An Allegory: The Edgy Chef
Few communication mediums are more powerful than stories. So this week I offer an allegory to my continuing discussion.
Imagine that a large restaurant association, founded back in the eighties, is well known for its kosher cuisine. The association board has always prided itself in its sensitivity to the religious convictions of its Jewish customers. It has agreed never, ever to allow its restaurants to serve ham, bacon, or sausage.
But as times change and restaurants struggle to stay open due to tough economic times, standards change too, especially since some Jewish customers have become more enlightened in their eating choices. In fact, chefs at some of the association’s biggest restaurants have begun offering daring entrees with just the smallest bit of bacon or ham sprinkled in.
“Hey, it’s not like we’re serving ham sandwiches like the Gentiles do,” one chef says with a chuckle during an interview for the association’s magazine. “Besides, times are changing. Many of our customers are tired of the same ol’ formula. What’s the big deal with just the tiniest bit of bacon? This is the real world. And after all, we just might attract some Gentile customers. Wouldn’t that be something?”
One day Isaac can hear his stomach growling. No problem. He strolls into his favorite restaurant and asks the waitress to bring him the typical kosher meal he has always enjoyed and expected from a restaurant in the association.
Chef Tom (who must be a new employee because Isaac doesn’t recognize him) brings a steaming plate to Isaac’s table. Isaac can’t ignore the tantalizing aroma wafting from it. “Oh, that smells wonderful!” he cries. “What is it? It doesn’t look like what I usually order.”
“No, but it’s a special new entree I’m sure you’ll enjoy.” Chef Tom grins and bends closer, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Actually it’s a pretty edgy recipe if I do say so myself. Been serving it for only a few months now. Some of the old, crusty types turn up their noses, but most people love it. It’s so popular, even some of the Gentiles like it.”
Gentiles liking Jewish food? Isaac stares at the entree, then fixes Chef Tom with a skeptical eye. Could Chef Tom be one of those new, daring chefs who serve “Jewish” food that tastes like what the Gentiles eat? “You better tell me what the ingredients are. I know this is an association restaurant, but I’ve heard you can’t assume anything anymore.”
Chef Tom gives Isaac a playful elbowing. “Oh, c’mon. You look like a cool guy. Just give it a try. I bet you’ll like it.”
One taste is enough. Isaac spits out his mouthful and throws down his fork with a clatter. “But . . . but it’s got . . . it’s got . . . ham in it!”
Chef Tom winks. “I know. Pretty liberated of me, huh?”
Isaac’s voice trembles. “But I’m . . . I’m Jewish!”
Chef Tom flashes an apologetic smile. “Yeah, so am I. But you know how it is . . . might just change the minds of some of those Gentiles. Besides, reaching the Gentiles—I mean, that’s why we’re here, right? Gotta stop preaching to the choir. And if they like a little ham”—he shrugs—”well . . . ”
Isaac stares at him, bewildered. “But . . . but . . . I’m Jewish. I represent most of your customers.”
“But times are tough, man. We gotta broaden our audience and increase sales.” He grins. “And actually sales are better than ever, so we must be doing something right.”
“But I don’t think you understand. I have religious convictions against eating ham. And this is an association restaurant.”
Chef Tom folds his arms, his smile vanishing in the shadow of his scowl. “Oh, you and your puritanical, uptight friends! You know, I’m sick of this. I have the religious liberty to serve a little bit of sausage if I want to. What’s the big deal?”
Isaac rises to his feet. “What’s the big deal? Ham is offensive to me. If you want to keep customers like me, you sure do have a weird way of showing it.”
Chef Tom pulls out a spatula and slams it down on the table, face reddening. “You know, it’s time for pharisaical people like you to cease your endless whining and stop trying to control the industry. I’m sick and tired of catering to the weaker brother. It’s time for you to grow up and realize I have freedoms too . . . like . . . artistic expression.” He puffs out his chest.
“I’m not sure what your freedoms have to do with any of this. The Old Testament expressly forbids the eating of—”
“Oh, I get it.” Chef Tom thrusts the spatula toward Isaac’s face, making Isaac step back. “You’re one of those people who has drawn the line on what’s right for every Jew. How dare you insinuate that those who eat a tiny bit of bacon aren’t mature enough to know better, aren’t holy enough to be offended! You’re so . . . so . . . legalistic!”
Isaac tosses his napkin down. “This is not the restaurant it used to be.” His lip trembles—he can’t help it. “I’ve been coming here for—what?—twenty-five years? Never has a pork product ever passed my lips here—and now you serve me this?”
He turns on his heel and hustles toward the door. But Chef Tom beats him and blocks his path. “What about my dish? I made it special just for you.”
Isaac stares him down. “What about my beliefs? This restaurant used to respect them. And it’s even one of the top restaurants in the association.”
Chef Tom tosses the spatula to the ground and stomps on it. “I’m very well aware of the association’s bullying influence. I can see the judgmental look in your eyes. How dare I dabble in cuisine deemed taboo in some Jewish circles!” He waves his hands wildly. “You know what? I’ve had it! I refuse to be shackled to such a superstitious view of the culinary arts.”
“But the Old Testament says—”
“I refuse to let the judgmental likes of you hinder my creativity.”
“But God said—”
“You’re just one of those pious, legalistic Jews who thinks he can determine for everyone else what sin is. This is out of hand. It sickens me.”
“But you know what the Old Testament says about eating pork—and you say you’re a Jew? You should know better.”
“Oh, so now you’re going to judge me, huh? Thank God He looks at the heart and is the just Judge of all!”
Isaac throws up his hands and storms out of the restaurant. At home he tells his wife, Rebecca, what happened. “We can’t go back to that restaurant ever again,” he says. “The management has turned its back on Old Testament law. I thought I could trust that place. I’m not sure I can even trust the association anymore.”
“But Chef Rachel—she still cooks excellent food there,” his wife says. “Her meals are always kosher. We can trust her.”
“So—what? We tell the management we will only eat her food?”
She nods. “Or else we walk out. Let’s go.”
He heads back to his car, the click of her heels just behind him. “It’s worth a try.” He sighs. “My oh my. What is the Jewish restaurant association coming to when you can’t even trust the chefs to keep pork out of the food?”
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