I’m dedicating this post to imperfections, because every service has them. I will readily admit I was obsessed with “the perfect service” — a term I wouldn’t stop using for the last, uh, 5 years — until I received some sobering feedback that my unmeetable expectations were stifling my team’s ability to be creative and adaptable, while making me tense and micromanage-y. Nothing was ever “enough”, so I constantly berated myself and snapped at others in the face of this insurmountable goal. If anyone has done team-building free-falling exercises, I think that’s how it feels trying to find a middle ground between striving for perfection and demanding only perfection.
If anything, @StudioATAO’s debut for “Asian in America” has forced me to come to terms with how I deal with imperfection. The night was wonderful, by all means a success. Yet after the initial high wore off, I was plagued by little details I knew to be wrong — I used the wrong mold on the first dish, the quail eggs (see photo) spent too long in the brine, the mango mousse set too stiff. I’m learning that imperfections can either be a reminder there’s work I can do, or a judgment upon who I am. I’m not unworthy if I recognize imperfections and move forward. I still remember at a 2** restaurant where I used to work we ran out of black truffles, could not put in an order until the next day, and had to substitute with white button mushrooms. Our chef could’ve fired all of us, but instead we just kept on. The little toasts that evening had “mushroom champignon” and we sure kept tight inventory of truffles after that. Everything turned out ok, we renewed our stars and most importantly our team stayed focused and dedicated all service instead of nervous and threatened.
Maybe the question really is: what does “perfect” mean, exactly? Is it when the food aligns exactly with everyone’s expectations? Because I posit that’s not possible. I don’t believe perfection is something an outside force can rank or score; I think it’s about that feeling of creating and sharing something vulnerable and human with others — your team, your guests, yourself. And imperfections are part of that story.