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(#228) CHEZ PANISSE 40th ANNIVERSARY:
"To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself. "
People come from all over the world to eat, just once in their lifetimes, at the famous Chez Panisse Restaurant. Their first and only impression rests on one meal, the service, the ambiance. How is it possible to work under those conditions? You can never mess up. You fear that you dare not experiment, the stakes are too high. You are held hostage to your own hard-won reputation.
Alice and I met in June of 1966, she was still a college student studying to be a school teacher, fascinated by her first, amazing, encounter with real food. I was a printing pressman & fledgling graphic designer, practicing calligraphy and fascinated by letter-forms. Together we gave dinner parties, experimented with food and graphics; we took risks, made mistakes, learned and grew. The stakes were low: a failed Sauce Béarnaise simply went into the garbage and we started again. Burnt croutons were scattered to the birds.
It's not so much that we can no longer take chances, it's that we are tempted to feel that we are no longer addressing an audience that is taking chances along with us. We cannot disappoint those who did not grow up with us, who did not learn alongside us, who did not change with us. People who were born when Chez Panisse opened are now middle-aged. We are tempted no longer to trust our audience. Of course, the audience is us, so this would mean that we no longer have confidence in our vision.
The trick is to blind ourselves to failure, trust our audience and leap into the unknown each and every time. To take the confidence borne of countless similar leaps for knowledge that it will all turn out alright. What we may perceive as a glaring error is, in fact, invisible to everyone but our own all-critical eye.
You can always repeat a success, hewing more and more toward the center of the road, playing it safe, not taking chances, or you can accept that the other side of the coin of success is abject failure and get on with it, drawing your worst behind you like the end-point on a graph until your very worst is, at least, an acceptable level of adventurous failure.
As Julia Child said, "If you make a mistake, call it something else."