If you read this intro before…skip to the blue below.
I had this idea in my head. Maybe put three pictures up in my office, each representing something important about what I do. Counseling reminder. A touchstone for the eye of sorts. Well, like I said, it was in my head and as I realized one of the three pictures I wasn’t going to be able to get, and the others were certainly copyrighted, the three sort of evolved as I looked for alternatives. So in looking for a different way to go, in my head, we went from three reminders to 96 reminders. It’s why my wife refers to what comes out of my noggin as ‘cumbersome’ on occasion.
So. I am mostly a counselor, but I have also studied and practiced a bunch of other things including cuisine and photography. I always wanted to have an idea why some folks in every field are wildly successful compared to many of their contemporaries, so I always checked a bunch of them out. So, here come 96 people and quotes attributed to them, if there are any – 24 chefs, 24 photographers, 20 people associated with psychology directly, and then 28 none of the above people whose lives or words remind me what to strive towards as a counselor, a counseling business owner, and a general human being. The only problem was stopping. There have been a lot of people who for one reason or another inspire me, lots more names on the potential list but it had to at least pause somewhere, so here we are.
I don’t rightly know if writing these out and posting them will be of any use to anyone else but I’m reasonably sure codifying the whole thing will drive it home for me and hopefully offer some encouragement and centering for our folks. Hope you get something out of one or two of them too.
Chef Charlie Trotter
So. I got a stroke of luck, because of who was dumb enough to marry me, where most of my luck has come from. (Side Note Yo: Find a good partner, it makes the rest of this test of life so much more rewarding.) Cause the wife worked there, I got to attend culinary school for the cost of supplies. After a meeting with Dean Hunt, I was cleared to do both the culinary and the pastry programs simultaneously meaning about $90 grand of school was going to put us out around $4 grand. Thanks, baby. I hope some tasty meals have helped make up for that. Seems unlikely.
I graduated, got some plaques and a medal, but much more important I left with an education almost completely different from my other degrees. Outside of some advanced knowledge of an experience (food) that nearly every living creature shares…which always seems to give me an in…who doesn’t like talking about food…even if you hate food…you probably love talking about hating it.
Mother sauces, nutrition, sanitation, cost control, butchery and fabrication were a whole different world from my other studies. I also learned the world of crazy from a very different direction than my master’s degree in counseling. There are a universe of middling chefs/cooks, but there are a number of obsessive maniacs who would not function well almost anywhere else in the world, but here they shine. Their struggles are adaptive. Not in every aspect of life, but in their castle keep, they are so gifted, often how it affects the rest of their lives and the people close to them is overlooked. Charlie was my first knowledgeable foray into that world. Our 5th anniversary, we survived culinary school and 5 years of each other, we’re going to be in Chicago, Oprah eats there, oh no…the place is closed the night we can go, but if we want we can join for a night of special charity where Charlie raises funds for his program to send kids to culinary school, yikes this is more than I have ever considered spending on a meal, but yes please. Changed my world. I feel safe to say Changed Our World. But first some of Charlie Trotter’s thoughts about things.
“One of the most beautiful things that I can do for you- or that any one of us can do for another – is to serve each other. Its one of the most human things. Its one of the most basic things. But you do that from the heart. You do that because you want to connect with somebody. ‘Service, not servitude’ is something that should never be lost.”
“From the start, I realized it’s completely up to me how far I’m going to go. I could get comfortable on an easy level and coast. Or I can keep on striving and trying to do something that is exceptional: Keep trying to assess my competitors in the field and figure out what is necessary to outperform them.”
“I look for people who are psyched and ready to do whatever it takes, attitude is about being on fire-you’ve got to approach work like it’s a religious experience.”
“Our staff includes a lot of people who are intelligent, that really get what we are trying to do, and are truly willing to give something from the heart. Their mind-set is, ‘there’s no such thing as the word ‘No.’ ‘ Whatever you can do to blow someone’s mind-you go for it.”
“I get most excited by the most discerning client. To me it’s the ultimate challenge. I’m testing my mettle, finding out what I’m made of. If we can blow him away with a particular offering, it lets me know we are capable of doing something at the most refined level.”
“It’s not that I don’t appreciate our customers, but sometimes it’s better for me to take care of those who really understand this type of dining and not worry about trying to satisfy everybody. We have deliberately, definitively cut off more and more segments of our customer base.”
“I have always looked at it this way: If you strive like crazy for perfection-an all out assault on total perfection-at the very least you will hit a high level of excellence, and then you might be able to sleep at night. To accomplish something truly significant, excellence has to become a life plan.”
“What I was reading was already part of my psyche, but finally someone else was saying it’s okay to walk alone.”
“A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music. He understands how things go together. For a chef, once you have that basis, that’s when cuisine is truly exciting.”
Look. Everyone is crazy, one way or another. Chef Trotter’s was applied to his little spot in the world which may have made working for him a nightmare for some. Be that as it may, I’m certain that no one left without inspiration and a drive to create their own place, similar or different from Trotter’s. Many of them would be familiar if you’re into that kind of thing. His cookbooks are meticulous but require more than most people would care to invest in their meals. I haven’t made much out of any of them.
What I found much more practical as counseling boy instead of maniacal chef boy were the concepts from his two other books. Lesson in Excellence and Lessons in Service. I don’t know what was in the man’s mind, but I was drawn to the nearly ridiculous commitment to treat people in a specific way, to give them an experience that would make them feel as good about themselves as it might make them think of him and his staff. It reminds me of the quote from Maya Angelou, namely “I’ve learned people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Being a counselor is providing a service and should be an act of service and people should feel as though they are being valued and served. What Chef Trotter reminds me of most, outside of building a skill level and tools that are top notch, is to pursue, with utmost fervor, the ability to blow someone’s mind in the way you make them feel, in their experience with you. First, cause they deserve it, but also, I find that often they return the favor, often by risking big things to make desired changes in their lives. It’s awesome! I know that not everyone will appreciate or respond to my particular brand of crazy or service, Charlie was not just aware of that, he seemed to pursue it. And for those who don’t, there are a a myriad of other options and I can cheerfully support them finding their fit. As for me and mine, I will strive to be who we set out to be, those that get it should find a fun and challenging way to grow, those that don’t will find somewhere else. I just won’t be mean to them’s that don’t get it after. It doesn’t change Chef Charlie Trotters challenge to me, Do your all-out BEST to be of SERVICE.
Many of the mountaintop experiences I’ve had in life were related to going somewhere to serve someone, flood relief, repairing homes, running kids programs, feeding folks, doesn’t matter…I always left feeling better than I could have made any of the people we went to serve possibly feel. How could you not want to do that every day? How cool I get to?
Trailer for Documentary about Chef Trotter: