A good friend who knows how much I love to cook gave me a wonderful Christmas present: Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook. Part of my fascination is certainly the food – the spectacular recipes, the food combinations and the presentation of dishes. But the other thing that pulls me to read about great chefs like Keller is their obsession with detail, their passion for their craft and commitment to creating a dish or restaurant that represents their philosophy of life.
Thomas Keller, considered by many to be the ultimate American chef in the country, has a philosophy that would serve him well in any industry. He is obsessed with quality – in his products, his employees, the environment in which his food is presented – everything, no matter how small, is considered in the equation so that the result is extraordinary. For example, china is specifically designed to complement his food and his servers cannot wear perfume or cologne because it may distract from a customer’s experience of their meal.
Pouring through his book on Christmas Day, I was inspired by one of his quotes. He was discussing cooking being striving toward perfection, with the realization that you can never achieve perfection. So he believes if you can’t be perfect, the goal of cooking is ultimately about creating pleasure and making people happy. He states:
“But to give pleasure, you have to take pleasure yourself. For me, it is the satisfaction of cooking every day: tourneing a carrot, or cutting salmon, or portioning foie gras – the mechanical jobs I do daily, year after year. This is the great challenge: to maintain passion for the everyday routine and the endlessly repeated act, to derive deep gratification from the mundane.”
How spectacular! To realize that most of life is about boring, repetitive activity and to look at it differently, as a means to a better end, not an annoying nuisance in your life.
Enjoying the mundane in your everyday life
I know how Keller feels. I enjoy the repetitive tasks in cooking – cutting an onion, peeling carrots, trimming a roast- for me, these tasks are relaxing after a long day at work. Listening to the sizzle of short ribs browning in a pan or stirring a risotto gives me great pleasure. However, I don’t take the same joy in folding clothes. But imagine if for 2013 you rethought the things you do? If you replaced your aggravation with the traffic filled drive to work with awe of the sunrise, the thrill of some solitude or a chance to listen to a book on tape. Turn waiting for your coffee at the deli into an opportunity to meet the people in your neighborhood.
I brought the topic up with my team at our morning meeting this week and we discussed how most of what we do in dentistry – fillings, oral hygiene instruction, cleanings, answering the same questions about insurance, and describing a dental procedure – has the potential of becoming boring. But then we all agreed that we take special pleasure in realizing the importance of each event and the impact it will make on our patients. We somehow have found a way to make each moment unique for our patients and, ultimately, receive joy in a task well done. Instead of looking at a filling or a veneer, for example, as a tedious procedure, I welcome the chance to improve a smile for a patient.
If only I could learn to love paying bills and balancing my checkbook…