There’s a food pantry near me that serves hot meals to people who might not get one during the week. When I watch the director of the program run and operate the kitchen, the thing that strikes me most – beyond his calm, centered demeanor, truly stunning organizational skills, the ability to anticipate and solve every single challenge that arrises, kind but clear directives to everyone in the kitchen and dining room and pantry – is his highly specific instructions to volunteers about plating food. You’d think a hot meal of roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese and fresh spinach salad would be a gift in itself. Nope. Not enough. He wants to see the food plated with care and attention to what color borders what – to what’s hottest and ready to serve – to clean lines and generous portions. The Open Door is a step above a soup kitchen for sure, but still – often when people are on the margins – our standard quickly becomes “well, it’s better than nothing.” Not for Ken.
I was recently in Charleston, South Carolina where I watched a celebrated chef approve (or send back) every single dish that came out. Totally different demeanor (barking, swearing, sweating). Between wiping the sides of a bowl or correcting the crispiness of a pig ear, it had to be perfect. His name is on the door. His New York Times review is at stake. Every night. He cares because he has to hold up a brand for which even he works.
But really, there’s no difference in the results both of these men achieve (their approaches vary wildly!). Each brings a pride, discipline and discernment to their work. One is famous – the other an ordinary angel, mostly anonymous to the world at large. But they care. And their teams hover and dance around them with respect and appreciation. Those customers – whether eating off a white tablecloth or linoleum cafeteria table – get their everything.
Do some people / clients / friends / relationships get our best? While others settle for our good enough? When no one is watching, does it matter?