As anyone who might happen upon these digitized thought balloons will quickly discover, they have either nothing, or maybe everything, to do with grilled cheese sandwiches; and most likely never touch on anything relating to cooking or the kitchen... except perhaps, the very first posting. And so, with your indulgence, may I present, the ramblings of a reforming philosopher...

Friday, July 22, 2011


Recently, I came down with a flu bug and took a few sick days off work.

Being unable to sleep for much of that time, but not wanting to do much of anything else other than moan or groan depending upon which part of me ached the most, I spent a number of hours in meditation, reclined in my easy chair. I wrapped my withering frame with my most favorite Linus-like blanket, sipped large mugs of hot lemon and honey, and gave best effort to saturate my foggy head with the full content viewing mass related to the exorbitant monthly rate of my TV cable charges.  

While fishing mindlessly through the channels, I chanced to catch the closing segment of a television series, MasterChef, of which I was not previously aware. In it, one of the participants was being praised by co-host and co-judge, Chef Gordon Ramsey, for a dish she had just presented to him. Shortly thereafter, another was chastised (rather brutally I thought) by each of the three co-hosts, for messing up whatever it was that he had created.

The scathing verbal critiques, inappropriately punctuated in too many cases with coarse language, (bleeped out conveniently so that viewers would have no idea what they were really saying) seemed a bit “over the top” to me, despite my reduced mental faculties. And so, I simply chalked it all up to some producer’s concept of theatrical enhancement, in effort for the series to generate shock value (value?), and/or greater ratings. In effect, I sensed that the money people behind the scenes perhaps encouraged the behavior with the simple premise in mind that it would make the show more popular. However, that thought helped me recall an old saying; “Whatever is right is not always popular, and whatever is popular is not always right.”

Following this, the channel I was watching presented the next session of the program, and at this point I was admittedly, both too lazy to search for the remote I had lost between sneezes and, despite my growing distast of the program, to some degree sufficiently hooked by the general format to want to see a little bit more. Consequently, in the next session the program’s contestants and I were introduced to the “Mystery Box Challenge;” wherein a specific dish needed to be created and cooked by the participants within a particular time frame, using only the identical sets of ingredients contained within their large, closed containers.

As I watched the various characters in the contest produce considerably different versions and visions of the identical food stuffs, I marveled at how creatively inventive they all were and how each resourced their passion for cooking and previous experience in the kitchen to produce their current platter.  During the exceptionally hectic pace and pressure of their preparations, I could not help but ponder the philosophical parallel the activity had to what people do every day in problem solving scenarios and how ingenious they really can be in overcoming the obstacles presented to them.

Unfortunately, I don’t recall who won the contest, nor do I remember whatever it was that they created. By this time in the show I really didn't care. All that remained with me was the distasteful flavor of the negative embarrassment shoveled out gratuitously upon the less effective cooks who did not come up to the Master Chefs’ standards.

I kept thinking afterwards, that if these had been children, involved in something that challenged each one’s gifted interests, skills and abilities, what sort of reflective commentary should really be given to them, designed to bring out even greater future results.

If the judges truly were MASTERS of their particular craft, and genuinely interested in their stewardship to assist in possibly creating culinary perfection, over the embellishment of their own egos… I wondered if they would choose to use their blades of critique as butchers or as surgeons?

My mind flashed to a scene of the three judges as eager five and six year olds standing nervously excited on stools behind their adult workstations. Each has a Mystery Box in front of them. As they energetically lift the containers to reveal its contents, they discover only an empty platter holding a short note of instruction. The message directs them either to combine, or not to combine, any number of items from an unlimited pantry, with the tentative goal of creating the Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

How marvelous the assignment… How daunting the judgment! - J

Article Copyright J. Michael Lyffe - 2011

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