a lesson from the kitchen arena

For reasons I’ll admit I can’t completely track, I have a soft spot in my heart for gladiatorial cooking shows. Hell’s Kitchen, in all its subtle polite glory. Top Chef, with the spectacular weird extravagance of some of its competitions. Cutthroat Kitchen and Iron Chef Gauntlet and the sometime surreal febrile imagination of Alton Brown. And there are many others. I have never had the desire to be a chef, and each of these shows reinforces that non-desire.

I have enormous respect for chefs, in the same way that I have enormous respect for all people who dedicate themselves entirely to their craft. And I also have respect for the chefs who put themselves forward to participate in such shows, particularly when the shows get into their latter series and none of the participants can claim to be unaware of the gauntlets that each of the shows offers.

Food is a necessity and so it’s a bit strange that food has become such a big part of our entertainment landscape. Alton Brown, during his Hot Ones interview, made the point that food is comfort. When times are complicated and difficult, as they have been for some time, people turn to food.

Interestingly, I can see that the applicability of this argument to the calmer, gentler cooking shows, with their recipes and conversation. But these more gladiatorial shows, they are more entertainment than comfort. And entertaining they are.

But they also offer their lessons. For instance, the structure of Hell’s Kitchen is such that it prioritises communication within a team, and it is only towards the end of each season that the participants engage in properly individual challenges. Far beyond the horizons of the kitchen, communication is clearly critical, and my mind turns in strange directions. How possible might it be to take some of the Hell’s Kitchen challenges and adapt them as training exercises in academia.

Top Chef on the other hand, with its quick fire challenges, encourages creativity in pressured situations. One way of viewing this is that we need to be comfortable in understanding what we know, so that we can take that understanding and adapt it in somewhat unusual situations.

Cutthroat Kitchen for me is the most difficult to adapt to a collegial working environment.

Looking back, one of the themes that runs through a lot of these blogs is a continual investigation of the ways in which we can take lessons from one part of our lives and apply it to others. And even the gladiatorial cooking shows offer us something, if we approach them with a beginner’s mind and an open heart.

~ by Jim Anderson on 6 June 2021.

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