IN 2008, DAVID SHI, the chef at Xi’an Famous Foods in Queens, New York, called his son, Jason Wang, and said in Chinese, “There’s a tall, old white dude here with a film crew; do you know who he is?” He snapped a photo of the guest—stooped over a plate of lamb burgers seasoned with cumin and dressed with hot peppers and pickled jalapeños—and sent it to Wang, then a student at Washington University in St. Louis. Wang didn’t recognize him, but after showing the photo to his suite mates, he learned his name: Celebrity chef, best-selling author and then-host of Travel Channel’s No Reservations, Bourdain was at Xi’an Famous Foods to film part of an episode on New York City’s outer boroughs, and as the title suggests, he had dropped by without warning. He wasn’t expecting much from the Chinese restaurant, but after sampling its surprisingly bold and spicy flavors, “It was love at first sight,” he says. When the episode aired a year later, Wang says he felt a tingle as he watched Bourdain biting into the burger and exclaiming, “I’ve never had anything like this before!”
I appreciate the piece because I have family in that area, and because I love stories about immigrant families succeeding in America, but I was also struck by one line in particular, which was uttered by Bourdain:
“It’s a rare and remarkable thing to recognize what’s great about your personal culture and project that forward,” says Bourdain. “Any great entrepreneur tells you what you want before you know you want it,” he adds, comparing Wang to chefs like David Chang and Mario Batali , who, respectively, brought ramen and ravioli stuffed with brains into the American food consciousness.
“Any great entrepreneur tells you what you want before you know you want it…”
I couldn’t help thinking about that quote in regards to religion, specifically to Catholicism. As we fret about bad catechesis and the loss of our young adults, I wonder if the church needs to reconsider itself through an entrepreneurial lens, and recognize that she has what people want — even though they do not realize that they want it, because they have misinformed or distorted understanding of the church. Perhaps a spirit of entrepreneurship is needed here, part of an energetic rethinking of how we teach what we teach.
Presentation matters; an understanding of modern dynamics matters; so does noting what people living with 21st century ears need to hear, in order to slow down enough to hear some more, and then unplug the buds and really listen. Then we can sound the depths, and plumb them, and raise our treasure to the awareness of people who will say, “ah, that is the pearl I’ve longed for, all this time.
More on that later. I have an idea percolating in my head — or perhaps not percolating; perhaps, in keeping with our food-theme, it is marinating — but I’m not yet ready to share my thoughts. I need that entrepreneurial moment!
Speaking of entrepreneurship, though, a friend today wrote that she can’t seem to get ahead in this economy, where a “better” job often comes with fewer benefits. That brought to mind another piece from the WSJ, one which suggests — really, like the Xi’an piece — that all the degrees and credentials one can rack up really don’t matter a hill of beans, in the face of one great idea:
Cocktail Courier, a New York City delivery company, aims to pull back the curtain on craft concoctions and show that a Ph.D. in mixology isn’t required to make great drinks. “We wanted to bring the experience of the golden age of cocktails to the home and demystify the process,” says Curt Goldman, who co-founded the business with his brothers, Scott and Ryan. Choose from an online selection of top bartender-designed tipples, then await a package with the necessary premeasured ingredients for 4 to 6 servings. “All you have to do is shake or stir,” says Goldman.
I told my friend, all she had to do was teach the teenagers how to make highballs, and keep the little ones from eating all the jars of cherries, or playing with the paper umbrellas, and she’s all set.
What? You think that’s silly?
If this woman can make 4.6 million dollars by opening toys on you tube, it’s very clear that — outside of the hard sciences — our kids really don’t need the degrees we insist they pursue, even unto crippling lifelong debt.