to shop and cook the food in less than five hours in a cooking trailer smaller than most people's bathrooms. I noticed throughout all the episodes that none of the dishes are cooked by reading recipes, and the chef and his sous staff all seem to know what to do no matter where they are or what they are called to make. During this episode, the chef makes the point that he and his sous chefs know this food (particularly borscht, stroganoff, spaetzle, fish and chips, etc...) because they have experienced it all before, and know how to make it even better than normal while keeping it to a classic style. The challenge comes not from knowing how to cook, but from the conditions they are called to cook in. This particular chef doesn't just like to do what is asked from him, but go beyond all expectations.

Then there is Iron Chef. No cookbooks there either. No measuring cups or measuring spoons. I am always impressed by the level of expertise in time management, technique, food knowledge and teamwork. Not to mention calm professionalism, originality and creativity. Right now, I am watching two teams do things with carrots that blow my mind. There is cooking and then, there is cooking. All within one hour. What can I cook in one hour?

It makes me think about many things about how I view challenges and limitations, and the mental attitude that sets some people apart from others. These chefs respond to the hard situations relying on their past discipline and experience. It all just kicks in during the competition but it didn't come from thin air. Each cook represents years of education and training, not to mention tedious hours of making sure that each little detail is done just right. But more than that, they love what they do.

Why am I thinking about these things? Well, on one hand, it applies a lot to what I do all day at work. I make coffee for hundreds of people. Right now at the mall, I make coffee for hundreds of people in a space smaller than my closet. A couple of times, during a rush today, I had to take a look at the frappuccino I made in the blender and decide that it didn't meet my standards so it was necessary to make it over again. In addition, not everything goes smoothly. After years of working bar, you train yourself not to react emotionally to little upsets. You fix the problem and keep going. And laugh, some things are actually really funny. And you know, it helps that I love what I do.

It also applies to a book I'm reading about spiritual disciplines by Dallas Willard. We are amazed at athletes like Michael Phelps who perform perfectly at the Olympics, but we don't see the hours and hours of discipline and repetition, of aching muscles and sacrifices to keep a rigorous training schedule. But somehow, we look at spiritual mature people and think they got mature and respond under pressure magically. We don't see the hours of bible study and prayer that helped them grow and know God deeply, so that they respond to challenges born out of the trust in God's ability to keep His promises that they've seen every day. And the disciplines aren't the point, it's the experience of knowing God and loving Him born from those disciplines.

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