Food for Thought

For too long, the pandemic prevented us from seeing Guillaume and Raphael. It was about time. Since their new apartment in the Upper East Side has a backyard, I asked them to invite us over for brunch.

Raphael’s cooking is exquisite. It’s not a word I often use to describe food, but it’s fitting for his because he does not miss any opportunities to excite our senses. Yesterday, I received the menu of what he was planning to cook, elegantly typeset to boot. He is a biologist at work and a farm-to-table chef at home. Everything growing in their backyard is edible, he told me.

In America, many people don’t like to talk about where they are from, but when we get together, it’s almost the only thing we talk about. Mastery is one of the core values of both French and Japanese cultures, and this is where we tend to bond.

In my view, there is a difference between control and mastery. The former is driven by fear, the latter by passion. As you move beyond control and into mastery, your fear of adversaries transforms into respect.

For instance, Raphael doesn’t like the idea of growing vegetables in a greenhouse because he enjoys the unpredictability of the weather. Unless you are farming commercially, he told me, it doesn’t make sense to remove that aspect of farming. The weather, for him, is a worthy adversary.

He doesn’t like chemistry but loves biology because there is more room for unpredictability and surprise in the latter. In mastery, you both love and hate your adversaries, the factors that make your life more difficult. Contradiction, for both French and Japanese cultures, is not a flaw but a virtue.

Rationally speaking, nobody likes to lose control of their lives, yet life’s most precious moments exist outside our control. We may try to control good times with our friends, but there is no guarantee. It is a confluence of too many factors.

Perfect weather, beautiful backyard, stimulating conversations, great wine, and exquisite food: they all aligned for us today. Mastery is a way of life that doesn’t take good times for granted and appreciates the challenges that make our lives richer.