Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What's in My Mystery Basket?

I am a big fan of Chopped. There. I’ve said it out loud. Surely I'm not the only one who sets the DVR so I will never miss an episode.

For the uninformed, Chopped is a cook-off challenge between four experienced chefs and promises a $10,000 prize to the winner. Perhaps because cooking is not my greatest skill and I cannot compete on any level, I enjoy watching those who are skilled and have the courage to compete. I would compare this curious interest to the millions who watch Monday night football.

The cooking challenge fascinates me most because of the basic premise. Each contestant must prepare three courses for the judges—an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. In each round, one of the four chefs is eliminated until only the winner remains and goes home with the $10,000 prize. Doesn’t sound too bad. May the best chef win.

However, there is a twist. Chefs must make their dishes in a limited number of minutes using the ingredients in the Mystery Basket. As ‘mystery’ implies, contestants do not know what these ingredients will be until the baskets are opened and the clock begins.

Imagine preparing an appetizer using a whole rattlesnake (dead, but not butchered), junks of licorice, scrapple and watermelon. The idea of pulling together incompatible components, under dire time constraints, knowing that others will judge the results creates a pressure that paralyses some while it challenges others. Not to mention that millions of viewers are watching. (I made the number up. I have not checked their Nielson Ratings.)

Like the chefs on Chopped, I don’t get to choose the ingredients that make up my life. My best plans mean nothing when I am handed circumstances I didn’t expect and have never encountered. Life gives me a Mystery Basket full of surprises I may not even recognize, much less expect. While I must make the most of them, my choices are limited. Either I adapt and put my determination and experience into the mix, or I walk away from the challenge.

Would I rather choose what I wish to work with in this challenge called Life? Sure. But I don’t know what the year will bring. Will it bring health and happiness or pain and disappointment? Success, when and if it comes, may only cause more difficulty. Is it more challenging or is it the end of being challenged?

I’m not sure I will ever have a day or a week that all the perfect ingredients fall beautifully into my mystery basket. But somehow, as champions, you and I keep working to add the right seasonings and apply the technical skills we have learned along the way to come up with the prize-winning meal.

Keep chopping! The judges are watching!

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