Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kitchen Nightmares

They send him pleading letters. Within, the words are desperate and begging for help. Begging for guidance. The problems are mostly cloudy, rolling ambiguous shapes that never seem to point to a definite solution. They are not sure exactly what is wrong, but their restaurants remain empty, and each day, new worry lines etch their marks within the soft folds of weary flesh. Their hearts are burdened with thoughts of bankruptcy, home repossession, guilt and pain. Their worries are marked by heart attacks and restless nights. In this state, the restaurant is a temple of gloom, and those that work and eat there are poisoned by its desperation and deepening failure. After fitful nights, the owners wake up, seized with the burden of another day. More of the same. And so, in a last measure of self preservation, in an attempt to resurrect themselves from the pit that they have learned to call home, they write to him.
Like a gleaming messiah, he shines and comes to them with sincere wishes for success. It’s his love of food that makes him move. His supreme respect for taste and pleasure. He comes to help, he comes to ignite passion and integrity. He comes, demanding personal responsibility and a desire to change. His authority is based on a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and on his undeniable success. Restaurants, TV shows, adoring food critics; he has succeeded in this business. He has knowledge.
And they write him for help, and if they are lucky, he comes. He comes with an open heart. He comes to see, to identify the problems and the very bad habits of these establishments. As he observes, he notices the flaws, the rotting food in the fridge, the lazy wait staff, the nervous manager, the cluttered atmosphere, the over complicated menu, the owner who invests all his money in white china. As the teacher begins to identify the problems, the owners, the cooks, the staff- they begin to resist. Many of them fight back. They argue…they become identified.
It is mostly the owners that resist. Even though they begged for his help, now he is here, criticizing their home, their dreams, their work, their identity. And as their sense of self is called into question, as they reel from the criticism which they take as a personal insult, they fight against him. They walk off the job, they yell and cry. They hate the man that has come to help them. The man who has nothing other than their future success on his mind. Yes, he hopes for a good show, for good ratings, lucrative advertising, good pay, but first, he comes to save a failing dream. An idea that had been put into action without a plan. It is his hope for them that keeps him there. During the name calling, during the childlike tantrums of adults, he stands, grounded in his mission.
The owners knew there was a problem, it was why they wrote for help. Their mounting debt and empty restaurants were the symptoms, but when the root of these problems are discovered and brought up to the sunlight, it is these same problems that they resist changing. The owner who clings to his plates, the owner who cannot stop trying to do everything. The owner that clings to the outdated decor. If they can see past their egos for a moment, if they can take his advice, if they use his advice, they usually see results. They see increased sales, compliments on the food and a returning sense of humor.
The teacher has walked this path before, many times, and he stands firm, rooted and waiting for a moment of insight to rupture the ego; within this space changes can be introduced. And sometimes, when the results become as obvious as day and night, there is a moment of true realization, and a new way of being emerges.

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