It is not like me to recommend books, movies, music, or TV shows.
Wait, that doesn't sound right. Maybe it's:
It is quite like me to recommend books, movies, music, or TV shows.
There. That looks better!
And one would think that working at a library I would have rich opportunities for this process of suggestion. But even when I have recommended things to people that they loved, that changed their lives, I still get a disquieting sense from them that any recommendation is halfway to a burden. There is a feeling in the air that I am bestowing not an opportunity, but a responsibility. And the better my recommendations have been in the past, the greater the responsibility I am lowering heavily into their arms.
Here, hold this.
And so I struggle to keep my peace. And so I struggle to keep my piece.
And as for being asked for recommendations at the library, the field is far smaller than one might think. There is very little "Allowing for the full breadth of human experience what should I read that will blow my mind?" and vastly more "I really like Lee Child. What other books are there exactly like these only by a different author?"
So when I extoll the extraordinary Netflix documentary show that my lovely wife and I have stumbled upon, Chef's Table, I do it not as a recommendation. You are free to carry on with your life exactly as planned. There is no moral imperative to watch this show. You will not be left out of any water cooler conversations. You will not fall in my estimation.
I just really like this show.
Indeed, I like it to the point where it is changing me.
And so that is why I am telling you about it.
Chef's Table is a series of hour-long biographies about the profoundly influential, groundbreaking, and successful chefs of the world. Each episode is about one chef and their journey in the world through food. They are not linked except by the close relation of the subject, food and cuisine, and the gorgeous style of each episode's production. They are beautifully shot, both in the attention to food and ingredients, but also to the natural world from which they come. United by the beautiful musical scores and by the formal attention to the immaculately presented plates of the diverse cooks.
It is surely not solely this show that has changed the way I eat. I have struggled all my life with eating well. And though at various times in my life I have made attempts to eat cleanly, or with better elements, or from more wholesome ingredients, I have also struggled with quantity, with food as emotional comfort, and with the indulgence of food. And eating better has always competed with having enough food. So I have skimped, indulged, economized my cooking with massive portions, and given up.
But then watching all these exquisite chefs meticulously crafting what I have to say are almost exclusively small plates, I found myself thinking:
What if that's enough food?
How expensive can such a small portion be to buy ingredients for?
That one plate could be enough for me. I am familiar with that one plate being enough.
I am not a great chef. I am not a million, billion miles close to any of these masters of craft. But I'm okay with a saucepan if I'm careful about it and pay attention to a general instruction. I am not making the food anything really like in Chef's Table. But a little piece of cod pan-fried in panko, with a few seared asparagus spears, a toasted garlic crouton, and a spoonful of cilantro pistachio pesto, is neither beyond me nor beyond the time I will allow for cooking. I don't have to make a giant batch for my trouble. I don't have to have a heaping plate for my meal. It is enough.
This is very different.
One thing I have realized is that I am almost never hungry. And I don't need a lot of food to be satisfied. I might, it seems, just need a little food to be satisfied, so long as it is excellent, or as excellent as I can make it.
And so shopping is changed too. I do not look for the cheapest appealing vegetable that I can buy a lot of. I look for any vegetable that looks wonderful, and buy a little. Better a stalk of broccolini, or five spears asparagus, or six perfect sugar snap peapods than one giant mass of chard (though nothing against chard!). Better three morel mushrooms (if I can find them) than a pound of button mushrooms.
And so with meat, herbs, cheese, and so on.
I have had diet epiphanies before, but maybe this has more evolution than revolution to it. It makes sense to me. But I don't know what will happen. I have been following this way for less than two weeks. But I do know I look at food differently already. And I feel less restricted than more; freed even.
I have always been interested in food.
I have always liked, even loved food.
Now maybe I am learning to respect it.
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