In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik discusses the modern dessert. His investigation soon took him to Spain, where he talked with with some of the most widely admired pastry chefs in the world. While Gopnik doesn’t quite frame his own essay this way, it is clear that these chefs are not just looking for “new” or “exciting” tastes, but perfect ones. Their work is personal and artistic.
By chance, I read this article shortly after my wife and I had our first meal at a Michelin three-star establishment, Joel Robuchon during a brief get-away in Las Vegas. It was, without question, the best meal that I ever ate, even with the numerous dietary restrictions that we imposed on the chefs. It may even be unfair to call it a “meal.” It was perfect – everything from the environment to the service to the incredible, new, and changing flavors of the food. It was the culinary equivalent of a great work of art, symphony, or ballet.
The experience (better than “meal”) made me think about my own life. Very little – actually nothing – in my life can really be called “perfect.” Much is very good or excellent, but perfect? It makes me wonder about what a perfect book or article in my field would even look like. Is perfection achievable in an academic monograph or a trade history? And what would it look like to teach the “perfect class” or a whole “perfect course”? Where is the model to which I can strive, even if I wanted to and was willing to put in the time and effort, like the chefs Gopnik discusses?