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.

Five Ways to Release Anxiety and Imagine Better Outcomes

Cairn with a sunset in the background

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” –Deepak Chopra

It’s our third week of social distancing and shelter at home. On family group chats, we joke about changing from our day sweatpants to our night sweatpants and how many jigsaw puzzles we’ve done. Yet while we laugh at our imposed laziness, there is a sense of malaise that cannot be ignored. These are scary times.

Anxiety and Imagination

For better or worse, we humans are blessed with imagination. We can create elaborate realities that pass the time as pleasant daydreams, but just as easily we can imagine scenarios that leave us breathless with fear and anxiety.

As the news about coronavirus becomes more grim, and as we realize the ramifications of no work, few face-to-face social interactions, and the possibility of serious illness, it is easy to see why so many imagine the worst and become anxious these days.

Imagine a Better Outcome

But we don’t have to do this. Imagination used in its best form can create a reality that is much more hopeful and optimistic. Here are five ways to release the anxiety and tap into a more positive use of imagination:

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply when anxiety hits. Focus on feeling your breath entering and nourishing your body and spirit. If you can’t control your breathing, try using a breathing or meditation app to help you visually regulate inhaling and exhaling. Practice it regularly, and use this time to imagine the feeling of being safe and loved. When I was young and feeling anxious, I used to imagine myself sleeping in the palm of God’s hand – totally cared for and safe. That image is one that stays with me now.
  2. Take stock of what you have and be grateful. Whenever I feel anxious about money or my future, I remind myself that the universe is an abundant place with plenty for everyone. I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat. For today, I have everything I need (and most of what I want). Acknowledging this, and being grateful for it, relaxes my mind and allows me to imagine abundance rather than lack.
  3. Put things in order. An anxious mind is is cluttered with scary images and fears, and this disorder is often reflected in the space around you. To regain control of your mind, take back control of your space. Make the bed, put something back where it belongs, clean out a small drawer, or organize a shelf. These small acts of physical order can help put a mind at ease and free up mental space for positive imagination to work.
  4. Go outside. Set aside an hour to walk or go for a run in nature. Work in the garden, rake up dead grass (the order thing again), or plant a garden. Fresh air and activity do wonders to clear negative energy and help you imagine new possibilities. It is hard to feel anxious when the sun is on your face and birds are singing around you.
  5. Create a vision board. Once you have calmed your mind, creating a vision board is a fun way to use your imagination to design a better outcome to whatever the situation. Use old magazines and a notebook or one of the vision board apps that are available and collect images of the outcomes you desire. The pictures should reflect not just the things you want, but the feelings that are invoked when you think of your ideal outcome. Keep it fluid and update it often to start using your imagination more productively.

Imagination is a wonderful tool to help us create and escape the everyday. But when we imagine the worst that can happen, anxiety is the result. These days of isolation and uncertainty are scary. By harnessing the imagination, we can release our anxiety and create new possibilities for the future.

Six Silver Linings to Social Distancing

As we near the end of the second week of social isolation, news of the spread of coronavirus is worsening, and social distancing has become the new standard. It is daunting to realize that nobody knows when we will return to our normal lives, or even how “normal” our lives will be when this is all over.

But in the midst of all these changes and the onslaught of bad news, there are some silver linings to the enforced social distancing and self-isolation so necessary for staying healthy and helping others to do the same. Here are six good things that are happening right now:

More Family Time

When families with young children or teens would normally be going in several directions at once, as I walk around my neighborhood, I see whole families – both parents and all the kids – out walking, throwing a football, jogging, or playing their own special games. I hope this lasts after social distancing ends.

Positive Messages

The children in my neighborhood have been writing wonderful and encouraging messages on the sidewalks! Yesterday, while walking the dog, I saw all of these: “You’re outside!” “Isn’t fresh air great?” “You’ve got this!” “Keep smiling!” “We’re all together in this.” “Looking good!” and many others. These messages make me smile every time and kudos to the parents who are encouraging their children to help in this way.

Creativity

Parents in our town have gotten very creative in entertaining their little ones. Each week they do a craft project with their kids – something that can be hung in the window, like shamrocks or silly faces – and then do a scavenger hunt as they walk to find as many displays as they can. The more we have had to stay apart, the more creative people have gotten in finding ways to connect with each other, reminding all of us of what is truly important.

Time to Do Overdue Projects

Without commutes, sports and activities, the gym, and social gatherings, all of a sudden, cleaning out the closet, or finishing a craft project started two years ago seems like a good idea. There is a strong sense of accomplishment in finally taking the time to finish things on the to-do list!

Learning New Technology

In the last two weeks, I have participated in a book club meeting on Zoom, several virtual family gatherings on Google Hangouts, and most recently, quick video chatting on Marco Polo – an app I had never heard of but know I will enjoy because I can stay in closer touch with my daughters. I am so grateful that we have the technology to connect virtually when we can’t do it in person.

More Frequent Connection with Friends and Family

With more time on our hands and concern for family and friends, people seem to be reaching out more frequently. In the last few days, I’ve chatted with former students, old friends, and family members with whom under normal circumstances, I would talk to maybe once every few months. We all have asked why we don’t do this more often, and I hope when this is over, we will.

The important thing is to stay healthy during this time, and the best way to do that is stay home and self-isolate as much as possible. But social distancing has its advantages, and with luck you are experiencing these benefits as well. How are you making the best of your stay-at-home situation?