I just finished watching a YouTube video clip of Jeff Beck and Stanley Clarke performing their incredible music at a jazz festival. I watched the clip four times in a row until I knew that I had to get back to work. These musicians are masters of their craft. There was something truly magical about watching them perform – it wasn’t simply their incredible skill (Jeff Beck, in my mind, has always been the most spectacular guitarist around), it was much deeper than that.
As I watched in awe of the precision and the spontaneity of their performance, I began to think about this term mastery and how there are so many common denominators of those individuals who have reached this pinnacle. I know how fortunate I have been to know and work with chefs and cooks who are true masters of their craft and through these associations I have narrowed down many of those common denominators. Whether you are a musician, painter, writer, sculptor, programmer, plumber, electrician, surgeon, athlete or chef – here is the list of traits that lead to mastery:
 WORK ON THE FOUNDATIONS
Every master has enormous respect for the foundations of his or her craft. Musicians must understand scales, tonality, tempo, positioning, musical memory, and how a musical piece is built. Plumbers and Electricians must understand the impact of flow, resistance, and capacity. Surgeons must have a complete memory of the body’s systems, structure of muscles, location of organs, and the inter-relationship of every part of the human system. Chefs must understand and appreciate the methods of cooking, the science behind the application of heat, the nuances of flavors and how they marry together, the impact of ingredient maturity and seasonality on how a dish will look and taste. The foundations are always present and at the heart of mastery.
 PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
A person may be born with an aptitude for a certain craft, he or she may be blessed with great taste buds, an ear for music (perfect pitch), a unique sense of rhythm, or the ability to throw a baseball at 90 miles an hour, but even the most naturally talented individuals must practice relentlessly to reach a level of mastery. Practice does make perfect, but true masters are never satisfied with perfect – their practicing pushes them beyond what others would accept as excellent.
Masters are incredibly proud individuals – many times to a fault. Mediocrity is not part of their repertoire and even their best work will always receive a marginal score from their own critique. If they are called upon to perform a task they will totally immerse themselves in a process of producing at a level that will allow them to feel comfortable putting their name to it.
Masters are their own worst critics. What others may say about their work will always be taken to heart, but in all cases the master already knows where there is need for improvement. Watching Jeff Beck perform I became aware that although there was an audience – he was playing for his own benefit and critique. The audience was on the receiving end of a work of music that was being critiqued while a person who was the absolute best at assessing the quality of that work was playing it.
Masters connect with everyone around them without even knowing that it is taking place. They are wired to connect with those they are working with, those who watch or listen, those who enjoy the food prepared by the chef, or the builder who sub-contracts to the electrician or plumber, and peer performers who view them as a benchmark within a trade. These connections bolster the master’s skill and performance.
 REMAIN HUMBLE
Although there are many examples of those who flaunt their own fame and skill – the real master is above that. The real masters are those who do what they do because they must for their own peace of mind, for the love of what they do, and for the satisfaction of getting better at it every day. True masters are humble when everyone else knows that they could stand on a pedestal and enjoy the praise.
When you are a master of your trade you are flexible and possess the ability to express excellence in the moment even when the environment, the ingredients, the tools, or the supporting cast may fall behind the standard that you expect. Masters have the ability to go with the flow and make adjustments as needed, while never slipping into mediocrity. Jeff Beck was playing with Stanley Clarke – one of the most versatile bass players around, and a cast of extraordinary support musicians. He certainly played from the structure of an organized piece of music, but what was most impressive was his ability to move around that piece as he connected and interplayed with others – the music was performed in a unique way and will likely never be played the same again.
Masters of a craft are committed to their field, to their craft, as well as their desired outcomes and are able to push everything else aside while they pursue excellence in every moment.
Master chefs, musicians, craftspeople, or athletes are able to stay on course sometimes even at the expense of everything else around them. Hendrix seemed to always have a guitar in his hands (some say he even slept with his guitar). As free flowing as his music was, he was disciplined to stay connected – always. Tiger Woods was often taunted by his father while practicing so that he would learn to stay in the zone and not let distractions around him take him away from the task at hand. Watch a master chef while cooking and you will see that same total focus on what needs to be done in the moment. This is discipline.
 HARD WORK
There is no substitution for hard work. Mastery never comes easy. Talent is far too often wasted on those who are unwilling to put in the effort and time to perfect a skill and take full advantage of the talent they may have been born with.
 BE WILLING TO SIGN YOUR WORK
Masters know that in the end they must stand up and face others – put their work out there for the enjoyment and sometimes ridicule of others. When mastery is near then the individual is willing to stand up and let others in to view their interpretation of excellence. They are willing to sign their work. This does not mean that they are satisfied, in fact even after a master puts his or her work out for others to see, it is rare that he or she will feel as if they have produced their best.
In the later years of his life – Picasso was not allowed to walk, unaccompanied, through many museums where his work was on display. He had the frustrating habit of walking up to his paintings with brushes in hand and attempt to adjust what he was suddenly unhappy with in a painting.
 OF COURSE – TALENT HELPS
Some may say that talent is the key to mastery. There is no doubt that natural talent is a major key that unlocks the goal of mastery, however, there are ample examples of those who, without the advantage of exceptional talent, have still reached an extraordinary level of excellence by practicing the attributes stated above.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
SET A COURSE FOR MASTERY AND CONNECT WITH OTHERS WHO FEEL THE SAME
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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**PHOTOS: Chef Anton Flory – Certified Master Chef and my mentor: Rest in Peace
Chef Herve Mahe – Chef/Proprietor Bistro de Margot – Burlington, VT
Chef Frank Costantino – Program Director – Monroe College
***JEFF BECK – Guitar master