First Surreal Weekend of Many

hasan-minhajOn night 8 of the new administration, I met my friend Petrea for dinner and then we went to the Mondavi Center at UC Davis for Hasan Minhaj’s comedy show. He is from Davis, California so he selected these two shows–one for general audience and one for students–to film “Homecoming King” for Netflix. He also lived out the best high school revenge story since  Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. Davis, a place that prides itself on its tolerance and liberalism, dished out plenty of bigotry along the way. Add some humor about growing up with immigrant parents and a beautifully constructed series of story arcs and it adds up to a great show. The audience laughed raucously and at other times you could have heard a pin drop.

The next day I started reading about the President’s Muslim Ban and other assorted travel restrictions. I watched along with the nation as people rushed to airports in support of Muslims and against the ban. Lawyers of all stripes came to the actual aid of travellers like medical professionals responding to a medical emergency on a plane. It was all heartening and fundamentally discouraging because our country is on a very dangerous path. There is no room to be smug about any of it.

On the new public square Facebook, my Christian friends posted scriptures in support of welcoming the stranger and memes about Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees. Beneath all of this is the tension between those who believe we are all interconnected and those who want to separate themselves; between those who love the other and themselves and those who fear the other; between people who welcome the stranger and those who slam the gate shut. And yet by dividing people in this way I succumb to practicing the same otherness that I condemn. It is hard and not so black and white.

I recently read If the Oceans Were Ink by Carla Power. It was recommended reading to learn more about the Quran and the Muslim faith. The author was raised agnostic by a father who was fascinated by all things Islam. She had the opportunity to spend a year getting to know a renowned Muslim teacher much more intimately. Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi is a Cambridge professor and influential teacher. She opens up Islam for the westerner in an unprecedented way.

I discovered layers of prejudice in my own thinking that jarred me. My eyes were opened to the beauty and mystery of another faith. A faith that is the cousin to Christianity and Judaism. After years of seeing cartoonish portrayals of Islam in the media, it is at times challenging to open myself to seeing this faith in a new way.

I also realized that fundamental Christianity is wanting to impose a Christian version of Sharia law on our nation. And Christian people have misplaced their faith in God with faith in nationalism. It has helped me reaffirm my belief in separation of church and state, both for nonbelievers and for believers of all faiths.

I do not know where this Muslim Ban is headed. Today a judge has overturned the order and the administration is appealing. I just ask that if you fear Muslims that you take a moment and learn more about their faith from a sympathetic author. We share a lot of values and we share some pillars of the faith, such as Abraham. Other faiths could learn a lot about their prayer disciplines.

Most of all, the most extreme elements of Islam are as representative of their faith as Westboro Baptist Church is of Christianity. Not. And if you do not like the mix of politics and religion in Pakistan and Afghanistan, well it won’t be better if it “Christian nationalism” and our democracy. As Tony Compolo has said, “Mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn’t do much to the manure but it sure does ruin the ice cream.”

Leadership Lessons from Chef’s Table

Chef's Table

The original Netflix series Chef’s Table is six delectable leadership lessons. It starts with a profile of Mossimo Bottura, a three Michelin star chef in Modena, Italy. He is so full of life and creative energy. He is also generous and orientates his life around his family. His family includes his restaurant employees. As he shares, “If you live an incredible moment of happiness, the happiness is much more deep and big if you share with others. And you get to the point together—the happiness, the feeling is exploding. It’s doubled.”

As a chef, Bottura transcends mere cookery and creates art. He also demonstrates how an artist’s best work often emerges from mistakes. One day he and his sous chef broke one of the two remaining lemon tarts on the counter and in that moment he began his postmodern departure from traditional Italian presentation. He created “Oops I Dropped the Lemon Tart.” His sous chef Takahiko Kondo said, “That day I learned something. That in life, to move forward you learn from mistakes. Maybe I did something wrong, but you learn from it.” I suspect that this lesson was shared with more laughter than cursing.

Bottura’s restaurant is Osterio Francescano.

Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City, is the focus of the second profile. He is an innovator in the farm to table movement. I appreciate his leadership in reforming our overly industrialized food “system”. His temper was off-putting and I mentally crossed Blue Hill off my list as a result. Even though I completely agree with his belief that taste or flavor is dependent on quality ingredients, which is dependent on healthy soil.

Blue Hill restaurant sources much of its ingredients from Blue Hill Farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

The third profile focuses on the Jeremiah Johnson of cooking. Francis Mallman does wild, open-fire cooking. He lives on an island in Patagonia, but he and his crew fly around the world doing extreme barbeque. Watching his team work together made a big impression. Mallman said, “I love the joy of working with all the team. I need to be happy with them. There has to be a festive feeling about the hard work we are doing.” His team is learning from their leader, as one member said, “Francis has an energy to materialize—a person with ideas that also accomplishes what he dreams.” Mallman owns multiple restaurants and has written multiple books.

Chef's montage

I was relieved when the fourth profile considered a female chef. Niki Nakayama overcame the sexism in professional kitchens AND the low expectations for women in Japanese culture to become the renowned chef of N/Naka in Los Angeles, California. I loved her description of “flow” when she is creating great food. If I liked Japanese food I would make the effort to eat at her restaurant because I admired Chef Nakayama so much.

After Bottura, my next favorite chef is Ben Shewry, the focus of the fifth profile. He is a Kiwi relocated to Melbourne, Australia. I love the photos of New Zealand and Australia. I will be there in a few weeks and I can hardly wait. Like many of the other chefs, Chef Shewry struggled for a few years before his food was appreciated. He is humble and hard-working and places a high priority on time for his family. At Attica on Tuesday nights you can enjoy Chef’s Table for $140 per person and take your chances on the chef’s experiments. Wednesday through Saturday you can partake in the Tasting Menu for $220 per person plus $145 for wine (or $75 for non-alcoholic beverages).

The final profile is of Swedish chef (no relation to the muppet) Magnus Nilsson. His 12 seat restaurant Faviken in Jarpen, Sweden is in the middle of nowhere. He demonstrates how it is possible to create from nothing. I found the community that has grown up around Faviken to be very appealing. It takes some commitment to make it part of your tour of Sweden. The good news is you can stay over and you can hunt with Nilsson’s colleagues.

I have tried to remember if I have ever eaten at a restaurant with a Michelin star and I do not think I have yet. I am going to be in Melbourne, so I looked up Attica to find out what it costs to eat there. I do not normally budget so much for a meal. I might bust out and spend $50-75 per person (includes wine) once or twice in an adventure. I am not an adventurous eater and I am always concerned that I will fail to appreciate the effort. For me the company makes the meal.