As I was watching TV, I came across the semi final and final episodes of a cooking competition named “The Taste”. It was very engaging so I found myself watching it with great enjoyment. Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Marcus Samuelsson are the judges and at the same time the mentors of their teams.
In the semi final episode, three members of Ludo Lefebvre’s team were competing under his guidance and one from Anthony Bourdain’s team.
The four contestants all seemed interesting although as a viewer Lee Knoeppel from Anthony’s team and Marina Chung from Ludo’s team appeared to be perceived as very promising by the judges in general. However the semi-final was not judged by them but by Chef Jacques Pepin. A 79 year old French Chef who has not only great recognition but more importantly, immense experience.
He tasted all 4 dishes and picked one to be the best, another one to be the second best, and one to be the worst, who was eliminated.
The one he chose as the best was Marina Chung’s dish and the second best was Lee Knoeppel’s dish, the third contestant who made it to the finals was Louise Leonard.
During the final competition Chef Pepin was mentoring all three, in other words he was mentoring two of the contestants whose food he had picked out to be the best and second best during the semi finals and Louise.
Lee and Marina were very proud that a worldly recognized important chef such as Jacques Pepin had chosen their food in the semi finals.
So during the finals he was browsing around giving suggestions to all of them. Marina simply opposed by saying “No, that is not how I do it”.
Lee was putting some of the dishes onto the small spoons for the judges and Chef Jacques Pepin suggested that it was too early, 18 minutes before their time was up, he simply said “that’s how it’s gotta be”.
Chef Pepin said “It will get cold.”
Lee said “If I heat it, it will dry, there is no other way.”
Yes, the 28 year old contestant was telling the 79 year old, famous Chef that there is no other way.
The Chef gave it another try and suggested he keeps it low heat in the oven. Lee could not be convinced. He knew better than Chef Pepin.
It was very interesting to observe both Lee and Marina disregarding suggestions of one of the best Chef’s in the world when they were so proud, for their food to be acknowledged by the very same man, “One of the best chefs in the world!” as they called him.
So while being judged by him they recognized what a valuable professional he is, but when he was mentoring them, they completely disregarded his input. In a way they felt they knew better than the experienced Chef.
Louise however was the humble one. He suggested that she cuts of the white part of the bread she made and leave the crust only, which she immediately did. Then her meat sauce broke and while she was desperate to save it, Chef Pepin helped her out and provided a quick solution. He made her use the juice of the meat from the oven with a little bit of her broken sauce, saying “You need so little for the tiny spoons that this will do.”
She did as he suggested.
Chef Pepin said, “She is more receptive” nothing more.
When it came to the finals, the judges tasted all three contestants’ dishes, without knowing who cooked what of course.
It was very interesting to observe their discussions. Lee’s dish where Chef Pepin had suggested to be kept warm, could not be identified by any of the judges. They liked the taste but could not tell what it was exactly. Had he listened to Chef Pepin and kept it warm they could have maybe.
Louise’s crunchy bread got immediate positive attention. All in all the judges said that all three are of similar high level, none jump out so it will be a difficult to tell who the winner will be.
After they all turned in their points, Lee ended up being the third and Marina the second, whereas Louise, the least expected contestant won the competition.
The reason I felt compelled to write about this was because it was such a good example of how the ego can destroy someone and how humility can push someone forward.
In a situation where three cooks of very similar level were competing at the finals, the difference was in the very small details. Chef Pepin offered the same help to each and every one of them, and the one who heard him won with a very slight difference. That difference came from being wise enough to listen to the input of an experienced person.
The modern world makes us believe that aggression, competitive behavior; generally speaking an ego oriented style is what brings success. Although it might create the image of success, this competition was a perfect example to the contrary. Throughout the two final episodes that I watched, Louise was not depicted as a big deal by any of the commenters while the other two finalists were considered very promising on account of their food but also that is how they carried themselves.
Nigella Lawson had one remark that caught my attention. She said “Louise always smiles no matter what and I can taste that smile in her food.”
So when they chose the winner without knowing whose dish it was, the winner turned out to be the one contestant whose food was filled with love and who was humble and wise enough to respect an experienced Chef to get the little bit of difference that made her win.
I thought that was inspiring, as it proves that when everyone is at the same level, the ones that stand out are not the ones who have confidence deriving from their ego but the one who is humble enough to pass beyond their ego.
In essence, a pumped ego is not a prerequisite for success and sweetness in not necessarily an obstacle!