Life Lesson From Top Chef: Staying True To Yourself
I was watching Top Chef just to “hang out” with my daughter (she’s 13, so you grab those opportunities when you can), and it turned out to be an unexpectedly great learning experience. What’s more, it was my daughter who pointed out this particular life lesson.
This was the season finale episode, and it was down to three finalists to compete for the title of Top Chef: Stefan, Josea and Carla. I gathered from the commentary that Carla had been the underdog, having surprised the judges and surpassed their expectations week after week with her inspired catalogue of unique dishes with splendid sauces.
Carla was different from the rest of the field, being the only African American, quirky in a homespun way, and prone to sliding into meditative states and yoga postures at various times during the day “to get centered”. She was also one of a modest number of women and extremely likeable. The judges couldn’t wait to see what she and the others would come up with, and the producers must have had at least a fleeting thought that it would make for a more interesting cap to the season for such a charming “dark horse” to win.
As with every final “cook off”, each competitor was given a sous-chef who was a finalist from a previous season, therefore highly qualified in the kitchen. And off they went to cook their three course meals armed with professional sous-chef support.
As it turned out, Carla completely bombed out of the competition with a major element of her dessert not even making it onto the plate. Josea won in a tight race with Stefan. We were all disappointed at Carla’s apparent “own goal”. So, what happened?
As my daughter observed, Carla did not stay true to herself. She let her sous-chef’s suggestions sway her, which was the fatal error. When Carla started with a vision of grilled steak and mash as the main course, we all shouted “no” at the television set when she caved to her sous-chef’s suggestion that she use a cooking method that she had never tried before: sous-vide, which involves slow cooking the meat in a bag (the judges commented that they didn’t like the texture of the steak, although the sauce was excellent).
When Carla wanted to make a dessert quiche, we groaned when she acquiesced to her sous-chef’s idea of a soufflé in its place (the soufflé fell and could not be served). It was like watching an old episode of “I Love Lucy” where you know the heroine is headed for trouble and nothing you do or say from your comfy chair can stop her.
Basically, Carla forgot that what got her there was her “special sauce” (literally and figuratively): her signature Carla-ness. In fact, her only dish that received accolades that night was her appetizer, which was Carla’s own idea from start to finish.
As for the winner Josea, he creatively decided to make an appetizer and two main courses rather than the traditional dessert course because he is “not a dessert guy” (strange though that may sound to the rest of us dessert fans). The judges applauded the fact that he stayed true to himself and made two imaginative and delicious main courses, and crowned him Top Chef.
It is good to know that at the age of 13, my daughter already recognizes the importance of staying true to yourself. On the other hand, maybe this is one of those important life lessons that we know instinctively as children, but becomes hazy as we “grow up”.
Hi May-This was indeed a good article. It made me remember a time when I was telling my first born that he needs to act differently (behavior wise) and stop doing the silly things that he does. His response to me at the age of 8 was, “if I didn’t do those things, then I wouldn’t be Jahkori”….Now what do I say to something like that (laugh) – he has a good point.
I don’t think that it’s because it becomes “hazy” when we grow up….I have more of a feeling that it’s because we are more pure and honest, ready to say anything until taught not to. When we grow up we make these “bad” or “different” choices or give in to the suggestions of others more easily instead of going with instinct and what we already know because we have been taught to do otherwise. Our experiences shape who we are and so do the people we meet….let’s just hope that Carla from Top Chef has learned her lesson and that Josea does not forget what he already knows.
I’ve been trying to stay true to myself over the years….the almost 20 years I have lived but I am noticing that I have been spending the majority of my time listening to others and not myself….I know I have to start realizing what makes me happy and what I am truly good at and stay true to that instead of molding myself to others around me, I’m going to let go and be ME….whether they like it or not 🙂
Good for you! And thank you for your comment.