Once upon a time, there was a man who was a very good cook. He was just an ordinary man, but he had real culinary talents. He could create the perfect meal for anyone who came to see him in his modest café.
His maître d’ and waiting staff were warm and well trained, and the menu was designed specifically for the clientele of his eatery. He gave each person his undivided attention and then prepared the recipe for a special meal. They would take the individualized recipe feeling perfectly satisfied and healthier than when they entered. After the encounter, the cook would hand write some notes documenting the nature of the session and the specifics of the recipe. Life for the cook was simple but very rewarding. He was resourceful, worked hard and was a very good cook.
One day, the cook was visited by a man wearing a tailored suit and coordinated jewelry. “I have just purchased this building and now own your café,” he said, “but there is nothing for you to worry about because I know you are a very good cook, and none of your patrons will even notice the difference. You will help even more hungry people and also make lots of money.”
“I have never been a cook for the money,” said the chef “and I have never marketed my skills. Somehow hungry people knew where to find me.”
“That does not matter,” said the well-dressed man, “since I now own your restaurant. Besides, you can always leave. Your experience is not that important, and I can find much younger, officially certified cooks who would be eager to work here.”
The chef was resourceful, and he loved his little café. He worked hard and did his best to prepare fine meals for his each of his clients. Everyone was satisfied.
Not long after that the well-dressed man returned with a dapper companion. “Let me introduce my new vice president in restaurant management,” said the stylish man. “We have been reviewing the metrics of your restaurant. And we believe you can cook more meals and serve more people.”
“Why would I want to cook more meals when my current clientele are so happy with the way things are?” said the very good cook.
“That’s a great question,” said the vice president. “You can generate more revenue and significantly increase our productivity.”
“I am more interested in my customer’s welfare than increasing your revenue, “ said the cook. But the cook was resourceful and prepared even more fine meals for his hungry clients.
After a while, the stylish man returned with a sartorially resplendent woman.
“We have great news,” said the stylish man. “We are going to computerize your café with software called Epicurean. It will reduce the potential for errors in your cooking and further increase your productivity.”
“I prefer to hand write my recipes because I am not a very good typist,” said the very good cook. “Besides, how do I know that Epicurean will really reduce errors?”
The woman smiled, “That’s a great question. Epicurean is the best and most expensive culinary software program available. It has recipe templates, best restaurant practices, and smart menus to save you typing. You can cut-and-paste successful notes from other patrons. We will monitor every decision you make, time every activity, and recommend improvements in your cooking and billing techniques.”
The chef had his doubts, but he learned Epicurean and did his best to carefully document his recipes. The smart templates and best practices were suited to standardized mass food production and not for an experienced chef preparing personalized meals. The cook was working much harder, and he was typing a lot more and cooking a lot less. He was a gourmet chef being judged with fast-food metrics.
One day the very good cook was working hard in his café when the stylish man appeared with yet another well-dressed man.
“We appreciate your hard work,” said the stylish man. “Now you will need to document your thinking more precisely using the ICD-10, the tenth version of the International Cooking Directory.”
“What do you mean by documenting my thinking more precisely?” asked the cook.
“Great question,” said the stylish man. “The ICD-10 requires you to estimate the grains of salt you add to your meal or the exact number of drops of olive oil you put on a salad. You must follow this directive, or leave the restaurant. And by the way, you will no longer called a ‘chef’ but a ‘food service provider.’”
Then one day, restaurant productivity dropped suddenly, and the best-dressed man came into the kitchen to see what had happened. The chef was not there. Epicurean was online with the latest patch for ICD-10 and filled with best practices and smart recipes. But no one was available to plan the menu, cook the meals or write the individualized recipes.
“Where is the food service provider?” asked the best-dressed man.
“Great question,” said the staff. But no one had seen the chef or had any idea where he was.
“He did leave a package for you,” said the maître d’.
The best-dressed man opened the package, which contained a note and a small biscuit. The note read: “You always said I could leave the restaurant if I wished and I have now decided to go. I realized that you never sampled my cooking, so I have prepared a special offering just for you.”
The best-dressed man ate the cookie. It was delicious. And somehow he seemed to feel just a little healthier.
The chef was never seen again although there were rumors of a small diner in a distant land that served remarkable meals.
The restaurant owner hired a young certified food service provider and productivity and profits transiently increased. However, everyone soon realized that for each and every neatly formatted recipe one essential ingredient was always missing.
Mark E. Williams is a geriatrician and author of The Art and Science of Aging Well.
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