Confidence is a funny thing. A hairsbreadth too much and it tumbles into arrogance and posturing. A touch too little and it's impossible to reach for the magic. In the kitchen, as with most of life, confidence is a very helpful, and also potentially dangerous, ingredient.
When we're confident, we trust in our abilities and decisions. We don't hesitate, we act and, often, we act boldly. This can lead to some very delicious and interesting results. A dash of brandy in the soup, a nail-biting extra 10 seconds to sear the tuna, the pairing of sweet melon, chili and fish sauce for an impromptu appetizer are a few acts of culinary confidence I've been lucky to observe lately. It can be very energizing and inspiring and even beautiful to watch a confident cook at work.
I've also seen confidence ruin an entire meal. As mentioned, it just takes a little too much and suddenly we're choking on the cook's ego rather than being nourished by their generosity. The difference between the aforementioned boldness and this bravado is a subtle and difficult line to navigate (see photo above.) It takes a fair amount of mettle to be a brilliant cook (or anything for that matter) but it also takes a few drops of humility, too.
The problem with confidence is that it can fool us into forgetting to be teachable. By that I mean we lose the capacity to be open to possibilities beyond the reach of our own ideas. Confidence can diminish rather than stretch our abilities when we assume that we know it all, that we've got it figured out. And it can lead to some dangerous situations when it overrides commonsense.
But basically a dose of confidence is a good thing, especially when won the hard way: though lots and lots of experience and constant practice. Add in a little generosity and a fair amount of curiosity and you've on your way to becoming a great cook.
And what about the sassy Mr. Bourdain? He may wobble along the fine line between confident and cocky, but in the end I don't think I'd kick him out of my kitchen for making a mess. Something tells me that in his case it would be totally worth it.
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I hope you enjoyed this encore Weekend Meditation, originally posted in November 2010. I will be posting these vintage posts every Sunday (with the occasional new post, if I can manage!) for the next several months while I focus on writing my first book.