Chef’s Table: A Review

Over the past week, one episode per night, I have been taking in Netflix’s documentary series Chef’s Table.

Having completed the season, one immediate thing becomes apparent: how many different archetypes can be fit into a single narrative. The goofy rebel, the ecologist, the Hemingway, the type A woman, the family man, and the prodigal son all fall into the same story line: A dream forms, falls off track, and then, through an assertion of individualism/uniqueness and persistence bears fruit.

Still, it was strongly affecting. Even as yet another Chef espoused the importance of “freedom” or one more critic lined up to say the chef “really puts himself into his dishes,” each brand of “The Chef” managed to deliver something new on the topic of creativity, family, or food.

One completely under developed angle of each story were the women that supported each of these Chef’s. It reminded me of the fictional biography in AS Byatt’s Possession “Helpmates,” which celebrates the role wives and mother’s play in the lives of celebrated artist. Behind every “great man” with a dream there is a woman with a dream deferred and a grocery bag on her hips.

Several years ago, I gave up watching Mad Men because it made me feel deeply sad. That is practically my default setting so I don’t really need to be watching entertainment to invoke those feelings in me.

In the same fashion, I probably should have turned away from Chef’s Table. It’s the same story told six different times of different people’s success at creating a life that tethers them to their dreams and being recognized publicly for it. I don’t know how to write this without it sounded like petty jealousy, but the cumulative effect of the show is an uncomfortable feeling that I am adrift in my own life. I have no narrative arch and, worse, I have no dream to tether me in the first place.

Of course, everything that didn’t fit our documentarians arch had been edited out. And it some places that editing was obvious: a disapproving families’ attitude barely explored, children shown in some episodes but never mentioned.

So much is being written now about how as self-documentarians on social media, we are also careful editors. And I certainly feel that way. There are so many things I want to say online/out loud that I don’t, because they are self-indulgent/depressing/useless to say out loud.

Creative expression also requires careful editing. An artist tries to invoke a particular feeling in his viewer through engaging the senses of the viewer. What is left unsaid is as important as what is said. Food is an interesting means of creative expression because very rarely, I think, does a diner thinking “I would like to feel the despair of not knowing if I have made the right choice” or other similar negative emotions. A documentarian, a song writer, a movie maker may feel the same : as all art converges into popular cultures what’s painful rarely gets air time.

At the same time, for some of us, so much of inner life is occupied with painful emotions. I can’t help but feel erased.

Light Up Your Face with Gladness

Best podcast I listened to this week: Timothy Spall on Fresh Air discussing his role in Mr. Turner. Even the first few minutes where Spall explains the terms Romantic and Sublime are worth it.

Best passage from a book I read this week:

Immediately following a comic passage in Don Quixote where Sancho tries to get out of fighting the Squire of the Knight of the Mirrors, Cervantes writes,

By this time a thousand different kinds of brightly colored birds began to warble in the trees, and with their varied and joyous songs they seemed to welcome and greet the new dawn, who, through the doors and balconies of the Orient, was revealing the beauty of her face and shaking from her hair an infinite number of liquid pearls whose gentle liquor bather than plants that seemed, in turn, to send forth buds and rain down tiny white seed pearls; the willows dripped their sweet-tasting manner, the fountains laughed, the streams murmured, the woods rejoiced, and the meadows flourished with her arrival. But as soon as the light of day made it possible to see and distinguish one thing from another, the first thing that appeared before Sancho Panza’s eyes was the nose of the Squire of the Woods, which was so big it almost cast a shadow over the rest of his body.

Cervantes plays throughout the entire novel. And his playfulness highlights just how joyful play can be when done by an expert.

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Spring! (Cleaning!)

The goal of spring cleaning is to clean surfaces semi-annually that do not get cleaned once a week or monthly. It’s also a chance to re-organize spaces and donate/store things that are not currently in use.

Personally, I am going to be keeping in mind William Morris’ quote: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” (With perhaps the spin of: having nothing out that isn’t beautiful or useful.)

Round 1: Cupboards, Closets, and Shelves

 Plan of Attack

 Picture your house (or walk around it) room by room and make note of every cupboard, closet, or shelf. This is going to be your to do list.

 Once you have the list of things to do, be realistic about the time frame. If you can only handle cleaning half a shelf a week, that’s OK. “Spring” is three months long so if you need to move at a snail’s pace to add this in to the rest of your schedule, that’s cool. Set your goal for the day.

 Get together your spring clean materials this includes:

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What’s Your Go-To Salad?

Recently, I’ve really gotten into Ask MetaFilter. It full of straight forward advice to pragmatic questions as well as people baring their soul to strangers on the internet and getting genuine responses back. 

I love this thread on peoples’ “go-to” salad. Lunch day-in/day-out can get pretty boring so it’s nice to get some new idea.