Well Done?

Back in college, my friend Janie and I both had to do a presentation on the Bel Canto singing style of the Baroque era. Janie was the voice major, and she ended up going right before me (“Great,” I thought, “Just what everyone wants is to hear two presentations on the exact same thing right in a row. Couldn’t somebody else go next?”). She had a little handout, and demonstrated all the various ornamentations that could be added to the music — sort of a musical reading between the lines that is much more strict than modern improvisational jazz. Yes, she sang them. She did a nice job, too.

After this fabulous presentation, I got up in front of the class, opened a book from the library (I’m pretty sure it was this one), and read a story that went something like this:

A great Diva was at a dinner party, and one of the other guests was going on about a new young singer, and her complete mastery of added ornamentation. The Diva finally tired of the conversation and replied, “Yes, but can she sing 6 plain notes?”

Then I began to discuss issues of technique.

And that strangely enough brings me to this week’s Top Chef.

Quick  overview for those who don’t know but do care (as opposed to those of you scrolling down to the closing bits), Top Chef takes 16 competitors who are actively working in top restaurants and whittles them down to one “top” chef of that season in a series of “elimination challenges.” While style and taste are important, this is primarily a TV show, and certain things are edited to be exciting for TV. After all, we at home don’t even have the luxury of smelling what they’ve made. This is clearly not to be confused with the big cooking competitions like the Bocuse D’Or.

So, this week there were 5 competitors left, and the elimination challenge was modeled on the Bocuse D’Or.

Remember, these guys are pros. They either own notable restaurants in their hometowns or are working with chefs every foodie has heard of. One has his very own James Beard award already (and frankly, a nice beard to go with it). So you would think this isn’t a big deal to them and you’d be wrong.

To make a long story short, 4 competitors made very complicated dishes that each had a fatal flaw: undercooked meat, salmon with a bone left in, imprecisely butchered proteins, ingredients that didn’t mesh as expected. One dish was less complicated — only by comparison! — but perfectly done. The chef who made this dish was ridiculed by another competitor as making “the kind of food I make on my day off!”

Yet guess who won? Despite the fact that the judges were disappointed by the level of sophistication shown in the dish, perfection won over complication. It turns out that all of us would rather have “6 plain notes” than a thousand poorly executed ones.

In Closing: the Senate is preparing to sell us all to the insurance companies tonight, so remember this day when the incumbents come sniffing around for money and votes; go ahead! Read the damn thing! Maybe they could all stand to know what’s in it!; AHIP doesn’t even want to hear about how small businesses can’t afford their products; let’s reinstate the laws that were deemed necessary in the Great Depression to keep it from happening again (you know, the ones that have been dismantled systematically since the Reagan Administration?); Elizabeth Warren; unfortunately, withholding medication from people in jail is not an isolated thing, but it is inhumane (treat people like animals and then be all surprised when they act like animals…. Listen up PETA, people have faces too, how about supporting rights for them?); I wonder how incarceration rates effect the official unemployment rate; it’s pathetic that even poli-sci majors don’t know the freakin Bill of Rights (I’ve known 2nd graders who could accurately summarize them); Christian Scientists have shorter lifespans; bank failure update; Ezra brings us Bourdain talking turkey; and finally, Nordstrom Just Says No to Christmas Creep, won’t deck the halls until Black Friday. I’m starting to really like Nordstrom.

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