Category Archives: Mind

Food As Craft. Craft As Life.

I took my family to Paris, France for the 2016-2017 New Years Eve celebrations. We were essentially just there for the weekend, but it was a fabulous weekend – one that I will never forget. The sites and food were unforgettable. For New Year’s Eve, I treated my family to an 8 course French Meal and Wine/Champagne Pairing at the Hotel Raphael in Paris very close to the Champs-Elysées. My kids and I were definitely not used to fancy food such as this, but it was a beautiful and tasteful introduction to food as art (as opposed to American style ‘fast food’). Here’s a video of my dessert (thanks Alison ;):

In Paris, we were delighted to see the Eiffel Tower, The Arc De Triomphe, The Palace of Versailles, and to listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and other beautiful musical pieces, performed by a Chamber Orchestra at the Église de la Madeleine Roman Catholic Church. I left Paris with a profound appreciation for the art and beauty that abounds in this wonderful city, from her cuisine to her architecture, to her music and her people. The French seem to have a genetic disposition toward an aesthetic appreciation of life, which I find hard to come by in the United States. The french term, ‘Joi De Vivre,’ comes to mind when I reflect on our weekend trip to France.

According to Wikipedia: “It ‘can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung…'”

I happened to catch a Netflix Documentary this evening called “Chef’s Table, France,” Season I, which was a story about an amazing French Chef, Alain Passard. As I watched the story unfold about how Chef Passard became a Chef, identifying his career path as early as 14 years old, how he found a mentor and soon bought his mentor’s restaurant, which he named ‘Arpege’, I was completely drawn in by Chef Passard’s sense of life purpose, mastery and pursuit of excellence in his craft. It is not often you find or learn of someone who absolutely loves what they do for a living. I hung on his every word in this documentary and even took notes, hoping to graph some of his sense of aesthetics and Joi de Vivre into my own life and professional career. Here are some of Chef Alain Passard’s quotes and anecdotes I noted from the Netflix Documentary, ‘Chef’s Table, France’:

“When you close your eyes at night, what’s important? You’ve spent the day taking risks. You’ve made some people very happy.”

Chef Passard relates that what you create is just as important as how you create it, which he refers to as ‘Gestures’ or ‘Hand Gestures’. The way you move your hands to create something of value is important and takes hours and years and decades of practice. Chef Passard’s Grandmother was an amazing cook; his mother sewed and his father was a musician. His Grandfather was a sculptor who worked with wood. He learned the importance of hand gestures early in his life and applied them to his craft. He works bread dough like it’s fabric. He sews Duck and Chicken together to create a unique dish. With regards to the hand gesture, he says: “In cuisine, in music, in sculpture, in painting, it’s everything. Either we like the gesture, either we like the hand, or we do not. And this hand, if we want it to be more beautiful, we must work seven hours, eight hours, ten hours in the kitchen every day. This makes the hand more precise, and more elegant.” He goes on to say that a 14 year old does not have the precision of hand that a 30 year old cook has. He says, “I am never happier than when I put my fingers on a new gesture or a new flavor. It feels wonderful.”

“You really become a cook between 40 and 50 years old.”

Can the same not also be said about other professions as well?

Allez Chercher

When Chef Passard started his restaurant, Arpege, he says that the one and two star ratings came fairly easily, but the three star rating was very difficult to attain. Three Stars is the highest rating for a restaurant. Maintaining three stars is apparently extremely difficult to do, but Chef Passard’s mentality is to pursue higher and higher standards, never stopping or resting upon his current achievements. The search for excellence is never ending, but it’s something he loves. I was struck how there was no mention of the pursuit of money in this documentary, it was purely the pursuit of passion, excellence, and the art of food. In fact, there came a point in Chef Passard’s professional career where he was losing his passion for cooking meat, so he decided to take a year of introspection to find his passion again. He reinvented himself and his restaurant as primarily vegetarian while still maintaining their three star rating. He found a new hand. A new outlook.

“My only ambition is to love what I do more each day. Just the idea of a job well done. No outside projects, needs, or dreams. If this story exists today, it’s because I love my job more than anything.”

Bon!

Versailles, France

Building a Business Vocabulary – I

I’m trying to build-up my business vocabulary and acumen.  Why?  Because I am pretty comfortable as part of the technical team of an organization.  When you’re comfortable, you’re not growing.  For over twenty years I’ve worked in back-office cubes building technology for organizations.  I now want to have a larger focus, a better grasp of a company’s big picture – and no, I don’t need another degree (MBA), and associated student debt, to get me there.  I want to be a successful entrepreneur one day.  To that end, here are some words I am committing to memory, because to walk the walk, you gotta talk the talk:

Entrepreneur:  ‘A person who organizes and manages a buiness undertaking, assuming the risk for the sake of the profit.’  — Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary

To be an entrepreneur, you have to take a risk if you want to realize a profit.  There’s no getting around the risk part, by definition.

Capitalist:  ‘1. A person who has capital; owner of wealth used in business; 2. an upholder of capitalism; 3. loosely, a wealthy person.’  — Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary

Grant Cardone introduced me to the term ‘Capitalist’.  I never thought of becoming a Capitalist until I heard him mention it as a desirable characteristic.  Sell or be sold.

White Space:  Hmm.  This one is kind of tough to define.  You won’t find this defined in your average home Dictionary (mine is Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary, which I’ve had since College).  Essentially, in the context of business, this term refers to potential opportunities in the market where there might not be as much competition; a place where new businesses might have room to operate.  Here’s a 2010 HBR article that helps further define the term.

I first heard this term from listening to a Gary Vaynerchuk talk.  I highly recommend positioning yourself to hear Gary V. talk shop at some point if you can.  It’s all about the hustle.

Revenue Per User (RPU):  According to Investopedia, RPU is ‘[a]ratio used to express the profitability of a company on a per-user basis. RPUs are calculated by taking overall revenue and dividing by total number of users.’

I first heard of this term listening to Nathan Latka’s ‘The Top’ Podcast.  This cat is a business genius and I highly recommend his podcast.

Real Rate of Return (RRR): According to Investopedia, RRR is ‘[the] annual percentage return realized on an investment, which is adjusted for changes in prices due to inflation or other external effects. This method expresses the nominal rate of return in real terms, which keeps the purchasing power of a given level of capital constant over time.’  For example, if you make 5% return on an investment, and inflation is said to be at 3%, then your RRR is really 2%.

Again, I picked-up this term from listening to Nathan Latka’s Podcast mentioned above.

Affluenza: According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, this is defined as ‘extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships <Affluenza is particularly rampant in the United States, where we place a high priority on financial success and material possessions. — David Hawkins, Breaking Everyday Addictions, 2008>.  

I heard this word today while standing in line at my Bank listening to a News Story on the TV.  This is one of those ridiculous words, like ‘twerk’, which has no place in a proper dictionary.  From my perspective, Money should be used to buy Financial Freedom and experiences, not more stuff.

Ohana
Ohana

“It’s not about money or connections. It’s the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone when it comes to your business.” – Mark Cuban

No Fear Skate

The Fear Factor

I’m afraid of crowds. Crowds of people freak me out. Being trapped in a crowd, the ensuing claustrophobia, the potential for a stampede, the ‘mooing’ sound echoing in my brain. God forbid I have to talk to anyone in the crowd, or worse, they address me for some God forsaken reason. I see crowds, mobs, hordes of people as stupid. If the individuals in the mob were smart, they wouldn’t find themselves stuck in the crowd, packed in a stadium, or stuck on a crowded metro station, or mobbed in a high school hallway. The truth is, however, avoiding crowds in this day and age of chronic over population is nearly impossible. There’s no getting around getting caught in a crowd from time to time. The only way around my fear of crowds is to get over my own fear; my fear is the only thing I have some power over.

Fear can be a good thing. Fear exists for a reason. It’s baked into our DNA to help keep us alive. But an over sensitivity to our fear can also hold us back from truly living. Ironic isn’t it? For example, some of us are afraid of becoming too successful. I know, because I am one such person. I don’t know why I fear too much success. Somehow, I must have gotten screwed-up in my childhood or something. Today, I recognize this fear as I try to deal with it, overcome it, and welcome any and all successes I can get my hands on. I’m learning to overcome my fear.

I’m generally afraid of heights too. Driving across the Bay Bridge in Maryland makes my hands sweat. I can’t help thinking of what it must be like to accidentally drive off of the side of the bridge whilst trapped inside of my car. Would I survive the impact with the water? Would I be able to escape from inside the car once the car went below the water? These thoughts are pretty terrifying. Even so, I have driven across this bridge dozens of times, sweaty hands and all, and have never once had any kind of accident, much less plunged to the murky depths below…knock on wood.

Facing fear, recognizing our fear, rationalizing our fear, and keeping calm in the midst of it is an important skill. It’s a skill that I feel must be practiced, as a calm, steady response in the face of fear is not necessarily baked into our DNA. It seems like our biology is programmed to fight or take flight in the face of a fearful situation, so acting ractional and calmly in the face of it is to defy millions of years of evolution, and as such, requires practice.

Why bother though? Why not just avoid fearful situations all together if they make you too uncomfortable. I believe that controlling your fear is strength; it’s power. It’s a power that can lead to great success in many kinds of situations. It can also mean the difference between life and death.

No Fear Skate
No Fear Skate

Most days, I do not encounter fear. Yesterday, she briefly visited me, but I would not back down. It was a simple situation and I took solace in that. Me, my skateboard, an empty street, and my driveway. I saw my daughter conquer the driveway on her skateboard in a matter of minutes the week before, and I wanted to challenge my 46 year old body to accomplish the same feat. I was scared of breaking an arm or a leg or a hand. My wheels could get stuck in a crack sending my 230 pound frame crashing to the concrete. So I took the challenge in small steps. First, I rode five feet down the driveway, then ten feet, then fifteen feet. I did not crash and I did not die. I live to ride another day.

The funny thing is, my fear of riding my skateboard down the driveway into the street is not conquered. I will be a bit scared to ride it the next time too. I will probably have to face that stupid fear each time I ride my skateboard because I’m a 46 year old old dude who can’t skate. But each time I face that fear, and have a successful ride, it feels awesome. My daughter ain’t got nuthin’ on me, and fear is losing it’s grip on my life.