“Now, pay special attention to coloring,” said Jaquon. “Different shades of the primary color will tell you if something is ripe, about to ripen, or is maybe a little too ripe.” He smiled and tossed the large yellow fruit to Terrence, who put it in the basket.
Jaquon picked his path through the large farmer’s stands, greeting vendors and introducing his newest apprentice to each of them. Terrence was enthusiastic as they moved about, picking up lettuce, a few tomatoes and other ingredients for a great dish.
As they moved along, Terrence frowned at the basket. It appeared rather empty to feed their customers. When they had finished, Jaquon draped several links of sausage over Terrence’s neck as they walked away from the market.
“We did good, today,” Jaquon smiled.
Terrence hefted the basket. “Chef, there doesn’t appear to be much here. Is this enough for the week?”
“Week?”Jaquon plucked one of the fruits out of the basket and sniffed it as they walked along. “This is only for today.”
“But … why not buy more?”
“The secret to cooking, my young apprentice, is to keep things fresh.”
Terrence nodded. “I understand. Makes it taste better. But can’t you save money by buying more? Get discounts? That’s good for us, right?”
“Buying in bulk is for toilet paper,” Jaquon smiled. “Toilet paper — or things we use to clean up our lives — takes a very long time to spoil. Good food, however, isn’t about cleaning up a mess. It’s about embracing the flavor of life. It’s about embracing today.”
Terrence frowned up at Jaquon.
“Let’s say,” Jaquon hefted his fruit, “you needed a proper cantaloupe for a salad. Today, this cantaloupe is perfect. It was picked a few days ago, has ripened, and is perfect for cutting up and sautéing for our cantaloupe salad. Right?”
“Right,” Terrence nodded, having had the responsibility yesterday of making all the cantaloupe salads for customer orders. “Smells right, cooks right, looks right.”
“Exactly!” Jaquon tapped Terrence on his chest, making his point. “We get the fruit today for the best results, right?”
Jaquon watched Terrence as the young man thought about it. Jaquon leaned over and hooked his arm around Terrence’s neck as they walked and held the fruit up. “It’s just like life. Think about where you are today. Today you are my apprentice. In some regards. It’s a good life. The business won’t go under if you mess up a plate. You don’t have to manage the payroll, or pay for my overhead. You just do as you’re told, get paid a small paycheck and don’t really have much responsibility. Not a bad life. But … would you want to stay this way forever?”
Terrence shook his head. “No way.”
“Tell me why.”
Terrence thought about it for a moment. “Well, I’d want more. I do want more. And I doubt you’d be so nice to me if I made the same mistakes a year from now. Plus life gets boring.”
“Yes, yes it does,” Jaquon hefted his fruit. “Much like food. If it is stale, it goes bad. It spoils. If you stop your life in this moment to preserve what you enjoy — less work, less responsibility, etc. — you will suffer. Look at me. My life might seem stable right now at work but it wasn’t in the early days. And even though my job has smoothed out, my eldest daughter is about to give birth to my first grandbaby. That makes me a proud grandpa? Also means things are busy in my personal life. Life is always changing. It never stops. If I were to stop my life in this exactly moment to preserve it, it would ultimately go bad. It would spoil on me.”
“Just like the fruit.”
“Just like the fruit!” Jaquon let go of Terrence as they turned the corner. “Like fruit, and its seasons, the best a man can do is enjoy the seasons of his life. We could buy frozen strawberries and other freeze-dried stuff to serve our customers year round, but then who would we be?”
Jaquon laughed. “Yes, and I don’t serve anything but the best for my customers. Have you considered that having the best life has to offer means doing without?”
Terrence looked at him. “Not really.”
“Absolutely,” said Jaquon. “If I want the best strawberries, I have to wait for their season to return. I can’t just have them all the time AND expect them to be the best. Nevermind that having something all the time takes away how special it can be.
“Good life is like good cooking,” said Jaquon. “Take only what you need for today. Enjoy what each season of your life has to offer.” Jaquon crossed the street with Terrence in tow. “Learn to do more with less. We always use the same twenty or so ingredients in my meals. Twenty years ago, I could make twenty dishes, but today with learning and experimentation, I can make four hundred different dishes with them.”
“That’s true,” nodded Terrence as both walked up the stairs under the awning and into his empty early-morning bistro. “That’s what I like about cooking.”
Jaquon paused and turned to Terrence. “The idea of using old fruit is the danger of preserving present circumstances. You can try and freeze time in place so you don’t have to change, but change is inevitable. Like fruit, don’t stop a fruit from changing, or it will never ripen. Let each fruit ripen in its own season, and take advantage of each season of your own life as it ripens, in turn. Sometimes you’ll do without great fruit,” Jaquon smiled, “but each joy in life has a season. Embrace each, and you will always find something to enjoy about the dishes life serves you.” Jaquon motioned and headed on toward the kitchen, Terrence following. “C’mon. Let’s get started on what we have for today.”