How to Succeed at Failing

Pancakes with Roasted Apples, Ricotta, and Sage

“To fail, a verb: to fall short of succeeding.”

I am terrible at failing. So terrible, in fact, that I won’t even try in the first place. Who wants to waste time trying when the outcome isn’t assured?

But life is funny and suddenly I was a cook in a high end restaurant. Not just any restaurant, but one that doesn’t believe in recipes. One where I was told over and over again, “just make it and then make it again. Let’s taste it together.”

I made a vinaigrette but I picked a small bowl. The wrong bowl. “Always make 3 quarts!”

So I made 3 quarts. “Needs more salt.”

I found my big bowl, emptied my quarts and added salt. I learned not to put anything into containers until approval was met. “Great, now make 3 quarts of basil aioli.”

Image courtesy of Unsplash

I failed over and over again. I tasted and tested and shoved spoons into my fellow cooks mouths. I burned garlic and strained ten gallons of butternut squash soup through a fine mesh chinois. I blended and seasoned with creme fraiche and brown butter until my taste buds gave up. I pulled veins out of duck livers destined to be foie gras.

I dropped half of my pancake batter on my head and then hauled the rest up for brunch. I cooked those pancakes in searing steel pans in an 800 degree oven, so hot my arm hair sizzled. Sometimes, they were raw in the middle. Most times, I never heard a word.

I made food and then I made it again. I was learning how to fail and I was getting good. Practice helped. Repetition was necessary. Suddenly I wasn’t so afraid anymore. What’s the worst that can happen?

As a cook, you’re only as good as your last dish. It wasn’t just failing that mattered, it was learning how to fix things. The real lesson is how not to fall apart when things go wrong.

I’m still failing, and learning and learning and failing. Tomorrow, I’ll do it all over again. I hope I never get it right.