A few years ago I read an inspiring book called Life on the Line by Grant Achatz. Grant is the head chef at Chicago’s Alinea restaurant, which has repeatedly been named one of the best restaurants in the world. He rose through the chef ranks to head up his own kitchen, only to then battle tongue cancer that nearly took away his sense of taste permanently (he’s ok now, fortunately). I liked the book so much that I made a trip up to Alinea last year to eat there. The experience was, in a word, a revelation. From the burning leaves to the helium dessert balloons to the dessert smashed on the table, it was easily the most fun meal I’ve ever eaten, while at the same time making me wonder exactly how they had created half of what came to the table.
“Revelation” and “most fun” aren’t words one would typically use to describe the same meal. Most of us eat two to three times a day, often in a manner so fast or rote as to be unnoticed (I do, at least). Sure, going out to a nice dinner focuses our attention on the food in front of us, but even at the best restaurants that usually doesn’t result in an experience that one would call revelatory. The meal I had there was just that, and certainly the most memorable eating experience I’ve ever had (also the most expensive, but that’s another issue—it was worth it). It made me think about the role that food plays in our lives, and how food is meant to be fun and interactive, traits that are sometimes forgotten at today’s temples of gastronomy (for more on how Alinea views this interaction, see this piece).
Two lessons have stuck with me since that dinner: rethink everything that you do, and at the same time to try to enjoy every moment of the experience. Achatz is a master of what is known as Molecular Gastronomy (although he calls it Progressive American), which focuses on the use of scientific processes in cooking. All cooking is science, of course, but disciples of this approach tend to go deep into the scientific processes related to cooking, using techniques such as flash freezing and powdering to create unexpected or heretofore impossible results. What was previously a simple pasta becomes an unexpected set of crystals that taste like pasta, but with an entirely different texture. Thinking about food in this fashion requires you to reconsider everything about eating, and even spurred Achatz to invent his own cooking tools and utensils. This reinvention of the familiar is an important lesson for LSAT takers because so often you can fall into the trap of seeing everything in a rote, two-dimensional way. And let’s face it, it’s easier to see the test in that manner as opposed to the chaotic landscape it often is, so this approach is understandable. As I discussed in my last post, be careful with simply accepting conventional thinking about the LSAT, and make sure that you consider whether the approaches you are using are the best ones available. Have you become complacent in your thinking? If so, let us help you change your approaches so they work optimally for you.
The other element that has stayed with me was how much fun we had at that meal, and how that was built into the process. When you go to a typical high-end restaurant, the experience is often sedate and somewhat sterile. Hushed tones are used as your food is presented, and it feels like any excessive show of emotion will be frowned upon by your very stern Maitre D’. Not at Alinea. By design, the food is meant to be played with and the experience is built to be fun and interactive. You may be dropping meat into a cooking solution, or eating dessert straight off the table, but either way you are involved in the meal and part of it, not just experiencing it. LSAT takers sometimes fall into a similar trap: it’s easy to go through your preparation without really enjoying it. The fastest way to get good at something is to enjoy doing it, and you have to have fun with the concepts and questions as you prepare for this test. See the LSAT as a challenge or a game to conquer, and it becomes more enjoyable (and thus easier to master!). Even the smallest of tasks can be turned into a game, as long as you’re willing to try to see it that way. Need to get through a problem set? Turn it into a series of 5-question challenges, with random small awards for achieving a certain proficiency level (get all five correct and I’m drinking a Red Bull!). Try to change the approach and environment that surrounds your preparation—just like they do at Alinea—and you’ll find that it’s easier to achieve the result you desire.
Am I the only Alinea fanatic? No, there are others out there who are far crazier than me, including this guy. He may have spent several years on that project, but look at the fun he had; it was a labor of love for him, and while you may never love the LSAT, try to at least like it and you will be rewarded.
Questions or comments? Please post them below!
"Raspberry Transparency" courtesy of Stuart Spivack.