Confession: I have a shadow side… I am a foodie. Yes, I admit it. Alongside my fervent desire to see myself and all whom I encounter in the healthiest, most robust state of health that a human body can enjoy, I adore and love great food. In fact, when I receive my year-end breakdown of my credit card expenses, a good portion of my dollars goes to fine dining. Whether for pleasure or for business, all is better navigated over a delicious meal. It is one of the greatest pleasures in life.
And because I love quality food, I am fan of masterful restaurateur’s. On my recent birthday, I ran into Mario Batali at, of all places, Grey’s Papaya, a glorified hot dog stand in the heart of Greenwich Village and struck up a conversation with him (for the record, I was not eating hotdogs. I draw the line at processed food. I spotted him as I was walking by). Brief and joyful, I was happy about his diminishing girth, encouraged that even the most decadent foodies can find a way to stay healthy. At least we hope. I mean honestly, what would we do without Mario?
Yet despite the Marios’s and Daniel’s and Nobu’s, one of the greatest names on the NYC restaurant scene is no doubt Danny Meyer, the mastermind behind some of our most revered establishments such as Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe. Pick up a Zagat from the past 5 years and no doubt you will see one of his restaurants in the top three slots year after year. And because he owns the some of the finest restaurants in the city, including Blue Smoke and Tabla, you just KNOW there is wisdom to be dispensed by a guy that has accomplished so much in such as competitive industry in one of the most challenging city’s in the world. And sure enough, there is a nugget in his recent book, Setting the Table; The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.
In his book, Danny talks about how on one afternoon, while navigating the lunch shift at one of his restaurants he was chatting with one of his regulars, an elderly woman who dined at his restaurant daily. Out of the corner of his eye he was distracted by the bus boy putting out the salt and pepper shakers for the day and, annoyed, excused himself from the table. Indignant, he went over to the bus boy and reprimanded him for putting the salt and pepper shakers in the corner of the table when he had told him, on a daily basis that he preferred the shakers in the middle of the table. Frustrated, he returned to his client, a lady who had seen plenty in her 80-plus years. Rolling his eyes, Danny retold the story of his annoyance with the busboy for not remembering his instructions day after day. How is it possible, he wondered, that he could give instructions daily that went unheeded…
The elderly patron, with some experience about what is truly important in life after having hung around for so many years, just laughed at him. “How silly of you Danny! I mean really, to get annoyed about the salt and pepper shakers! If you don’t want to tell the bus boy what to do with the salt and pepper shakers on a daily basis then you should get out of the business! I mean, isn’t it just part of the job description?!”
I just love this story. While it is a snippet of life in a busy restaurant it is also a metaphor for life, and how to eat well, look good and stay healthy.
So many of us want to look good yet we bemoan the work that needs to be done to make it happen. Yet to look good and be healthy requires certain actions that are just part of the job description. Most of us face these challenges with anger and hostility when really, they’re just salt and pepper shakers.
I recently shared this story with a client of mine who incidentally was reading a book about an Indian teacher with a position at Stanford, discussing the difference between her Indian students and her American students. The Indian students expected to do work. They anticipated homework and challenging assignments. An A was not in their birthright. Hence these students did better than their American counterparts. And this can be extrapolated outwards to the way we view all the challenges in life… we expect things to come easy. And we expect to get the results we want despite our efforts… Unfortunately this is not always the case.
Staying healthy and fit requires a certain amount of effort. It is rare to see someone who is trim and fit who comes by it naturally. While there are some that are naturally thin, there are few that are naturally thin and trim, meaning they possess little body fat and have muscular physiques. To enjoy such benefits typically requires a certain amount of work.
So the next time you find yourself feeling put out when having to go to the gym or resentful that you have to first make a salad and chicken before eating dinner that night, remember, it is just part of the job description of living a healthy life. It’s just the salt and pepper shakers.