I may be four years late to the party, but René Redzepi's discussion at the Nordic Barista Cup 2012 is timeless.
My problem now is he's raised as many questions as he has answered. I've taken the snippets that resonated most with me and jotted my thoughts down below.
'One thing, just right, is enough.'
More. This is what we're told we want. What our success is measured by. But why? Why are we always looking for more? Why is 'more' best? Does wanting 'more' give us a sense of urgency? An urgency that keeps us looking for the next best thing, without stopping to appreciate what's under our very noses? Does it make us forget about the importance of brooding, of sitting still, of day dreaming? Of perfecting? Does it make us incapable of satisfaction?
A barrage of questions, I know. (I warned you!) Applying this to the shop, I'd rather have a short menu of things I know I can present beautifully rather than a long menu of average meals.
Trying to convince someone of the opposite is a tough gig—yet we relent. Because concentrating all of our efforts to make the one thing as perfect as we can is for your ultimate enjoyment. That same effort spread over more things would yield a lesser result, and ultimately, a lesser level of satisfaction from you.
And what about the grower? The effort, time—and often heartbreak—involved in producing the best quality ingredients deserves our utmost care and attention. It is a way of saying thank you for the privilege.
'People just supply what the common denominator want. That's where the bar is.'
This statement is like a slap in the face. I'm not sure if it's because people do this to make as much money as they can from the masses, or because they do what's easiest for themselves and don't care about the satisfaction of their customers, or because they merely see their business as nothing more than a means. Perhaps it's just plain ignorance. Or perhaps it's all of the above.
With the bar so low, it means there's plenty of room to grow.
'Price is always an issue.'
Don't ever compete on it. The moment you do, you'll undermine yourself. And you'll attract those who are not interested in opening their minds. You're better off staying in bed.
'We started meeting people. Talking to people. Going directly to the source.'
'One of the things that was totally mind boggling to me when we started meeting all these great producers is that their confidence was at total zero. They had nothing left in them.
'They had been so broken, and ruined, by themselves dealing with all the middlemen. People that don't care about the quality, that don't respect their level of work and their commitment, but simply just wants a better price than their neighbour.
'And that's what, actually, many of these people had been as their everyday life for a long, long, long, long time. And it was just an incredibly sad view to see these people having lost their passion and their love for what they do. And in that they had also somewhat lost a little bit of their appetite for life.'
Can you imagine the despair? And are we, the consumers, responsible? The middlemen are simply responding to what we want, aren't they?
Thank God for the likes of Redzepi, pushing to fight through this, and setting an example to others.
'It's all about produce. We're only as good as the produce we have.'
Am I naïve enough to think that if you're going to serve an egg, then you make sure you can source the best egg possible within your means? If you're only interested in serving the cheapest egg you can find, is this simply old-fashioned contempt for your customer? (And not to mention the hen?)
Attitude, I think, is what's most telling. Your choice in produce is essentially a direct reflection on how you feel towards your suppliers and your customers. This power is yours.
Not only did they supply our ingredients, they became our inspiration.'
I find this so incredibly exciting. Where better than to find inspiration than from the person presenting you with their pride? This isn't about grand scale only. Not long ago, the local school turned up with armfuls of sorrel the kids had grown. Not only was I inspired by the sorrel itself, but the kids were my greatest source. I couldn't wait to serve both the produce to my customers (sorrel, pistachio and pecorino pesto with heirloom tomatoes on sourdough), but to tell them about the children and their garden. Satisfaction right down the line of people involved.
Even to look at the situation selfishly, I'd much rather look forward to days filled with promise and possibilities than drudgery and monotony.
'It's the raw material that created our success.'
The barista. The chef. The sommelier. You couldn't excel at any of these vocations if you had sub-par ingredients to work with.
Let's take the barista. She's in a position of privilege, to be presented with beans that not only have been roasted perfectly, but were grown and nurtured to harvest by the farmer. It's up to her to show the world how incredible the product is. And while this is a very serious job, she wouldn't have it if it weren't for the farmer to begin with.
'The high quality ingredients are there. It's us that need to change.'
Hiding in plain sight.
Trying to help others understand is downright hard sometimes. So hard, that you feel like giving up. Of course you take it personally; you wouldn't wear your heart on your sleeve if this wasn't important to you. Focusing on baby steps, surrounding yourselves with like-minded souls and remembering the why helps get you through the darkness.
Just think: If we can each help two people understand, and then those two help another two each, and then those four help another eight each, we can change. We will change.
'We can't live without each other.'
This is as frightening as it is reassuring. I take comfort in knowing that we're not in this alone, but I'm also terrified at the possibility of self-destruction.
I'm only one insignificant soul, but I'll do everything I can to be a speck of hope.
Thank you, René .