Technical Foundation in Service of Art

I recently finished season 2 of Chef’s Table and I realized something. All of the chefs being profiled – some of the most creative chefs in the world – have built their careers on a solid foundation of technical skill.

This is probably my favorite show on Netflix. I have always regarded chefs as the professional soul siblings of musicians. This is mostly due to the countless hours they spend honing their craft and the level of creativity they are expected to deliver.

And after watching the latest season, it became clear to me that all of the chefs, in addition to their creativity, possessed incredible technique. Most of them had undergone some sort of formal training at a school in Europe. Those who had not, had studied rigorously with other chefs or as an apprentice in a restaurant.

I remember learning of a Mozart quote in which he says that an expressive melody must be supported by a steady accompaniment. In other words, in order for creativity to blossom, it must be supported by a stable foundation.

And this is why we go to music school. There are many jokes delivered half-seriously about the usefulness of the extensive education all musicians undergo. “Then I decided I wanted to be deeper in debt, so I went for a Doctorate…” and the likes. But what we learn in music school is that firm bedrock that allows us later to be creative.

There are many houses and buildings that are seen as works of art. But each one is held up by more or less the same kind of footings.

But how do we make the jump from line cook to documentary-level chef?

Especially in the music world, it is easy to get bogged down with technique. And good technique is sometimes seen as the main qualification for a successful performance. This is the kind of thinking that keeps us at the prep-chef level.

Any renowned performer (or chef for that matter) rarely has someone discuss their technique. Their technique reaches such a high level that it only functions in service of the art form.

And that is the level we should all be trying to reach. We can’t just show off how fast we can play or how emotively or with how many dynamics. We have to find a way to shape those technical abilities into something artistic.

We have to find a way to make our foundation so strong that it isn’t even part of the conversation.

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