During a trailer for a new movie about Steve Jobs, the film’s central figure becomes impatient with actor Seth Rogen’s character as the latter struggles to aptly verbalize a thought. I literally laughed out loud while empathizing with both portrayals — the impatient creative, likely rushing to get back to scheming and obsessing, and the amped-up chatterer grappling to deliver a swift and wily metaphor. Though I often aspire to such wit, to go beyond metaphors that involve sports and, for some odd reason, planes, trains and automobiles, my personal game often fails to fly.
For instance, I relate the greatest of all chefs to Gretzky and Jordan … brilliant performers who set the bar, who created and originated while also inspiring those around them to new heights. Regrettably, I have yet to work with a chef “10” — a rare breed indeed. There are many more “9’s,” and I am fortunate to have collaborated with a few throughout my career. There is an abundant field of solid and worthy chefs, most of whom will remain grades below the elite for many reasons, and often just because good is “good enough” — those who perhaps settle more for a sense of balance and peace of mind, a place I may never know. Of course, there are as many who simply lack what it takes to elevate, whether it’s desire, mental stability or the humility to recognize their “opportunities.” It is remarkable how many will proudly present a dish, awaiting enthusiastic affirmation as the resulted recipe sadly falls somewhere between good enough and awful.
Those chefs who consistently “find the net,” those who score in abundance, display a brilliant palate while generally embracing the team concept. Our restaurants preach the Bill Belichick school of restaurant operations — that no one employee is more important than the whole. We remind those who are repeatedly late to work that similar arrogance earned Randy Moss an express, one-way ticket out of town. Without a map, we risk going off track.
“All oars in the water,” another personal favorite, expresses the same premise. We often implore our staff to worry less about seeking fairness — an elusive goal perpetuated by a self-centered perspective — and instead to see the big picture, that the strong help the less able and that all are strong enough to ask for help when it is needed to fulfill our common guest-focused goal. “Pride goeth before a fall.”
At a recent management meeting to plot an even better menu for this function season, we “suffered” through the typical and distracting anecdotes, ideas and digressions, struggling mightily to stay on topic before it hit me like Joe Frazier (or was it a freight train? I’m so lame.).
Anyway, it hit me that the energetic and creative types who are drawn to this business may actually represent a higher percentage of ADD folks than the norm. And while we enjoyed and likely annoyed each other with terrific inefficiency and way too many ideas to execute, our splashing oars temporarily askew, I surmised further that the individual who defined attention deficit as a “disorder” was quite possibly just jealous while struggling to keep up. Though we often take the scenic route (honestly, we don’t finish too many meetings in under an hour), we arrive. It is the oft disorderly and creative types who discover electricity, write symphonies and create the rare and original grand-slam recipe. While they design the play, many of the rest of us do the dotting and the crossing, the running and receiving, hopefully while all rowing in the common direction.
Somewhat related update:
At a recent Massachusetts Restaurant Association board meeting, I was reminded of a column I wrote for this magazine two years ago, championing a special 11-year-old who took us to task over her interpretation that the artful, nude, bathroom designations in one of our restaurants were gender-stereotypical, perpetuating bias.
She would be happy to know that in response to recently proposed Statehouse legislation mandating non-gender-specific public bathroom options, and in the spirit of humanity and loving all thy neighbors, our board voted to support this progressive initiative. I pray now, that our often knee-jerk legislators show the additional fortitude to mandate the most simple, least financially burdensome way for businesses to provide this kindness on behalf of a minority of users. I am proud of those who display the courage to understand and reject the suffering endured by many people who don’t fit traditional gender definitions. If I were making the rules, there would simply be separate, handicapped-accessible wash rooms, universally marked, WC (water closet). Seriously, who needs any additional details? Close the door, do your business, wash your hands. Ah, where have my days at liberated UMass gone; you were so ahead of your time. Score one for the slow train of evolution and humanity. It keeps chugging along.
To all the people — praying or planning, rowing or riding, standing or sitting … We wish you a compassionate, healthy and happy holiday season!