“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”—L. P. Jacks (via nickelcobalt)
“I think it’s more interesting to see people who don’t feel appropriately. I relate to that, because sometimes I don’t feel anything at all for things I’m supposed to, and other times I feel too much.”—Ryan Gosling (via krumholz)
Jesse just wrote a great response to some of the negative replies Put This On has been receiving over that Gay Talese quote. I wanted to clarify why I posted it, however, lest people like A Fistful of Style think I’m a “fucking asshole” and that I’m sickening Put This On with…
This story by Francis Lam—on craft, care, and the French way with eggs—was originally published in the late, great Gourmet magazine, March 2008.
I hit it once, just once, but it was beautiful. It was exam time and I was nervous, waiting for my turn. I had the proper fire. The heat felt right. I made smooth, swirling passes with my spatula, and when I rolled my pan over the plate, I knew it. Chef took a look at my omelet and squinted at me. He poked at it, pinched it, and then he knew, too. He called out to the class, “When you show me yours, I want it to look like this.” He set the plate in the window for the rest of the school to see, then turned around and gave me a quick wink.
Before Chef Skibitcky got ahold of my brain, I, like every other rational person, thought an omelet was something anyone can make. You throw eggs in a pan, stir them around, fold them in half, and put them on a plate. Done. No-brainer. It only gets interesting when you start tossing in other things—ham, some cheese, maybe a sautéed mushroom or two. Once, there was an omelet contest in my college cafeteria. The winner had it all wrapped up the minute he pulled an avocado and a wedge of Brie out of his bag. Young girls screamed and old men yelled. I stood and watched quietly, respecting him.
But there I was, years later, waking up at 2 a.m. for a class called a.m. Pantry. Still half asleep, I listened to Chef Skibitcky talk about French omelets, about how Escoffier himself used to test his prospective cooks by watching them make one. I perked up. I’d heard of roasting a chicken as a litmus test for cooks before, but an omelet? Really? What did they put in it?
Three eggs, salt, pepper, and a little butter. That’s all Chef had in front of him when he began his demonstration. I was skeptical. He started to swirl the liquid in the pan, his hands moving slowly at first, deliberately. He curled his wrist and snapped into a sweeping motion, gathering all the eggs back together with his spatula. He shook the handle gently, his movements getting gradually faster. There was something going on here. I saw how careful he was to watch and respond to the eggs, even if I didn’t know exactly what he was watching. He gave the pan a good whack with his fist and rolled it over a plate. The omelet slid out, tucking itself into a tidy cigar shape.
We passed it around to taste, and I couldn’t believe what I was eating. It was fantastically tender, almost slippery with creaminess. Not quite scrambled and not quite custard, it hit my mouth and dissolved in a cloud of butter and egg. I raised my fork for a third bite, but the other students started looking at me funny. Reluctantly, I passed the plate along.
I wanted more. It wasn’t just that it was delicious; it was that I realized that at that moment I was seeing for the first time something I thought I’d known my whole life. Like how, if you grew up with tomato-shaped rocks from supermarkets, your first explosive bite into a tomato off the vine in August shows you what a tomato really is.
Chef made another one, talking us through what he was seeing. It’s a precarious balancing act—you want the pan hot enough so the eggs don’t stick, but not so hot that they cook unevenly. You want to beat the eggs so that they’re fully blended, but not so much that they get foamy and dry out in the pan. You want to cook them gently so that they’re smooth and creamy, but not so soft that they weep. We weren’t even at the good part yet, and this was really starting to not seem like something anyone can make.
Quickly now, Chef shook and stirred until the very last drops of liquid egg hit the bottom of the pan at the exact same moment, cooking together to form a thin sheet that, when rolled, wrapped around the moist curd inside. “You want baby skin,” he kept saying. “Not elephant skin.” In other words, you have to set the skin just enough so that it can hold the omelet together, but not so much that it gets wrinkled and rubbery. And then you have to make sure that you cook it long enough so that it develops a little flavor, but not so long that it browns and loses its delicacy.
It was astounding how something so commonplace, so elemental, could have so many variables. You just have to learn to see all those variables, to recognize what effect every moment of heat, every motion of the hands has. To get back to that thing I tasted, I would have to know exactly what to look for and nail it every step of the way.
Three eggs, salt, pepper, and a little butter. That’s all there is in a classic French omelet, but it’s enough to keep reteaching me this vital lesson: Things are only simple when you’ve stopped asking the right questions of them, when you’ve stopped finding new ways to see them. Because what you find, when you learn how to find it, is that even simple things can be wonderfully, frustratingly, world-openingly complex.
It’s been half a decade since Chef taught me that lesson, since that morning when I went home and rolled out omelet after awful omelet until my roommate woke up to find plates covering every level surface in our kitchen. Eventually, I let my obsession revert to a healthy level of interest, until a couple of months ago, when I went out to breakfast with a friend. She thought the place was sketchy but ordered anyway, saying to me, “I figured, ‘How badly can you screw up an omelet?’”
It was time, I decided right then and there, to get back in touch with my inner egg philosopher. Not long after, I invited some friends over for brunch. Twenty of them.
My guests trickled in, some still groggy and wielding bottles of cheap sparkling wine because nothing cures a hangover like the thing that caused it. As they mingled and mixed Mimosas, I put together my station at the stove. I picked up my pan and held it to my face to check the heat, a weird little habit I picked up somewhere along the way. It was time.
I put a ladle into my clarified butter, grabbed hold of my spatula, took a meditative breath, and promptly mangled my first omelet. It was brutal. The pan was way too hot, the eggs fried instantly, and the skin wasn’t elephant skin, it was geriatric-elephant skin. It flopped out like a pancake when I tried to roll it onto the plate.
I gave it to the drunkest guy in the house.
My next two were similarly disgraceful, and I was running out of drunk guests. But soon things began to pick up. The heat was getting intense in my little kitchen; I was sweating through a film of butter. I was starting to feel like a cook again, and somewhere around my 13th try, there were a few that were pretty good. If an omelet can be art, can teach me a new way to see the world, it’s funny that I had to feel like a laborer before I could make it.
Still, by the end of the morning, perfection was a long way away. If the beauty of the omelet is its seeming simplicity, that simplicity is unforgiving. Either you nail it and it’s transcendent, or it’s, well, just eggs. I needed a brush-up on my technique, but Chef Skibitcky had moved across the country. I called in a ringer.
Daniel Boulud is perhaps the finest French chef in America. He is certainly one of the most classically trained, winning national recognition when he was an apprentice in Lyon, where he had to knock out 30 omelets in a row for a staff meal. Today, though, he is a restaurant magnate with a presidential smile, a refined air, a team of beautiful assistants—far removed from his days as a cook, even further from his days as an apprentice.
So, despite his credentials, I didn’t expect him to come out firing when I visited him in his restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But he was on it before he even took his seat. “To understand the omelet, you have to understand what the omelet represents,” he said as he walked in. “You have to understand what the omelet means.” Wait a minute, I think we’re on the same page.
He started talking about his technique, how he likes to stir finely diced butter into the raw egg so that it melts on the heat, insulating the eggs and controlling how they curdle. He talked about using forks to work the pan because they break up the curds as they form, keeping them tender and creamy, rather than a spatula that just lifts and slaps around big sheets of egg. He talked about finishing the omelet with a touch of butter and a tiny kiss of high heat. He referred to this as “toasting” the eggs but then took it back. He tried “sear” but decided against that, too. He used these words gingerly, knowing that he didn’t really mean them. For a man so articulate with the language of food, it’s interesting that he struggled for the exact words here. Maybe our high-heat, ass-kicking cooking culture is so invested in brawny terms for powerhouse techniques that we lack words for an effect as subtle as the one he was describing.
As he talked, he motioned with his hands, illustrating his points with miming gestures the way I see only cooks do. I noticed a few burns and scars on his knuckles. They looked fresh.
He asked me about the pan I use, the type and the size, then paused thoughtfully. A second later, he held his thumb and forefinger maybe a centimeter apart. “So you have this much egg in your pan?” I nodded yes, but to be honest, I had no idea. It could be that much, it could be twice that much—I had never noticed. And yet, with just the information I gave him, he thought through the ratios of diameter and volume and could visualize what the beginnings of my omelet looked like. (He was right, by the way.) “Your Teflon pan gives a little magic ease,” he said. “Black steel is more capricious.” My pan would do, but a well-seasoned black steel pan would be better; it would let me use metal forks, and its angled corners would give the omelet a lip to roll out more evenly.
I scribbled furiously in my notebook, giddy with the sensation of having my mind blown and suppressing the urge to yell, “Yes! Yes! Of course!” When I sat down with Boulud, I thought that I had the theory of the omelet down, that I might just ask him for something like a little tip on how to shake the pan, or how to tell if the heat was right. Instead, our conversation revealed how much deeper he had thought about this than I ever had. The more you learn about something, the more you find out there’s more to learn, and I was swimming in new questions.
We talked for almost an hour, causing one of his beautiful assistants to remind him that he was well late to his next meeting. He waved off the warning, pulling down an enormous book on the history of French cuisine to see what it had to say about omelets. In that moment, this Chef, this magnate, looked like an eager young cook again. A cook aiming for the top, because even though we were talking about eggs, we knew what we were really talking about was perfection, about giving the idea of perfection a physical form.
I left and immediately got myself a black steel pan. I’ve been scouring it with salt and oil to season it ever since, understanding that I’m deeper in a hole, further away from making my ideal omelet than I realized. The other day, as I was scrubbing on my pan again, trying to make new metal old, a friend found me. Gently, but sort of pityingly, she asked, “What … are you doing?”
Okay, so maybe it’s a little much, this obsession of mine. But tell me: How many places in your life do you know, really know, what perfection looks like? How many ways do you know to chase after perfection?
For me, the first step is to figure out how to keep my pan from rusting.
I was on the phone with someone who, like me, has a substantial amount of experience reading about and working with self-described Black leaders. I’m going to be very specific about who I’m talking about.
For starters, I’m not talking about our President and First Lady. They’re actually being attacked by, what I’m going to call, racially conservative Black leaders. Cornel West called Barack Obama a “black mascot” and Tavis Smiley bitched about the President being unable to attend his “State of the Black Union” event and offering Michelle’s speaking services instead. They are conservative in that they believe they own the definition of what it means to be “Black in America”. Silly.
But I digress…the older Black leaders I’m really talking about aren’t even people like Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. No, they’re both actually famous and, in West’s case, have contributed tremendously to the discourse (not always positive, but that’s another topic) of Blacks in America for years upon years.
The people I’m talking about are in their mid-to-late 40s, 50s and 60s and they’re not famous, they haven’t created Black wealth or been significant contributors to large discussions about Blacks in America. Actually, they’re the exact opposite. They’re not famous, because they have focused on agendas so narrow that no one should pay attention to them. They’re not creating Black wealth (though some of them are themselves rich) because they don’t seem to understand economic development policies that focus on generating sustainable wealth instead of generating temporary favoritism. And they’re not significant contributors to the discourse about Blacks in America because they are so off-base in what they believe is happening or should be happening and so narrow-minded in who they’re working with or what they’re working on, that they just go in circles.
As a result, much of Black discussion in America has gone in circles. And the efforts of far too many Black-centric organizations has followed suit. Round and round and round they go. Literally, for at least the last decade, maybe two.
Meanwhile, us young Black people watch and wonder: “will you ever move over and let us do our thing?”
Historical tidbit: Dr. King was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and just a few years later with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded. Malcolm X was in his late 20s and early 30s when he led the creation of several Nation of Islam posts in some of America’s major Northeast cities. Stokely Carmichael was 26 when he took over the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, taking over from John Lewis who led the organization when he was 23 years old. James Farmer, one of the less-heralded Civil Rights leaders, was just 21 when he was invited to meet with President Roosevelt. Ella Baker, a leading female voice in the Movement, was actually the old member of the leadership tree having started as NAACP’s director of branches at the ripe age of 39.
So why in the hell do some of today’s Black leaders in their late 40s, 50s and 60-somethings fancy themselves our generation’s Dr. Kings, Malcolm Xs and Ella Bakers? When in fact King and others were our age when they were leading the Movement! We haven’t had a young Black leader in three decades! Why? Because these older people won’t let one in! They think that since Jay-Z and Kanye West are famous, they’ve allowed the younger generation to have a voice when – as pointed out in Why Hip-Hop Can’t Save America – this hip-hop voice is not nearly what is needed.
And don’t give me that lip about “we were a part of the Movement” stuff as if to get some five-star general level of respect from us. How were you a part of the Movement? By being the first-generation of beneficiaries from it? By being the Blacks first-allowed to go to college and fully enter Corporate America only to have to be the first person to become the VP of something and graduate from a non-historically Black college or university for once?
If you’re 65 today that means you were 19 when Malcolm X died and 22 when King died. Very formative years indeed, but to continue harping on that time as if you didn’t end up taking some job in Corporate America (or pitching against it) in order to ascend to the upper middle class in some management role is truly malicious. Especially since many of you end up raising your children with the biggest silver spoons ever seen by Blacks in America, quite literally hurting the poor Black people you say you’re about helping by creating an “us” vs. “them” reality in Black neighborhoods and schools until – like other races – we created segregated schools for ourselves in cities like Atlanta.
If you’re 45 to 60 years old, I really don’t buy your need to continue harping back on things like institutional racism as if you didn’t live in a day and time when Blacks experienced less racism than ever before in America. I really hate hearing people in Austin talk about this like it’s some type of cross they’re bearing from the 1760s. I know things are still bad and police brutality still happens, hatred is still spewed and jobs are still hard to come by for Black men who are poorly educated as young boys and poorly treated in prisons as young men and poorly considered in society thereafter. I know far too well.
But for you to pretend that you are the new incarnation of Black leadership in America when so little has been done on your watch in the last decade or two is pathetic. Actually, tell me exactly what it is that you’ve done in the last decade other than sit back in your cushy “association of” and “commissioner/chairman” jobs and meet with the same damn people week after week, month after month doing the same damn things, hosting the same damn events and complaining about the same damn federal/state/local policies that only people in real leadership roles and power can address.
Going round and round and round. Harping on the same issues. Coming up with the same bland ideas and events. Doing the most mundane fundraisers. Sending the most uninspiring emails. And reaching out to young people with about as much innovation as the General Motors Truck division brings to an alternative energy conference.
Move out of the way. If you need us to kiss the ring, us being young Black people, in order for you to pass on by then fine. (Please don’t let these long-standing organizations die out with your generation.) We’ll kiss the ring if you don’t also require we anoint you all chairman/chairwoman emeritus status too because we need some other people to serve in that role. Like mid-to-late 30-somethings.
Yes, I’m being an ageist. I would apologize if I wasn’t so spot on based on far too many conversations with friends of mine in Austin, Houston, D.C., New York and other American cities. These are friends who work in business, entertainment, finance, law, politics, technology…they went to good schools thanks to the work of King and others and they are ascended to higher heights in their professions thanks to the roads your generation paved. Yes, I admit that. You fought the good fight for us. These are friends who’ve worked on Obama’s campaign and work in Congress, they lead young professionals groups across the country (only some of them solely focused on Blacks) and they have bright, albeit untested, ideas about what we should be doing right now.
The only problem with right now is that you’re in the way talking about back then. You have absolutely no clue about right now. This is wholesale and generalized and exceptions certainly exist. I know that Cory Booker is in his 40s now and he’s amazing. Google’s chief counsel David Drummond is in his 40s and is largely unknown, but significant. But those few are the exceptions. So stop acting like the energetic, educated, inspired, innovative young Black person attending your meetings is the exception and needs to “pay our dues”. People like Johnica Reed, Jam Donaldson and Coltrane Curtis know more about what’s going on in Black America than your average NAACP chapter president, that’s for sure.
The honest truth is that the older you all get, and the more stuck in your ways you continue to be, the fewer dues paying members you’re going to have if you keep this up. So, no, I won’t pay those dues. Not until you acknowledge what we’ve been trying to tell you for years. Keep this up and you’ll be the generation that negated much of the unseen but good work that King and others did because more than lead the Movement and serve as positive forces of change, they were icons.
Icons to Black leadership. Young Black leadership. Young Black leadership that didn’t wait around for dues to be paid. As for me, I’m not waiting around. You can believe that I am going to bum rush your door and tell you to hand over the keys or else.
Yeah, it may be the house you’ve lived in for years, but you definitely did not build it (King’s generation did) and you definitely aren’t in a position to renovate it (my generation is). Especially not with that attitude toward the most important Black constituency in America: young professionals.
We have money. We have white, Hispanic and Asian friends. We’re educated, well traveled, well dressed, well read and well versed on our Civil Rights history. We know how to use computers and we’re savvy with social media. We can command six-figure salaries and start businesses if we want to. We can talk Jay-Z and foreign policy in the same dialogue. We can do many things for Blacks in America because unlike many of you, we actually understand the positive impact Obamas have been in the White House. So much so that our votes are based on policies and not on race alone. Truth to power.
You need to come to terms with the fact that we can’t pay be the generation that pays the majority of the mortgage for Black people in America if we’re also going to be told that the title to the house will not be ours for another decade or two.
Let’s see how long you can make those payments without us.
(Editor’s note: I went to college with this guy. I wouldn’t say we were close friends, but we knew each other. Maybe it’s a bit ageist, but no one else is going to publish this sort of writing so I’d like to here your thoughts?)
It would mean everything to me if we could take a holiday Cos you and I bone tired every night isn’t my idea of play And even our smallest dream is getting lean, never sees the light of day So it would mean everything to me
You can fight but you won’t always win Somehow life finds a way to beat you But I’ll come join you in the ring Guess it shows just how much i need you
There are days I would pay anything just to leave it all behind There are times I can’t find any light to get me through the daily grind I know you feel it too, seen just how long it takes you to unwind So it would mean everything to mecreditsreleased 27 June 2011 Written and performed by Lips. Drums by Jeremy Toy from She’s So Rad Bass by Marika Hodgson Strings performed by Tash Wong. Artwork by Kristin Brown (please contact for more info on the artist)
“Lately it’s been like I have a calling. I’ve always felt like the stuff that happened to me when I was a kid happened for a reason. And I’ve always felt like I had something to say and that what I’m doing is important. And I don’t let anything get in the way of that. If I really want to do something I can do it, and I’ve always felt that way. Never wavered from that. Lorne Michaels once said something to me that really stuck, and I’ve never seen it not be true. He said truly talented people are only faithful to their talent. Which might explain why he has people sign contracts for like seven years. Because if you’re really going after something, if you really have a goal, the only thing that’s gonna stop you is you. What I love about Kanye West is his willingness to be like “Fuck it. I’m gonna do it and I’ll deal with it later.” To take that leap. Because people who are real innovators; your Kanyes, your Michael Jordans, your Steve Martins, your Salvador Dalis, your Jim Hensons; nobody’s gonna tell them they’re too anything. Except for them. And since I have this unique perspective of having seen the world from all these opposing viewpoints, and I also happen to be creative, I feel like it’s my responsibility to expose the dichotomies that exist so there can be dialogue and understanding. I feel like that’s my calling. So what do I want? I want everything. Not because I’m greedy, but so I have all the tools to reach as many people as possible.”—Donald Glover (via highsnobkamau)
Disclaimer reminder: I currently work at Facebook and worked on Google+ up until the end of 2010. This post does not reflect anything I did at Google, or anything I’m doing at Facebook, and is simply my personal opinion about the state of the world.
Since Google+ launched last week, many people have been asking me my opinion about it. Unfortunately I can’t talk about specifics (hello, non-disclosure agreements) but I can talk broadly about the state of the world.
When it comes to representing relationships online, there are two big questions: 1. Our offline relationships are very complex. Should we try and replicate the attributes and structure of those relationships online, or will online communication need to be different? 2. If we do try and replicate the attributes of our relationships, will people take the time and effort to build and curate relationships online, or will they fall back to offline interactions to deal with the nuances?
We’re only at the beginning of trying to answer these questions. Google+ is a well designed product, but it is not “the solution” to the problem of representing complex relationships online. In fact, there probably isn’t “one solution”.
If you think about the first question above, Google+ is both trying to replicate offline social network structures (with circles) and build social network structures that are unique to the online world (with following, and with the fact that anyone can add anyone to a circle, independent of whether these people have met offline). Is this the best approach? No-one knows. If history has taught us anything, it’s that trying to predict the future is a fools game. Especially when that future is wrapped up in complex relationships and network effects. Remember, this is just the beginning.
The second question is the big unanswered one. Most user experience problems can be defined with the simple equation: Is the effort I need to go through worth the perceived benefit? Is the effort of creating circles, and managing them over time, worth the perceived benefit of sharing to those circles? Is the effort of figuring out who is in the audience of someone else’s circle worth the perceived benefit of the value derived from commenting? Again, no-one knows the answer to this question. But it’s going to be fascinating to see it play out.
Finally, it’s worth noting a trend that will make the task of representing relationships online even harder. Many fields of science are starting to discover that most of our behavior is driven by our non-conscious brain, not by our conscious brain. This refutes much of our understanding of how the world works. When we meet people, for the first time, or for the ten thousandth time, there are far too many signals for the conscious brain to take in, analyze, and compute what to do. So our non-conscious brain does the analysis for us, and delivers a feeling, which determines how we react and how we behave. It’s our non-conscious brain that will be deciding which social network succeeds and which one fails. It’s going to take most, if not all, of our lifetime to figure out what is happening in the non-conscious brain. This is just the beginning.