The authors of The Flavor Bible, my most-used cooking reference, talked about the number of rejection letters they received before they published their first book, Becoming A Chef. The letters most often said something like, “Too specialized. The general public won’t be interested in this.” And so they heard this 40 times, from 40 people. But then they heard from someone who said, “We can’t do this, but have you considered this one publisher?” And they wound up following this advice and getting published. And the book became highly successful, even in non-specialized groups. This specialized book has reached the general public after all. And about 8 more books followed it.
Karen and Andrew urged us in the audience: Stay true to yourself. Do your thing, even if it seems weird or fringe-y. Don’t chase trends. Start them. You will find your audience.
HOLY CRAP. This message hit me at the exact right time, and it blew my mind. Don’t chase trends. Start them.
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about my own interests—not just the recipes that I tend to post on my blog, which I post with other people in mind. I think of those as more public recipes/cooking ideas. What I’m usually doing at home or cooking in my kitchen…this is what I’ve been thinking about lately. Sometimes it seems like I play some of my cards close to my chest. Why is that?
I think, “This is something I like, something that excites ME, but it might be too weird for sharing.” Am I being true to myself when I hide those parts? Or am I hiding tidbits that some people out there would also be interested in and/or would like to taste? I feel like a new chapter is about to begin in my life: one in which I do what feels right to me, regardless of its status as crowd-pleasing or as odd. It’s scary but right. I’m the type of person who thinks in terms of community, but striking a path that is true to you—well, that’s more of an individual journey. Community can be part of it, but it might be more of that “If you build it, they will come” kind of scenario. Risky!
All of this reflection is reminding me of my first interaction with Karen and Andrew, another pivotal moment in my culinary life.
I just checked the calendar, and almost 6 years ago (6 years and 1 day!), Karen and Andrew came to Seattle and spoke at The Corson Building when The Flavor Bible first came out. It was a Kim Ricketts event and included an intimate, family-style dinner cooked by Chef Matt Dillon.
It was an intense night for me. I was a new mom, and just going out by myself without my baby was an aching, awful thrill. But on top of that, to eat a multi-course meal by one of our city’s best new chefs, in his new restaurant, and to get a copy of this new book I'd been anticipating, and to meet the authors, right around the time I was getting serious about deciding to go to culinary school… it was almost too good to bear. I was trembling with excitement and post-partum anxiety on the drive down to dinner.
After dinner, when I approached Karen and Andrew to have my copy of the book signed, I mentioned my interest in culinary school. They were quite friendly with me but indicated that they knew people who had gone the path of changing from another profession to a culinary one, and lots of people had had a tough go of it. Just moving from a well-paying job to the restaurant industry…well, the pay cut alone was challenging.
They weren’t telling me NOT to go to culinary school, exactly, but there was this vibe of a gentle reality-check in their advice.
Of course I went to culinary school anyway. I knew I was on my path to do so, for whatever reason. And it was the absolutely the right move. Was it hard? Yep. Was it crazy to go to culinary school when I had a 2 year old daughter? Probably. And of course I didn’t become a cook at a sexy Seattle restaurant. I didn’t ever think that I would in the first place. But I will always feel grateful that I did follow my dream and go to Seattle Culinary Academy.
Karen and Andrew did not encourage me to go this route, but didn’t discourage me either. Their cautionary words were helpful to me as I refined my reasons for where I was headed.
Karen and Andrew have impacted—and continue to impact—my life in profound ways, from their books (including their new one, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible! Hooray!), to their talks, to their leadership by example. Inspired by them, I want to maintain the courage and clear vision to live authentically, both personally and professionally.