You are being tested. This is the most meaningful test you will ever take. Your entire life depends on this how you handle it. And the universe itself is giving you this test. This is the test of your life.
First you helped Mom mix things and that was fun but you wanted to grow. So then you got to heat things. Eventually you matured enough to be able to chop things and you’ve had so much fun doing that you’ve entered cooking school. You wouldn’t think a couple words like “cooking school” could be very ambiguous, but like all words—they are.
Because you’re at a school for cooking you set about learning everything you can about the preparation of food. You learn basic skills, you learn about food types, and grading, and texture and colour and timing and temperatures and styles and cultural traditions etc. etc. And you work very hard at mastering all of them.
Most of the dishes are too big and too elaborate for one person and so your kitchen is filled with other cooks. Some are better at this, some are better at that, but all of them have much to learn which explains why they came to school. Everyone’s just trying to get it right. Everyone is studying their teachers extremely closely to see precisely how they prepare their best-tasting dishes.
As you advance through the school each year your dishes and their creation becomes more nuanced and detailed as you can add things learned from both experience and ongoing education. Every year you add more, every year the bar for success gets higher. So does the pressure, but you accept that as the heat that goes with the kitchen. Yeah it makes you bark more at your fellow chefs and it really can make you sweat but you came here to succeed. This is a test you’re really serious about and you’re dedicated to doing what it takes to pass.
One of the trickiest parts about cooking school is that, as you advance, there will be things that you’re good at that others aren’t. And rather than notice that they’re good at something you’re not good at, they’re far more likely to undermine your cooking and insult your dishes as a way of not feeling like they’re failing. This is an important school and everyone knows it. Just to get in is a miracle.
As time passes some of the students will come to compare themselves to the other students around them and they will actually decide to give up on their dream of being a great cook. This is a naturally unhealthy state of mind for natural chef to live through but it happens a lot. Those too poor to continue, or those broken and defeated chefs—ones for which the criticisms just got too much—they eventually turn bitter and they will even actively disrupt and damage better chefs meals as petty revenge.
Being attacked for working hard and being good at something tends to upset people and so you’ll get defensive when they attack you. You’ll attack back. You’ll spend some time going over their cooking and judging it. It can turn into all kinds of ugly and it often puts people off their food.
Eventually someone in a white lab coat comes up with a clip board and tells you that it’s time for your big test. It’s time to feed your dishes to Le Grand Fromage. The Big Cheese. God. Whatever you call it, it’s Judgment Day. Everything you’ve worked for builds towards this test and hopefully your graduation.
When the big day comes you can feel it. The weight of everything that’s come before it is lined up behind you. This is it. The Head Chef is going to taste what you’ve done and that’s it—there’s no more fixing it. You torture your fellow chefs through one final brutal preparation and then you load your dishes up and you enter the room. You go to the table and trembling with fear you set them down and take your place at the opposite side of the table and wait.
The Head Chef eats. You watch her chew. She looks at you across the table. You’re sweating. This is the craziest thing you’ve ever done. You figure it must be okay, because she looks like she’s pleased with you. But seems like it’s taking forever. F-o-r-e-v-e-r. What is her judgment? Is it okay? Did you learn well enough? Are you good enough? Did you pass???
Oh my God, she’s wiping herself with her napkin. She’s finished. She ate the whole thing. She smiles at you and stands to leave. You look at her imploring. “Did you like it?” you squeak out.
“I really enjoyed eating it yes, thank you.”
“But was it good enough?” The Head Chef looks confused. “This was supposed to be my big test. I just want to know if I passed…?” You’re almost in tears.
The Head Chef looks on sympathetically. “Oh my love I don’t tell you if you passed or failed.”
“You don’t?” You’re lost. “Then who does?”
“You’re asking yourself the wrong question.”
“It’s not about my cooking?”
“No, it’s not about how much me or anyone else likes the dishes.”
“Then how do I know if I passed?”
The Head Chef smiles. “You passed if you enjoyed your time in the kitchen.”
Following a childhood accident should have left him dead, Scott McPherson spent his life meditating on thought, consciousness, reality and the self. Seeing the emotional damage done by ego-based overthinking he began dedicating a part of his life to guiding students toward more peaceful and rewarding lives. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, Canada.