I remember reading a story about Eric Clapton who in the late sixties was referred to as a “guitar god”. With all the accolades being tossed his way, you could understand how he might be pretty strong willed and confidant. This was apparently the case until one night in London when he sat in the audience to watch an American export called Jimi Hendrix, own the stage. As the story goes, once he saw this unworldly talent have his way with a Stratocaster, Clapton was ready to hang up his music career. He thought he was at the top of his game until that point.

Who I am as a guitarist is defined by my failure to become Jimi Hendrix.

John Mayer

Many PGA golfers thought they were at the top of their game, until they watched a young Tiger Woods make an absolutely impossible chip shot from the bunker into the hole with all the confidence of a mathematician solving an equation. In the same respect, hundreds of fantastic basketball players dominated the court before they witnessed Jordan and Pippen redefine the game. Suddenly, all those who were great would question their prowess.

My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.

Michael Jordan

I was pretty confident with my skills as a cook, that was until I had dinner at Charlie Trotter’s, Eric Ripert’s restaurant: LeBernadin, Dan Barber’s Blue Hill, Mario Batali’s Babbo, or any one of David Chang’s phenomenal eating establishments. Suddenly, I had mixed feelings of total respect for chefs who pushed the enveloped while questioning if I really knew anything about preparing food.

If you ever want to get anywhere in life, you’re going to have to push it, and somebody’s going to push you to get there. End of story.

Charlie Trotter

These are the points in time when craftspeople of all types either fall into a funk of mediocrity or commit themselves to learning more, finding the right mentors, helping to redefine their own game, and take mental lessons from those who were (are) the new benchmarks.

Every good cook that I know is basically just as insecure as Eric Clapton was while marveling at the talent that Hendrix showed. Just watch what happens in a kitchen when a dish is returned from the dining room. There may be that moment of disregard (the guest doesn’t know what they are talking about), anger (really, I have to make the dish again), and confusion (no way), but inside, the cook is crushed. “Someone didn’t like the food I prepared.” This is the same as a painter would feel when an onlooker criticizes or feels confused by his or her art; a bit of disbelief, some embarrassment, but more significantly – sudden doubt about skills. That one returned dish can ruin a cook’s night just as a 40 plus point scoring frenzy by Michael Jordan could ruin the mental acuity of a pro point guard.

So here are some things to keep in mind if you are that doubting cook (pretty much all of us):

  • It is true that Michael Jordan was gifted, but he practiced constantly.
  • Hendrix was certainly from another planet, yet his guitar never left his side. As the story goes, he even slept with his Stratocaster and would play constantly throughout the day.
  • Tiger Woods played 36 holes of golf nearly every day from the time he could lift a club.
  • Trotter, Ripert, Batali, Keller, Chang, and hundreds of other prominent chefs live for food. They are always selecting, reading about, handling, and cooking as if they were still apprentices learning the basics of their craft.

The point being, talent and skill are two different things. You can be born with a God given gift like those mentioned and still never become a benchmark for others. It is what you do with that talent that really counts. On the other hand, there are many examples of craftspeople who were not given the gift at birth, but who are so dedicated to becoming as good as they can be that they compensate with more effort, and a constant desire to be better.

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” ~Arthur Ashe 

Clapton became re-energized and immersed himself in becoming a mature and even more accomplished guitar player, writer, and singer. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James and many others were just kids when Jordan and Pippen were at the height of their game. Both, along with many others used the motivation of the Jordan effect to become the next generation of unbelievable basketball players. Charlie Trotter, Eric Ripert, Thomas Keller, and Jiro Ono have become that inspiration for David Chang, Dan Barber and a brand new cadre of mind-blowing cooks. The choice was theirs to either throw up their hands and proclaim defeat at the feet of their exceptional predecessors, or pull up their socks and dive into their craft with even greater passion than before.

Confidence will often be challenged in the kitchen, and professional cooks, just like any other serious craftsperson can choose to either roll over in defeat, or commit even more intently to a process of constant improvement. Cooks are inherently insecure simply because they want to be great at what they do. The best push on, in search of excellence.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC


  1. Erika Lavinia Avatar
    Erika Lavinia

    Great post for people in all fields of work! Motivation and perseverance can help one accomplish so much in life.

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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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