You may have noticed, but reality can suck. Quite often, really.
It feels like the world wants something from you every moment. Things go wrong, or they go right in the wrong way, and sometimes you don’t even know what the hell the point of everything IS.
I read somewhere that humans are the only intelligent creatures for whom our own existence poses a problem. Other creatures live in the moment, learning as the go, with the sole aim of “survive another day.” For us, at the pinnacle of the food chain as we are, existential threats to our lives aren’t nearly so frequent. We still have all those frustrating survival mechanisms- transformed into stress, anxiety, depression and all that- but mostly we have the time and leisure to say “Why am I here?”
Reality can be heavy… and fortunately, our intelligence has given us a whole bunch of ways to lighten the load, even for a moment. We came up with movies, video games, all sorts of activities- but it all started with stories.
Today’s blog isn’t directly about baking or cooking. It’s not even especially motivational, though you absolutely can- and maybe should consider it so.
Instead, I’m going to tell you a true story- true, because otherwise I might call it a fable- about “the rules.” It’s a story about how I wound up on the business end of them, got out of a tight spot because a sympathetic voice and I decided to bend them, and why knowing when to break the rules can be the best thing you learn in life.
It starts with my 2007 Jeep Cherokee Laredo, and ends with an accident.
It’s been more or less the refrain for the last few months.
I walk in to the cafe- usually through the kitchen door, but sometimes through the front. There’s a thin crowd in the morning. Lines of people on their computers against the far wall, where outlets are most plentiful. People in groups take up the central tables- chatting with each other, discussing their plans for the day, trying to cajole their kids into eating one more bite of zucchini muffin. Not too many people are reading books in the cafe in the mornings- readers usually swing in on their lunch breaks, or the late afternoons when most of the crowd is home and it’s a bit quieter. That’s the thing about doing your work in a cafe- it’s somehow more reasonable to be wearing headphones than if you’re just reading a book.
I pass through the employee entrance to the back, knocking sharply on the tinted window- the hand sink and dish pit are right by the door, and I’m likely as not to walk into a perfectly-murder-your-knee-cap-height mixing bowl, or someone just washing up.
Hang up my hoodie, punch the clock- Yes, that’s me. Yes, that’s my shift. Yes, I’m a little early- deal with it, Skynet.
Grab a few necessities out of my backpack then head for my bench.
“Hey, how’re you doing, Matt?”
How am I doing? I’m dead tired. Given a reasonable choice, or a momentary lapse of responsibility or duty, I may not have shown up today. I know exactly what I’m getting in to, and what it’ll be like. I just shrug and flip open my notebook where I’d written down my production for the day yesterday afternoon.
Around 8 years or so ago, I was staying in my girlfriend’s apartment for the weekend. We have just finished making some chocolate cookies for after dinner. At the time, I was still working as an EMT- my work weeks were pretty grueling, and I found relaxation in cooking and baking at home. Often, I would bring in the results of my work to the Rescue Squad- they were usually very thankful. The EMT diet tended to be odd things at odd hours, washed down with way too much caffeine, and getting something home-cooked and half-decent just delivered to you was a rarity. While the cookies were cooling, Amanda said, “You know, there’s this great show I’ve been watching recently on Travel Channel I think you’d like. This guy used to be a chef, and he just goes all over the world and talks about the food and culture and stuff. He just did a really funny episode about Prague. Hang on, I’ll pull it up.” I shrugged and crashed out next to her on the couch. It had a been a long day- a busy shift, and then driving the hour to get to her, I was eager to get as much sleep as possible on my days off. She pulled up the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”- and my world tilted. In the weeks to come, I would start cooking and baking at home even more, trying out different recipes with Tony joking and laughing in the background from whatever corner of the world he was in. I would pick up “Kitchen Confidential,” and a number of his other books, devouring ALL of them. All the while, I’d bring in stuff for the squad- and I’d hear them say, “Matt, this is REALLY good. Why are you running on an ambulance? You should be doing this!” 8 years and a few days ago, I was informed that I’d been accepted to culinary school.
There are reasons I call myself a “baker,” and not a “pastry chef.”
Beyond the respect and station that I think comes with the “chef” title that I personally don’t think I’ve earned just yet, or the argument that “a chef is a cook who leads other cooks” and I haven’t had any cooks under my command for longer than a couple hours, there’s the fact that… well… I don’t think I’m quite crazy enough yet.
Let me explain- when I say “not crazy enough,” I mean that I still stand in rapt awe, wonder, and a little fear, of people who possess the meticulous attention to detail necessary to do certain things. Not just do them once or twice, but REPETITIVELY, and CONSISTENTLY. No cutting corners, no shrugging things off as “rustic” or “it’s meant to be like that”- if whatever these people do isn’t looking pristine, it’s unacceptable.
While I’m not exactly envious of the perfectionism these individuals have (my grandfather’s saying “Don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good’” comes to mind- and he was a brain surgeon) I am constantly in wonder of the level of PERCEPTION involved in noticing minuscule details.
Like many things in this world, an ideal case study for it comes from a certain mouse.