Monday, June 18, 2012

Rant: Handling a Food Catastrophe

The truly dedicated chef or the true lover of food is a person who has learned to go beyond mere catastrophe and to salvage at least one golden moment from every meal.
--Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

While perusing a book on culinary disasters, the catastrophes that have plagued numerous chefs, I was struck by this quote. Over the years, I have experienced a number of "bad" meals, and have written about some of them. Others are merely unpleasant memories. Yet in retrospect, there have been very few, if any, which were total disasters. There is usually something of value that can be garnered from such bad meals, and that lessens the negative impact of the experience.

In addition, such matters can be valuable learning experiences, an understanding of how not to do certain things, such as why certain food combinations don't work or how not to prepare a specific food. As a writer, I can discuss such matters, sharing what I have learned, hoping that others will learn from those mistakes. The feedback I provide can be invaluable to some, and might even correct certain problems. It also offers a forum for others to explain their rationale behind such matters, possible offering something that I have missed.

Chefs who handle catastrophes have the opportunity to rise above that adversity, to show their resilience, versatility and ingenuity. It tests their ability to adapt, to think on their feet. A negative situation can be transformed into a positive, though it might not always be easy to do so. It is easy to be a chef when everything works out well, but how one handles problems that arise separates the average cooks from the inspired. I want to dine at a restaurant where the chef is fully capable of handling whatever problems arise in his kitchen.

This is applicable as well to restaurants, wine stores, wineries, and other establishments which receive a negative review. How do they handle such matters? What if the review is largely positive but has some negative criticisms? Some react angrily to negative reviews, lashing out at the reviewer, though that often ends up being a very improper response and causing more problems than it resolves. Some advise to ignore all negative reviews, though that can also be improper, a failure to address legitimate concerns.

The nature of the review will help determine the proper response. Some negative reviews are merely the irrational rants of cranks, best ignored, while others may raise valid issues which an establishment probably should address. Addressing such issues can lead to more respect and potentially resolve any negative problems.

It is easy to wallow in negativity and far more of an effort to salvage something worthy. That applies not only to the realm of food, but to life in general. We need to cherish every bit of excellence in the world rather than dwelling on all that fails to meet our expectations. We should see negative matters as hurdles to overcome, opportunities to excel.

Have you been confronted with a negative food experience but somehow found a silver lining?

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