It’s not crappy, it’s rustic: sometimes appearances are secondary

I took chef training straight out of high school. Barely two months after bidding good riddance to formal school, I was back in formal school — but this time an interesting one where they taught me to use knives and fire.

One of our first baking classes had us making bread. Pretty basic stuff … one would think. I don’t recall what my classmate did to make her bread come out so lumpy and misshapen, but she did it, and stood there staring at the results.

It was supposed to look like this but it, uh. Didn't.

It was supposed to look like this. It didn’t.

“Mine looks pretty crappy,” she said sadly.

I peeked over from my work station. “It’s not crappy, it’s rustic!”

That got a smile out of her. And we started joking about the merits of rustic cuisine, ah, yes, beautiful in its simplicity and lumpiness! An homage to the homespun roots of all food! I had just meant to jokingly play devil’s advocate, but y’know, it’s true. There’s something charming about food that looks unpretentious. And more importantly, it was my classmate’s first attempt at chef-grade baked goods: of course it didn’t come out perfect. There was no shame in that.

Everyone got to bring their first loaves of bread home. Some looked great and some looked rustic. Regardless, the city bus leaving the college that day had seven chef training students on it, all of whom held fresh-baked bread. Other passengers stepped onto that bus, paused, and commented aloud that it smelled great in here. No one cared if the nice-smelling bread looked like it belonged on a magazine cover, and the students who ate the bread surely didn’t care, either.

The “rustic” turn of phrase became a running joke through the rest of our chef training course. Someone botched their food’s presentation? “It’s not crappy, it’s rustic!” It usually cheered the person up, that bit of wordplay — but it also emphasized that there are more important things than looking perfect, or looking conventional, or being precisely what is expected. As long as the food tastes good, its appearance is secondary. Important, yes. But secondary.

I try to keep that lesson in mind

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