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.

Building a Garden, and Building Myself

Like most people, I have been home most of the spring and summer, and have found loads of projects that need doing around my house. By far, the most satisfying has been reimagining my outdoor spaces and building a garden that I can enjoy every day. What I did not plan on, however, and have found to be the most gratifying aspect of this project, is how building the garden has become a metaphor for building myself.

I am very fortunate to live in a small cottage-like home that I love. When I divorced nearly five years ago, I bought this house because it felt like home. Since then I have made it more and more my own. I can track my own healing by the amount of color I have introduced into each room, the boldness in which I now make changes, and the feelings of peace and contentment that surge in me sometimes as I count my many blessings in being here.

This summer I decided to put in three raised garden beds in the back, where I have my “crops” – tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, butternut squash, peppers, leeks, onions, and lettuce. Then I looked at the front yard, where the grass was kind of spotty and the perennial garden constrained, and I decided (with the enormous and generous help of my significant other) to create a real cottage garden, tearing up half my lawn and creating a beautiful space filled with ferns, hostas, and assorted flowering plants. It is a work in progress, but nearing completion, and I love it!

Here are a few lessons I have learned from building my garden and building myself:

  • Begin with what you have. When I moved in here four and half years ago, I knew I had made the right decision, but I was terrified of being on my own. That first year was a blur of mistakes, I am sure, but all necessary to healing and growing. Likewise, I have made numerous mistakes in the garden, but with each season I have learned more about how to nurture my plants (and nurture myself), and this year, the new garden space has been mostly filled with divided plants from other areas of the yard. Likewise, by nurturing what I have within me, I can feel my own growth and know that I much more now to offer others. What a wonderful feeling!
  • Accept the generosity of those around you. Accepting help from others has always been difficult for me, as most of my life has been spent in an environment where I felt like I had to prove my own worth by being productive at all times. One thing that I have learned in the process of building my garden, and building myself, is that it is more than okay to accept the help of others! Because of a knee injury a couple of months ago, my contribution to the building of this garden has basically to plan what I thought would look nice and then to point as my significant other so kindly cut the sod to make the garden bed, dug the holes and placed the plants in their new homes. Without his help, I would never been able to realize this garden space. Once my neighbors saw what we were doing, they generously contributed plants from their own gardens to help fill the large new space. It feels good to just accept their generosity in the spirit in which it is intended, and I am grateful.
  • Recognize that you and your garden are works in progress. Each year I recognize the progress that I have made – relearning who I am without the stress of an unhappy relationship and working on the parts of me that are less mature and frankly, not so pretty. Like my garden, I am a work in progress. Each season, I see plants that should be moved, changed, divided and shared. Each year, I see the same in myself. My garden will never be finished. At best, it will always need upkeep and care to maintain its beauty. I am likely to find other plants that I want to introduce which will require changes in what exists. The same is true for me. I will always need upkeep and care, and no matter what age I reach, I hope to always be willing and able to introduce new interests and things of beauty into my life.

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.