How a famous French chef helped me fight impostor syndrome.


French chef Jacques Pépin is a living legend.

He’s an OG culinary genius, known the world over for his prowess in the kitchen, expert hand, and encyclopedic knowledge of all things French cuisine and technique.

Pépin flips crepes with (from right) Michelle Obama, Kelly Ripa, and Al Roker like it’s nothing. Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images.

On a recent episode of “PBS NewsHour,” Pépin shared his thoughts on recipes and how (in few words) he thinks they’re kind of BS.

(OK, it sounded much more articulate and French than that.)

Pépin told a story about crafting a recipe for pears with caramel sauce. He made the dessert three different ways, and it turned out OK each time.

GIF via “PBS NewsHour.”

For Pépin, this was proof that recipes are not the be-all end-all; they’re just a place to begin — a Point A for a Point B yet to be determined. He said:

“So, what is the point of a recipe? A recipe is a teaching tool, a guide, a point of departure. … But as you make [the dish] again and again, you will change it, you will massage it to fit your own taste, your own sense of aesthetic.”

You hear that? You get to make the recipe, the technique, and the method work for you.

Yep, just like that.

But this idea doesn’t just apply to cooking. Turns out that it’s much, much bigger.

Pépin probably didn’t intend to illuminate a beautiful truth about life in a four-minute segment about pears with caramel sauce. But he did.

Walk with me.

Each of us, through our parents, tradition, school, or cultural and societal expectations are handed a recipe for life. Here in the States, the recipe might look something like this:

Go to school. Don’t make trouble. Find a job. Meet a life partner. Marry them. Raise a kid or two. Complain about Mondays. Retire. Have a quiet life. Die peacefully.

But, like Pépin suggests, every recipe leaves room to improvise and get creative.

You can follow the recipe to the letter or use it as a jumping-off point, but either way, the methods, techniques, and ingredients are up to you.

It may be scary. It may be challenging. But the adventure is all yours.

GIF via “The Simpsons.”

Thinking about my own experiences in this frame made me better equipped to fight my own case of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is that nagging feeling that you’re not as talented or as smart as you seem to others. Despite some levels of achievement or success, you always live in fear of being exposed as a fraud.

If you’ve felt a similar feeling, you’re not alone. Even Maya Angelou (yeah, that Maya Angelou) dealt with it. She said, I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now.'”

You earned every bit of praise, Dr. Angelou!

Thanks to social media, I get to see my peers hit every prescribed adult milestone in living color. Every beautiful wedding, island vacation, new home, new car, and chubby baby along the way. I’ve always been happy for them (they’re my friends after all), but a little part of me always felt like I was two steps behind.

But with this new frame, I’m reminded that when it comes to “adulting,” we’re all just experimenting in the kitchen. We’re using the methods that work best for our circumstances to create something beautiful — a life well lived. It doesn’t matter how we get there or when, only that we do.

I am not a phony. I’m just doing the best I can. We all are.

So next time you’re in the kitchen (or at your high school reunion), remember that perfectly executing a recipe is not necessarily the definition of success.

Whether it’s poached pears or a Ph.D., you decide what comes next. Recipes and roadmaps can only take you so far.

It’s up to you to shake things up, get creative, and have some adventures along the way.

Another French chef who knows a thing about adventures. GIF via “Ratatouille.”

Hungry for more? Watch Chef Pépin’s video essay from “PBS NewsHour.”


Thumbnail photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for American Express.

OK, yeah, but what about the pears? You can find the recipe here. Feel free to get creative.

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