Life Lessons Served Up on Chef’s Table

One of my new finds on Netflix is Chef’s Table, an award-winning series that focuses on the lives, passions, creativity, and struggles of famous chefs from around the world. Originating in 2015, the series has six seasons of 4-6 episodes and has won numerous awards for its visual artistry and overall excellence.

It’s true that the show is an amazing showcase of culinary creativity, but what keeps me tuning in are the life lessons that are served up in each episode. After getting hooked on the series and watching chef after chef achieve their dreams, I think I’ve learned as much about how to approach life as I’ve learned about what makes for creative cuisine. Here are four of the lessons Chef’s Table has to offer:

Not everyone is going to get you, and that’s OK. The chefs depicted in this series are masters of their craft, but almost all of them grew up being sort of the ‘odd duck’ either in their families or among their groups of friends. Some of them even grew up isolated or bullied for their perceived differences. But those who were most alone also seemed to realize, not that they were strange or different, but that they had just not yet found their ‘tribe’, and once they did and began pursuing their passions, they shone.

Knowledge feeds creativity. While each of the chefs has innate talent and unique abilities to imagine and combine flavors and textures in food, almost all of them reached a point where their talent could take them no further. Many of them went to another country (France, Singapore, Hong Kong) to study techniques, or they started learning the ancient recipes and cooking methods of their own countries (Peru, Thailand). They all found that the more they learned the fundamentals of their craft, the more creative they could be.

Struggles and adversity get you to the next level – every single time. Each episode of Chef’s Table is predictable in that every chef reached a “rock bottom” point in his or her career or life, and faced nearly insurmountable struggles to continue. Yet each one of them did continue, often suffering severe financial hardship in the process. The lesson is clear. Their hard work and dedication in the face of their struggles paid off as they began to be noticed and recognized by the world culinary community. If they had not struggled, their stories would not have been as inspiring, of course, but it is also likely that they would not have reached the culinary heights they have attained either.

Nothing beats finding your passion and living it. What I love most about this series is watching the passion with which these chefs practice their craft. There is a joy in their creations, a love that comes shining through everything they do, from growing their own ingredients to ensure quality, to the artistry with which they plate their dishes. It is a strong reminder that there is nothing like leaning into your passion and working hard at it, and that God is in the details, as they say. These chefs have attained their mastery by paying attention to the details, learning as they go, and constantly creating. It is an inspiration.

Book Review: Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself

Lately I have been listening to all my books. Every so often, though, a book comes along that prompts me to stop the audio and relisten… and in this case, to do it multiple times before finishing and then purchasing the hard copy so that I can read it again and well, just own it. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One by Dr. Joe Dispenza is that book.

The book is divided into three parts that lead the reader on a journey from information to transformation. The first part, The Science of You, lays the groundwork for change. Most of us live in a state of rehearsed negative emotions, either replaying negative experiences from our past, or rehearsing negative experiences we anticipate (i.e. any form of worry). By using an approach derived from quantum physics, Dispenza shows his readers how the thoughts and emotions that we have on a running loop actually become the cause to the negative effects we experience rather than the result. Sound crazy? Maybe… until you realize how often it is that what we anticipate – whether good or bad – is exactly what happens. The foundation of quantum physics is that all experiences exist as pure potential until we fixate on one. So the question becomes, why do we so often fixate on negative possibilities rather than the “best case scenario”?

Dispenza makes a strong case for overcoming what he calls “the big three” – environment, body, and time – in order to break the habit of negative thinking and of approaching every new situation with the vestiges of old negative thoughts and emotions that then become the cause of exactly the situation that we don’t want.

One chapter that I found particularly impactful was The Gap, which described the identity gap so many people face, especially in middle age. Who we appear to be may not – and often does not – match who we really are inside. Suddenly whatever was making us feel like we were doing well in our world – whether wealth, impressive job title, a big house, fancy cars, or even alcohol or drugs – nothing seems to fill the void. There is a genuine abyss between where we are in our souls and what we project to the outside world.

Fortunately, the author does not leave us standing at the edge of this precipice, staring down into the nothingness below…

Rather, in the next two sections – Your Brain and Meditation and Stepping Toward Your New Destiny – he gives his readers a guide to meditation that actually serves to make genuine changes to the way we approach our lives. This isn’t meditation to reach nothingness, but rather meditation with the intention of manifesting real material changes to our lives by aligning thoughts and emotions behind one of the infinite potential experiences we could have based on the theories of quantum physics. It is in essence a how-to approach for anticipating and then enjoying the best possibilities for your life.

I like this book because it offers hope to those who may feel they are trapped in a spiral of negativity, or holding on to an experience that needs to be let go. It offers those who have experienced significant losses to imagine a life where those losses have been turned around and their dreams can be realized – maybe not in the way they first imagined, but in a way that will surprise and delight them all the same.

Grieving: Finding Comfort Where There is None

There have been so many losses this year. Whether you are mourning the loss of a family member, a loving relationship, an old friendship, a fulfilling job, or all the opportunities that have fallen by the wayside during the last eight months, the grief is real and profound – and much harder to handle during a time of isolation. Grieving, finding comfort where there is none, is more than a “one day at a time” endeavor. Sometimes it feels like a minute-by-minute challenge.

I have recently lost someone very dear to me, and I am mourning. I would like to get away from myself and escape the questions I have and the longing I feel, but there is no escaping these things – we cannot crawl out of our own skin, no matter how badly we want to. He is a part of me and with me, he remains.

But as hard as it is anyway, grieving in isolation feels worse. I thank God for the friends who have had my back and supported me even when they weren’t sure what to say or how to be with me. Their presence, checking in by text, phone or Zoom, sending me something to make me smile, just telling me that they understand – these small gestures have made all the difference as I navigate this strange new space.

As always, I find comfort in the words of others, too. Here are some quotes that have given me courage:

“Life is full of grief, to exactly the degree we allow ourselves to love other people.” – Orson Scott Card. I am full of grief because I am also full of love. I love the best way that I can.

“Sometimes only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated.” – Alphonse de Lamartine. I am not alone in looking for a beloved face among others, and wanting again to share a smile.

“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” – E.A. Bucchianeri You cannot have love without the grief that comes when it leaves. But in all ways, the love is worth it, and it is this love that eventually gives rise to hope.

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” – Haruki Murakami. And knowing this, I commit to doing the hard work of walking through this grief to the other side, where hope and new opportunities await me.

So I grieve my loss, remember my love, focus on the many, many happy memories, and hope for a new chance, a new beginning someday. I remember that all the pain I feel now, along with the love and happiness I felt before this loss, are all parts of being alive. I have lived and am living… and in his words, “so there’s that.” I wish you peace.