The Three Chefs (or, “How to not go crazy trying to be something you’re not”)

Imagine there are three chefs: basic, professional and fancy. All three of them have the same signature dish, the cheeseburger. Everyone likes cheeseburgers. Well, everyone who’s not a vegetarian or a vegan. Run with me on this.

The basic chef makes regular ol’ burgers. They’re pretty good, just your standard grilled meat patty, slice of cheese and a bun. Maybe some ketchup if you’re so inclined. The good thing is that they’re quick and available pretty much everywhere.

The professional chef takes the formula for regular burgers and pushes it. Not too much, but with a keen eye for what works and what doesn’t. Instead of mince, the professional chef uses ground sirloin, cooks it carefully and maybe throws some brie and chipotle sauce on there. It’s a damn good burger, but you can’t always find them. Maybe just in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Like for a birthday celebration without putting on the ritz.

The fancy chef renounces the formula entirely. To the fancy chef, settling for a ‘regular burger’ is tantamount to heresy, and is disrespectful of cookery. They will combine bizarre flavours, and utilise obscure cooking techniques in their quest to redefine what a burger can be.

You probably already know which of the three chefs has the most customers. It’s the basic chef, with their emphasis on convenience and giving the people what they want. The fancy chef has the least, because their approach relies on a knowledge of cookery and a refined palate to really appreciate just how much of an achievement the food is. It’s not something that satisfies your craving for ‘a burger’ – it’s an achievement in cookery, and the vast majority of people simply aren’t interested in that. They just want a burger. The professional chef, on the other hand, can draw fans from either side, because sometimes the people who don’t care are looking for something special, and sometimes the connisseurs just want a burger without lowering themselves to the level of the basic chef.

Pick which one of the chefs you want to be, and for your own happiness, be as good a basic, professional or fancy chef as you can. Whichever one you choose to be, there will always be people who love your burgers – as long as you’re good enough at making them. Just be certain of what you can realistically expect once you start that journey.  Nothing will frustrate you more than if you think you should be a fancy chef but care too much about being popular, or if you think the fancy chefs are pretentious but can’t understand why nobody seems to think your burgers are unique and groundbreaking. Pick one, because if you don’t know what you are, no-one else will either.

All my favourite songs are the songs of ‘professional chefs’. It was overplayed until we were all numbed to its charm, but I still believe Outkast’s “Hey Ya” might have been a truly perfect pop song.  Every single element and phrase in that track is a tremendous hook by itself, and yet it all fits together flawlessly.  Seriously: try taking it apart one day.  Nothing is wasted or put there just for the sake of it.  It’s masterfully crafted, but retains its sheer joy and invention without being formulaic and cynical, and that’s a hell of a balancing act to pull off.  I may like to dip my toe into the fancy chefs more than most, but in the end, I really just like regular ol’ songs.

Still despise the radio, though. Fucking basic chefs.

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