Improvise your way to a happier life

Some of my favorite shows on TV include the cooking contests where they basically torment the chefs into creating unique delicious food. On one show, you begin with a few different crazy ingredients to create a certain genre of dish. There are many creative and cruel events that take place that create turmoil in the chefs’ dishes. For example, there’s a show called Kitchen Casino where they spin the three chefs’ stations until a different one lands in front of them. The chefs are always worried, as they should be, because they possess little understanding of what the previous chef was planning for the dish, there are different ingredients in front of them, and they taste the new dish and find that it’s quite disturbingly bad. That turning of the roulette wheel could leave you with your original dish at the end of the round, but now it has been changed by a few other cooks. This is the way life often treats us. Our experiences are not linear.

One night, while the kids and Lisa were out swimming, I cooked. I knew that I wanted to create something easy, but I wanted to have some fun. I made homemade tomato sauce, cooked some elbow pasta, and poured the al dente pasta over garbanzo beans to create a Tamarazo family favorite of Pasta Fazool or pasta e fagioli. I could have stopped there but I saw some other ingredients in the pantry. I began to create a new dish like the fearsome TV chefs with hearts of palm, green chiles, garbanzo beans, fresh garlic and fresh onions, cumin, freshly ground salt, pepper, and while it was off the fire, I sprinkled some fresh Michigan maple syrup. While I was cooking the sauce, I burned the onions slightly, but the tomato sauce made from whole tomatoes masked the taint of burnt onions. While cooking the mystery dish, I was a little heavy handed with the pepper and began to mix in the cumin, sugar, and maple syrup to hide the excess pepper. Sometimes when Lisa is improvising over a dish, we’ll have a short meeting with Max to decide what spice or spices should we add to this not yet delicious dish.

My attempt at Top Chef

My attempt at Top Chef

How do you deal with the various dips and turns that we experience in life? It’s just technique and practice. Those chefs have many tools in their cooking tool kit. They’ve worked at busy restaurants where they ran out of an essential ingredient, or were so incredibly busy that they thought the shift would never end. They were trained, either through apprenticeships or cooking schools on the techniques necessary for the mysterious life of a chef. On one show, they replaced the chef’s knife with scissors She had to cut through a thick steak with scissors!

One achieves success in life with technique and practice. As a singer, technique is necessary on the days that you really don’t want to sing. When you’re feeling lethargic, depressed, ill, angry, or upset, with proper technique that has been practiced for years, no one will ever know what’s going on in your life. Technique allows basketball players who are screaming with knee pain or have the flu to still be the best player on the court.

The key to a successful life is learning how to improvise when life seems extremely difficult. Life is difficult normally while you balance the needs of your children, your spouse, your business and employees and your personal life. Then throw in something terrible like the death of your spouse’s parent, or your college student becomes unexpectedly ill, or an unexpected tax bill comes at the worst time. How will you now balance your life? If you are steady with your technique and understand what is most important in life, that is, your children and spouse, then you can achieve success and balance even with the unexpected happens.

This is a selection from Frank’s soon to be published book, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

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