A Violinist in the Metro
‘A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that a thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.
A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.
A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?’
Now this got me thinking! Does this apply to food?
For years I would reproduce dishes that I had eaten in some of the best restaurants from around the world! I would use the same high quality ingredients, follow the chef’s recipe to the letter and even buy the necessary equipment from my own money to ensure a complete replica of these extraordinary dishes.
I would have such a feeling of pride as I plated these dishes up, knowing that the customer I was serving at the time would soon be back to compliment me and tell me how wonderful the dish was, how perfectly cooked all of the components were, how it took them into a state of nirvana. But these moments would rarely come, if at all.
I could never figure it out. Was I doing something wrong? Were these dishes not to their liking? Am I deluded? Everyone would tell me that I was overdoing it. I was trying too hard, I never knew there was such a thing! But this article got me thinking.
Is it because I was serving these dishes in a staff restaurant?
The staff restaurant comes with a certain stigmatism. Mushy cottage pie, bland lasagna, over cooked veg and of course the signature steamed sponge and custard. Even though in the last 10 years contract catering has come on leaps and bounds.
It is now virtually unrecognizable to the ‘canteens’ of old. But is it still much like the subway station above? Just part of a daily routine that goes unnoticed. Could it be possible that these chefs are producing top quality food? Main courses that you would pay 6-8 times more for out in the real world? And the answer is yes
Handmade sour dough breads that have taken two days to make and years of practice to get right? Locally sourced meat, slow cooked at low temperatures for extraordinary periods of time to result in juicy tender pieces of unctuousness. Heritage vegetables from local farms cooked using the latest techniques and sometimes even garnished with herbs grown out the back door or foraged in the surrounding areas. These are just a mere few examples of what I mean. I tell every chef that I work with to never just ‘tick a box’ always push yourself! Dare to stand out from the crowd and be confidant in what you do, even if it fails, never stop trying.
Everyone has a goal or a dream in their life. It could be to start a family or make a six figure salary or even start your own business.
I have one goal and one goal only. To make a difference.
Be it a difference to people’s day through the food I cook or a difference to a chef’s career through training or simply opening their eyes to something new. But what I really want is for all these things to culminate into making a difference into how contract catering is perceived out in the world.
The days of the ‘canteen’ are gone. These are our restaurants, our passion. A place of real skill and a place that our customers can come to and enjoy great homemade food, cooked fresh using great ingredients, local and sustainably sourced products, great customer service and an energized environment
Just because something beautiful happens in an unconventional location does this make it any less beautiful?
Executive Chef, bartlett mitchell