So sorry

So sorry for the delay in getting the remainder of the Maslow series out… Not only have I been super busy the last few days, but every time I do find a few minutes to sit down and write, I end up deleting everything at the end because it is just pure shite.  Writer’s block be damned, I’m going to try and finish it this afternoon.  Wish me luck.

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Maslow and Food (part 4): Cognitive and Aesthetic needs.

 – the fourth installment of the Maslow and Food series –

As you move upward on the pyramid the concepts become increasingly abstract.  There are, for many of the remaining steps, no concrete or tangible things to indicate that you have completed the level.  Often, when I begin to think about the step I am in a very clear and defined place, but by the end I am left with only a feeling or sensation that I am then unable to articulate.  It has made this series of posts extremely difficult to complete.  Here is my best effort:

5. Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.

The knowledge portion of this layer seems relatively straightforward.  At its most basic, it is purely the accumulation and retention of knowledge.  Somewhat like the previous layer, only on a more personal level.  Often I am not seeking new knowledge for status or respect or a promotion, I am simply seeking to satisfy my own need to learn something new.  To me, this gives my work (meaning) (whether at home or at my job) because I am expanding my horizons and progressing, whether or not there is a tangible outcome.  Sometimes it is as simple as the warm feeling in your chest when you’ve done something for the first time, a little tiny ball of pride that says “we did it and it was good.”  I can’t seem to appropriately articulate  why it is so satisfying, but it is.  Anyone who loves to learn will understand.

6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.

Aesthetic needs are thoroughly subjective – there is no way that what I find beautiful will be exactly the same as what you do.  However, when I think about food from the soil and roots to the table all I can seem to think is that it is beautiful.

I learned at some point in my past that respect, almost reverence, for your food products is imperative to creating a great meal.  When you treat your food like “just another burger” it’s going to be just another burger.  But if you start out with the attitude that you have the best meats, the best buns, the best toppings, and you care for them as if they are extraordinarily valuable, the resulting product will likely be very valuable.  It will make you feel good, it will make whomever you are feeding feel good, it will look good, etc.

But I have digressed a bit.  What was the point? Right, beauty, balance and form.

Because of this reverence that I have developed for food, I have learned to garden.  Even as a child, I loved nothing more than a fresh tomato, fresh off of the vine and still a bit warm from the sun.  It was perfect.  It was plump and round and needed only a bit of salt to explode with flavor.  As an adult, there is nothing more beautiful and balanced than raising the fruit and vegetables from the ground up, nourishing them, caring for them, pruning them and ultimately harvesting them.  It feels right to care for and nourish the things which will nourish me, help me to care for my body.  It also creates a healthy balance in my life between work, stress, fun, and calm.  I genuinely enjoy gardening and the time spent with my hands dirty is soothing for my soul even on the most stressful of days.

I hope that I have managed to be clear and articulate about these two layers of the pyramid.  As I said at the beginning, the concepts are becoming more and more abstract.  Even if I had months to mull it over and write and rewrite I don’t know that I could ever articulate what exactly the feelings are like.  But, I have done my best for you and I hope you enjoy.

Join me this week for the last two rungs on the ladder and my conclusions.  As usual, I welcome your feedback.  Have a wonderful day 🙂

I got distracted…

Today, I was supposed to bring you the next installment of the Maslow and Food series… but I am sorry to say that I was distracted.

A few days ago, my executive chef told me to watch “Mind of a Chef” (a PBS series narrated by Anthony Bourdain, who is my hero, so obviously I was IN).  It’s available on Amazon Prime which means I can binge watch the first two seasons… dangerous but in a way satisfying.

I AM HOOKED. And, MY MIND IS BLOWN.

The first season features David Chang.  Episode 1 made me want ramen noodles more than I’ve wanted ANYTHING in a long time.

Episode 2 is devoted to the pig (otherwise known as the king of the meat animals).

I can’t wait to see what comes next!

I’m going to have a really hard time getting off of my couch to go to work.

Anyway, my apologies for not finishing the Maslow post, I promise to finish it for tomorrow 😉

Maslow and Food (part 3) – Love, Belongingness, and Esteem

– an installment of the series Maslow and Food, which began with an introduction, continued yesterday, and is now on to its third installment, below –

The way the Pyramid works, in theory, is that you can not progress toward a completely fulfilled life until you have completed each layer.  Since food, for me, has fulfilled the requirements of the first two rungs, I can now move on to the third and fourth, which go somewhat together (as did the first two).

3. Love and belongingness needs

This layer focuses on interpersonal relationships and the feelings that stem from them – friendship, intimacy, affection and love.  It covers pretty much all relationships in your daily life, from your team at work to family, friends, and romantic relationships.  For me, food is involved in establishing all of these relationships, leading me to a feeling of fulfillment in all of them.

Somewhat obviously, my job as a chef brings food into my relationships at work.  Less obvious, though, is why these relationships are so satisfying.  To me, the teamwork, the experience of going through hell together on a nightly basis, the beers after service and the laughs in between… these all bring a level of closeness to my work relationships that I don’t feel I could achieve in any other setting.

Beyond work, all of my other relationships are somehow impacted by food:  whether it is sitting down to the table with my parents like we did when we were kids, or the perfect sandwich from that place down the street from my best friend’s house, or the little place with the great fries and drinks hidden in the south end where my fiance and I have date nights because it is quiet and we can sit in a dark corner and get lost in our conversation without being bothered.

…I can still remember what I made for dinner the first Christmas that I was with friends instead of my family.  I can still remember what I made the first morning that my now-fiance stayed over at my place.  I can still remember what I made for dinner the Christmas that my parents flew halfway around the world just to be with me, what I had for dinner on that double date with my best friend and her new girlfriend, what we ate on the Fourth of July the first time I spent it on the beach with my best friend’s family.  I can still remember how huge my uncle seemed, standing over the stove with that wooden spoon (“never, ever, put a metal spoon in your gravy, you hear me? You’ll ruin it”) on Christmas Eve, and my mother’s perfect Risi Bisi every Easter.

Every single relationship in my life is punctuated by memories of food.  Food belongs with me and I with it – there is no question.

4. Esteem needs

Esteem needs are things like positive self-esteem, achievement of goals, mastery of skills, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.  Basically anything that gives you a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Food satisfies these needs in many ways.  There is a daily sense of achievement, whether through small goals throughout service or putting a meal on the table at home.  A positive sense of self esteem is generated through this constant achievement (and dare I say, the occasional compliment?).

When you finally master that sauce, or technique, the satisfaction is through the roof.  When you are finally able to quenelle that foam/sauce/icecream/whipped cream perfectly with only one spoon.  When your stock comes out beautifully rich and gelatinous.  When you get that perfect crisp skin on a piece of fish.  Every little technique and task has a learning curve, and when you finally get it right, the satisfaction is …. inexplicable.

An accumulation of these little skills brings you prestige among your peers, a status among them.  You become looked up to.  You are eligible, in a sense, for the satisfaction that comes with a colleague asking your advice.  Maybe this will parlay into some extra responsibility, or a promotion.

You become, in short, fulfilled.

That brings us to an end for today.  Tomorrow we move on to more abstract things, with cognitive and aesthetic needs.  Convenient, how the pyramid kind of breaks itself down into groups of two, isn’t it?

Maslow and Food – The Bottom of the Pyramid (part 2)

– continued from yesterday’s introduction

There are certain things that we all need to live a fulfilled life.  One psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed a chart called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ which outlines the concepts that must be present in our lives for us to live a fully ‘actualized’ life… that is to say for us to be fulfilled in our lives and be happy.  The most recent version of the chart has eight factors that every human is affected by, some conscious and some subconscious, which motivate us to do pretty much everything in our lives

.maslow8

So how are these needs fulfilled by food?

(I am going to reference my own feelings from here on out but I welcome any comments and conversation about the concepts. I would love to hear what you have to say!)

Starting at the bottom of the pyramid and working my way to the top:

1. Biological and Physiological needs –

Maslow says these are the most basic essentials for life.  Things like air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

In the most literal of ways, no, food is not air or sex or shelter or sleep.  But, hear me out.

When I was a child, I would come home (shelter) after school to the smell of my mother cooking.  The (air) in the house was thick with the scent of (on tuesdays) onions and garlic sauteeing, the sound of meat sputtering, the acidic gurgling of my mother’s meat sauce on the stove.  I still can’t smell those things without being transported back to my mother’s kitchen and smiling.

As an adult, (food) and (drink) go together.  The best food paired with the best drink, or just a burger and a beer.  One can not be without the other, in my world.  The combination leads to the warm and fuzzies… (warmth) in the figurative sense.  My heart and mind are at peace, warm and full.

(Sex) is a bit of a stretch, but, that same level of satisfaction does come after a truly exquisite meal.  A well written menu can leave my mouth watering and my desire so intense that when the plate finally lands in front of me and I take that first bite, I get goosebumps.  A foodgasm, if you will.

Finally, sleep.  With an empty stomach or unsatisfied appetite, I am unable to sleep until I am satisfied.  A great meal can give me a night’s sleep incomparable to most anything.

2. Safety needs

The second stage of fulfillment, according to Maslow, includes protection from the elements, security, order, law, stability, and so on.

Food has always given me a sense of (protection) and (security)  Not in the sense of eating my feelings, but in the coming home kind of way.  Originally, it was based in that coming-home-to-mom’s feeling, as if everything would be ok.  As an adult it is about the sense of control I feel – it is the thing I do when everything else is going crazy.  It helps me regain (stability), put my life back in (order), see things more clearly.  Food always behaves a certain predictable way, in accordance with the many (law)s of physics which never change – maillard browning, the way proteins unfold to make an eggwhite hold air and become stiff, the way deep fat frying is actually a dry cooking technique, etc.  They are unbiased constants that can soothe me back into a feeling of calm, quiet, secure, everything-will-be-ok state of mind.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment, the third and fourth rungs on the ladder:  Love and Esteem and Food

Maslow and Food – Forward (part 1)

I was sitting at the bar a few nights ago, decompressing after work, when I was asked by someone how old I was.  The woman seemed to think that there was no way that I was old enough to be sitting in that bar drinking that martini legally.  I had to actually show her my license to prove to her that yes, I am 29, and yes, that is my real age.

She got up and went to have a cigarette and came back, again looking quizzical. She proceeds to drag me (unwillingly) back into conversation:

So how is it possible that you are 29 and look like you’re 18?

I was kind of taken aback.  Usually people just tell me that “you’re so lucky to be such a babyface, you’ll look young forever” and leave me alone.  But no, this woman needed an answer.

I’m only 24 and I look 35 already.  It’s not fair, you must tell me your secret!

So, I took a second to consider it.  What is it that I do that makes me any different from this woman? The only answer that I could come up with is this:

I do everything that makes me happy.  End of story.  My job sucked, so I quit it and became a chef because I love food and cooking makes me happy.  I just got engaged to someone who makes me happier than I’ve ever been at home.  I walk my dog at least three miles every day so I get a lot of fresh air (and perspective when I need it).  I quit smoking, do my best to eat well, try to stay in shape and laugh every day.  I do the things that make me happy. Yeah, that must be it.  Happiness keeps me young.

I think she expected me to tell her to go buy some crazy expensive face cream and get a massage or something.  This was definitely not the answer she was looking for.  She just kind of said “oh” and walked away to have another cigarette (“could you watch my drink again honey? I’ll be right back”).  Sure, lady, go smoke another butt.

She came back long enough to tell me that “that is the best answer I’ve ever heard” and pound the rest of her wine before paying her tab and heading out.  I couldn’t figure out if she had simply had enough, couldn’t handle the answer because it made her think too much about her own sad life, or if she just got lost in her own head and needed to go home.

Either way, the whole interaction got me to thinking; what is it that makes me so genuinely happy? Why is it that I can be so happy doing this thing, cooking, that so many people hate? And then I came around to thinking about food in general and why it is the centerpiece to so many happy memories for so many people.

Then I remembered something my dad used to talk to me about a lot (particularly in the less-happy times in my life): Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

stay tuned – more tomorrow!

The one with the puddles

– An anonymous contribution to the Knockers on 32 series –

One night, we had some of the runoff from a big event nearby – men in tuxes and women all done up to the nine’s.  They came in after their charity event or whatever and were having some drinks.

I spotted her around eleven, she was hard to miss… Gorgeous, Dior dress, Jimmy Chu’s, sparkling from everywhere with perfectly cut diamonds, glass of champagne swinging wildly in her hand as she talked to her friends, dripping with new money and class.

Around midnight, I see her again.  Sitting in the barstool, halfway passed out.  Wobbling back and forth a bit, eyes unfocused, some guy (not in a tux) kissing her neck and trying to get her to stand up.  As any good restaurant manager would, I took it all in and realized that this was all wrong.  So, I went over and shoo’d the creep away and talked to the girl.  She agrees that she wants to go home and has, in fact, had a bit too much champagne and not enough to eat.

As we are talking I walk her to the front door and hail a cab.  We say good night, the taxi pulls away and I turn around to go back into the bar, which has cleared out a bit.

I look down the path from whence I came and what, to my wandering eyes did appear, but ten tiny puddles leading up to where I stood.

That chick peed herself, starting at the barstool, and continuing until just before she got in the cab.

I guess that you can dress them up like dolls and give them everything in the world, but you can’t instill class or control.  The best looking girl in the room, made her exit by getting hammered and pissing all over her thousand dollar shoes … and my floor.