11/21/2014 05:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: Look Around & One May See

Most of us are pre-occupied by all that life has to offer within the context of our own lives. And that is completely understandable. In my kitchen, I expect the servers to know whether the fish is roasted or poached during a seat of the pants Chef's Table creation. Well, because our kitchen is small, tight, and frankly, efficient. So, everything is theoretically visible as soon as one enters the space. The ability to truly observe one's surroundings beyond the context of what may be on the mind at any given moment is often what sets the quick learners and change makers apart from the rest. When I entered culinary school with no experience with professional cooking at all, one of the first exercises I remember was when everyone in class was asked to walk around the kitchen and make note of where the different objects were. After we re-convened, the chef instructor said to us "Those of you who can remember where 90% of what you saw is and can find it, have a chance of making it in this business." I recall being petrified because my percentage of recollection was a paltry 75%, at best. But, I saw the exercise as a life lesson and vowed to improve in that regard. Today, I am constantly reminding my junior staff to lift their heads up and observe the happenings beyond their immediate space.


"Looking Around" is my metaphor for the strength and value of the power of observation. Certainly, if one is visually impaired, the idea would be to depend on other senses to see beyond one's immediate world. Growing up in cities like Mumbai can desensitize one to abject poverty and suffering in general, but I am glad that I am able to look around and not be subsumed by my professions these days. When I visit Vo-LaSalle Farm in nearby DeLeon Springs, FL, even while I am rushing in and out, I am always happy to see the little family beagle because observing how he is doing makes me take a break from my chores. But beyond that, I am left imagining his life on the farm which provides our community so much. We could all be going through life focused entirely only on that which is immediately related to us, but when we are able to look around, even fleetingly, we are given avenues of context for the greater scheme of things.

The starving children of Ethiopia struck a chord because of the visuals. And, there is no dearth of dramatic visuals on a daily basis. By no means does looking around refer to being consumed by anything and everything because that would be unrealistic and unsustainable. But, imagine if everyone who was able would from time to time step out of their comfort zones and really look around. The homeless person might appear to be more than just a victim of misfortune or worse yet, a community nuisance. The stray dog might appear to be more than a hazard. The individual on the opposite side of one's beliefs may appear more reasonable. Solutions to seemingly impossible-to-solve problems may seem more plausible. The dark-skinned introvert on the aircraft sporting a Movember beard might just be a chef and mathematician.