I love how the sunlight offers a different hue in the fall as it penetrates the limbs and leaves of the trees here in my backyard. My garden plants recognize it as their signal to make the necessary adjustments in preparation for their passing from one season to the next, some setting on seed pods, some changing their facial color, others just simply fading away. It’s this reduction of daylight that tells the Schlumbergera, or Christmas Cactus, to begin producing its flower pods that will bloom in November or December. These transformations are the fascinations I hope to never get too busy to miss.

And certainly my life as a chef will always lean toward having more to do than time in which to do it. But I am smart enough to know that regardless of profession, the urgency of that which yells the loudest will get more attention than the quiet, more subtle tasks that are much more important. The lust to keep taking it to the next level will in no doubt overshadow the more centering endeavor of contentment and peaceful work.

For me, the best way to accomplish this is focusing on the task at hand, and finding enjoyment in what is right in front of me. As a futurist, this is a discipline more than it is a reflex. It’s why I wanted a restaurant where making bread was a focal point.

I always say that if I could just bake and not have to wear all the other complicating hats as a small business man, that the daily pleasure of taking the raw ingredients of flour, water, salt and yeast, and watching my hands turn them into food would be satisfying in an of itself. But that is not the case, so I have to become wiser in how I do my work.

Stress is built in the mind, and when I take my daily demands and add them to tomorrow’s unknown affairs, both get turned into millstones that hang deftly from my neck, like a jealous lover preventing my focus from veering away to more attractive, and much more kind and beneficial devotee. When I confuse the two, I have to remind myself the lyrics of the little Sesame Street song,

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong…

Important is not like Urgent. The Beneficial is not like the Insistent. The Quiet is not like the Boisterous. The Significant is not like the Adamant. And it takes a daily, intentional observation to separate the two and keep them apart.

This attitude may sound more fit for that of a cloistered monk than one of an aspirant chef, but I believe if I am to be serious about sustainable food, I better be just as serious about it coming from a sustained life. Young chefs may be able to cheat for a season and produce great food on little sleep and a steady diet of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, but midlife guys like me have their bodies slip them little memos regularly written on the joints of their knees and coded in the numbers of their blood pressure. “Take care of me” is the essence of what is said.

I find that living a sustained life doesn’t mean we must take shortcuts in order to reach our destination. It does mean we may have to get there carrying a little less luggage.

For example, have you noticed other restaurants have a multitude of options and we only have three pasta dishes on Friday nights and seldom more than three entrees at a Market Meal? It takes us nearly five man hours just to hand roll our pasta and gnocchi, all from scratch. Why go through all the trouble? That’s just it, its not trouble. We are in the business of serving you OUR food, not opening a Sysco bag from the freezer and plopping it on a plate. I could easily do a dozen dishes or more if some machine cranks the food out and some guy on a truck delivers it. But that’s not where I’m going, that’s not what I do.

I would rather present you three, very thoughtful dishes, that were conceived and created in my kitchen and enjoy the process of getting them to your table than to take a shortcut just so I could have a longer menu. Keeping this in perspective allows me to tell the Urgent to keep quiet so the Important will be heard.

Monks and Chefs