My wife and I recently watched the Chef’s Table episode of Mashama Baily of The Grey in Savannah Georgia (Season 6, Episode 1).
A big part of her story was putting together a menu for her restaurant. A menu is the fundamental expression of a chef. It’s the distillation of their entire experience and craft into a portfolio of dishes. Mashama was struggling to put hers together.
I totally understand her struggle. I’ve asked, in my own way, “What is my menu? How do I express the most unique, and compelling version of myself?”
Mashama read so all the cookbooks she could find, and looked to all the high end French training to find her inspiration. She had a business partner who she would ask to test the food, because she wasn’t confident in what she was making.
She eventually shared a version of her menu with her mentor, who told her it was all over the place. There wasn’t a story. She hadn’t found who she was a chef.
It wasn’t until she went into her past, owning her story and the food she grew up with, did she find her unique identity. Her dish “Foie and Grits” was the one that stood out to me as an example of something singularly Mashama’s.
It was her version of beef liver and grits, a hearty breakfast for black people as they start a long day of work. The foie represented her high-end French training, and the grits were made the way her grandmother made them when she was younger. The foie gras was about Mashama the woman, the trained chef who knew how to work with such ingredients. The grits represented Mashama the girl the one who went back to her home town to find her roots and herself.
The lesson for me is simple: own your story. The more we try to find our worthiness outside our story the more we are imitations of who we really are.