Pans and Perspective

You provide the food and I will provide the perspective." – Anton Ego, 2007



Never Give Up, Just Try: Planting the Future through Perseverance

The simplest, maybe easiest, approach to dealing with anything is to not try. Surrendering is appealing to some because it requires no further effort. This can be compounded if the fight or battle against or with someone or something repeatedly ends up unsuccessful. Striving to actually “do”, whether it be in life, work or any other capacity, requires an investment. It might be financial, but more often it is time or energy oriented. One of the most strenuous elements of combating an issue or goal is to maintain a path of advancement. Simply, to try. I have always revelled in the feats of humanity. Each time I witness something amazing – cars in space or an egg cooked, then reverted back to its raw state – my belief to “Do my absolute best even when facing adversity because I can do anything as long as I try”, becomes even stronger. Humans have the ability to do anything. But that’s not to say there aren’t physical and mental limitations.

About a week ago I witnessed one of the best living examples of trying, more aptly called perseverance. It was a warm afternoon and David and I went to the upper vineyard. Our plan was to plant some new vines to replace others lost to winter kill. I watched as David meticulously planted the new Blue Bell grapes for future harvests. As he completed the series of plantings I asked him a few questions. “How much will these vines grow? Will they double in size?” Looking at these skimpy twigs I was curious how they could ever turn into the massive vines that dominated over two-thirds of the vineyard. David told me that if we had proper growing conditions they had the potential to double, possibly even grow more than that. As I gazed across the vineyard another spark of curiosity ignited within. “How old are these vines up here”, I asked, observing some of the behemoths with trunks thick as my wrist. David pondered for a second and I interjected, “Are they as old as the vineyard?” He quickly replied, “yes”, and followed it up with an explanation. He told me that he put this upper vineyard in about five years ago. Without any inquisition, he also added “These guys” – the vines we just planted – “will take about that much time before they set good fruit”
This is where my amazement peaked. David is 76 and yet he’s still planting vines. He’s looking to the future with optimism that he will still be around to care for them – although I’m sure he will be – and with hopes to enjoy the fruits of his labor. I’d like to talk about David. Author of several books, entomologist, and photographer, although he claims these are just hobbies, teacher, naturalist and farmer, he has lived his life in a similar fashion for its entirety. Even at 76 this season he planned – without any real knowledge of my participation on the farm – to manage his own life and land, the gardens of two of his neighbors, an edible landscape at the local hospital, oversight of a bed and breakfast, with efforts predominantly spearheaded by Ellis, countless donations to local non-profit organizations, and teaching people about growing in body, mind, and spirit. This testament alone demonstrates his drive to persevere: to never give up. But he isn’t a god, just a man. He has made countless sacrifices, which I applaud and respect, to achieve these feats; each carefully calculated to maximize his success and efficiency.

It would have been significantly easier for him to decline these supplemental garden projects; he could have taken a year off with the hospital landscape; hell, he even could’ve just brought me out here as a body for work and kept his philosophies and teachings to himself. (I’m extremely grateful he didn’t) He could’ve forsaken the grape vines and the vineyard and chalked it up as a loss. But that’s not David. Instead he is going “full boar” – one of his favorite euphemisms – looking beyond his daily tasks and comfort to plan for and plant his future.

Pepperfield – but moreso the man behind it – has taught me something everyday, ranging from farming to philosophy. It has given me the chance to be introspective and determine how I plan to live my future. One of the biggest components here at Pepperfield is the work. Laboring for countless hours, hauling pounds of manure and expelling gallons of sweat for a fabulous finished product. A living example planting the future through perseverance. David understands this so well because he has lived it for his entire life. He has seen the conversion of raw physical energy and mental determination transform into a beautiful bounty. David knows how much easier it would be to call it quits and lead a different life. The most intriguing point is that he doesn’t want to. The best part of this lesson is understanding it physically as well as mentally. I have only gotten a taste of David’s teachings and the work involved but each day as I grow, just like the vines we planted, I continue to experience what is like to try. Life isn’t easy, if it was it would be boring. Hard work, determination and perseverance are only a few of the keys to success. The biggest proponent is you! Next time you want to quit or surrender, don’t. Just try, strive to achieve more, plant those grape vines: plant your future.

Stress vs Pressure

Merriam Webster defines these as:

Stress: n. A physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes inner strife, unrest or imbalance
Pressure: n. The constraint of circumstance; the burden (or oppression) of physical or mental distress
I believe these two words have always seemed synonymous. So much so that I used them interchangeably. As an individual immersed in the culinary industry for nearly a third of my life I can attest to an environment laden with both. But it is crucial to note that, while similar, these terms are different. Stress derives from the unknown or uncontrolled, exterior factors, although not exclusively, whereas pressure is the application of these factors, that can occasionally create stress.

The expectation to complete a task quickly, safely and comprehensively is a mainstay. “Sense of urgency”, as it is more often referred, is a characteristic demanded from anyone in the food industry. This creates situations or tasks where any participant will feel pressure. But when verbal abuse or physical provocation are applied as a motivator or disciplinary action, the same participant will feel stress.

One of the greatest satisfactions for any chef is executing a service with no mistakes But, just like pitching a no-hitter, the level of synergy and teamwork must be superb. Chefs who have experienced and executed such a night knows the feeling. Metal is clanking, burners roar; in some kitchens the communication between stations can be almost deafening, while in silent kitchens, the work and focus creates its own noise. The pressure to execute a perfect night is perceived by all participants. To some its anxiety, others adrenaline, but at the core each person is striving to achieve the same goal. Inevitably there will be mistakes and its how they are handled that really matters. A plate comes back, the steak is undercooked: the pressure is felt by that section to, with a sense of urgency, produce the same another dish to correct the issue. But when the section is hounded for the steak by anyone – who more than definitely understands the reality of cooking food and its time constraints – the pressure dissipates and is replaced by stress.

It’s seldom that anyone pushes as hard as possible. Some strive to do their best but when the pressures on, even their best can be outclassed. It’s one thing to, through various practices, push someone to give more. It is something else entirely to attempt the reach the same conclusion by creating stress. I previously believed that I enjoyed stress; the butterflies in the stomach, mind accelerating to its terminal velocity of processing, and heartbeat racing, sometimes far above healthy levels. But after much consideration I realized i was wrong. I really enjoy those sensations but they really are derivatives of pressure. I don’t enjoy frustration or anger, spite, contempt, toxicity, and pettiness: all components of stress.

These observations aren’t only relevant to the food industry; I have concluded they apply, more generally, to life. Next time you encounter a situation that makes you feel pressured, persevere. But recognize when pressure – and that fine line quickly fades – becomes stress. I believe pressure really comes from within and stress comes from external factors. Pressure can be used as a tool or motivator, but stress is nothing more than a distraction – a distinction that I have failed to make for a large part of my life, but now recognize and won’t forget.

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