Two Kinds of People

One of my favourite jokes is simplicity itself:

There are two kinds of people in the world; those that believe there are two kinds of people, and those who don’t.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what this means to me, aside from being appealingly recursive. It’s the sort of thing which aught to be from Kahlog Albran’s The Profit, with its “twelve mystical, hard-to-understand drawings” and such absolute gems as

The world seen through the window of an insane asylum is the same as seen from the window of a dentist’s office.

and

Water boils. Ice does not.

I like things which point out that the world as we live in it is a construction primarily of the mind, which is what draws me to my old drinking pal, Baudrillard.

Now, keep those things in the back of your mind when I share a thought placed in my mind recently by a very interesting person that

there are two approaches to food. A chef will seek out the ingredients & the tools for their vision and then create it. A cook will look at the available ingredients and from that select an appropriate dish to create.

I was struck at the time, and have been considering since, that this kind of metric is probably more generally applicable than food in terms of the approach people take to artistic or other endeavour. And of course, naturally, these are not intended to be absolutes, but alternate vectors on the process of art.

Probably most pertinent at the moment is the difference I’m feeling about the writing approaches behind Colder Than Death for Fright Night and Achaean for KapCon. Colder Than Death is a chef’d game: a particular horror conception for which I am pulling together specific plot and character elements. Achaean, possibly just due to its shear scale, is often a matter of dumping a huge array of potential material on the table and then hunt-and-pecking for a round-ish hole to go with a round-ish peg and slotting them together. Close comparison between these endeavours is, of course, futile: they virtually couldn’t be more different.

I was also reminded of the differing approaches that my scholarship physics class had to problem solving. The real geniuses would see a problem and immediately search their minds for analogies and other ways of expressing the problems. Talentless hacks like myself simply looked through the book for a formula with the right bits and plugged everything in. Chefs v. cooks – but until something really gnarly came up, we all got the right answers in the end.

Another way of expressing this notion of chef v. cook must surely be in terms of a Cartesian reductive approach compared to a Capra-style “Systems” approach. In Descartes’ notion, you can progressively eliminate components until you’re left with the simplest mechanism of cause-and-effect virtually in terms of a binary. In systems thinking you embrace complexity, because by representing the totality of the system you can more easily isolate the truly interacting variables by playing around with what you hold constant and what you allow to change. The Cartesian selects parts for a specific model, the System-thinker pulls out a model from the range of options inherent in the system.

And I suppose that if that analogy seems to be somewhat tenuous, then you could certainly make an argument for my “cook-like” thinking in terms of scrounging around in my mental pantry and seeing what I’ve got that gets me closer to a specific dinner, rather than a “chef-like” activity of searching outside of my experience for another, closer, analogy.

Which rather leaves me wanting to say that there are two kinds of people in the world: chefs and cooks. However, I think that there’s an obvious third: people who order take-out instead. Which is why I brought up Albran and Baudrillard. The force which drives both authors, one comically, one all-too-pretentiously, is one of deep investigation and critical approach to life. Both want you to stop just accepting what you’re told: they want you to make food, because, as Albran explains

A condemned man does not order Egg Salad for his last meal. He also doesn’t order Alka Seltzer.

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15 Responses to Two Kinds of People

  1. “Water boils. Ice does not.”

    False

  2. drbunnyhops says:

    And a fourth? Those who vary their approach according to the circumstances? Or perhaps we all do everything to varying degrees?

    *frantically resists cook pigeonhole*

  3. A chef is someone whose culinary creativity you respect, a cook is one you do not.

    • I agree with this as a basic dichotomy (with the caveat that like most dichotomies, it’s reductive description of two poles, but that’s fine):
      “The real geniuses would see a problem and immediately search their minds for analogies and other ways of expressing the problems. Talentless hacks like myself simply looked through the book for a formula with the right bits and plugged everything in.”

      But this doesn’t map onto the chef vs cook dichotomy you initially present. Constraint breeds creativity; wherein lies the genius of most competitive cooking shows, and Game Chef.

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