We were in Brussels with my parents when my mom spotted a Michelin Guide sticker.
‘What does that mean?’ She asked, ‘Is it different from a star?’
Well! I go through foodie phases, and knew enough to explain the basics: the stars, the guide, the ‘bib gourmand’s. But her curiosity sparked my own, beyond my existing knowledge. One innocuous question sent me down a most delightful Rabbit Hole, reading up on Michelin’s standards and history.
My enthusiasm stayed with me through the journey home, and as soon as we unpacked, I resumed my research. I found the BBC documentary, Michelin Madness. I discovered a list of this year’s inductions to the coveted star. I read about a 27-year old engineer with a project to try every Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco. His desire for completeness was contagious. Edinburgh has only four Michelin-starred restaurants. I could totally catch them all!
I longed for the satisfaction of a progress bar, my very own Michelin Mission.
In my imagination, I like to let my whims run wild. Just for fun, I enjoy that bubbly, blinding New Project Feeling. Amidst all of this was a hesitation, prodding in the back of my mind. It said, Remember the Munros?
Last autumn on the ferry back from the Isle of Mull, Steve and I considered taking up ‘Munro Bagging’. A popular hillwalking challenge, the Munro list includes all 282 of Scotland’s peaks above 3,000 feet. We talked about it, but decided against it.
My self discipline is solid when it comes to personal projects.
When I commit to a daunting list, I will follow through. I’ve read the complete works of Shakespeare, and even mastered French on Duolingo. I’ve learned that a project like this is fun at first, but becomes tiring in its arbitrariness.
A Munro is just a tall mountain. It’s not characterised by beauty, or enjoyment, or dog friendliness. A Michelin star would be more relevant to me if its judges were vegetarian and lactose intolerant.
A while ago, I’d phoned a Michelin-starred restaurant about my dietary needs. They could cater for me, but warned me that I’d be missing out. Although disappointed, I appreciate their honesty, and respect their focus. If they’re angling for a second star, they must remain dedicated to perfecting one tasting menu. If I choose my meals with that same dedication, based on my own criteria, I will find a better fit for myself.
Most of all, I want to enjoy each experience as its own whole, not just part of a bigger project.
Each restaurant, each mountain, is its own chapter in my story – not just an item on a list. Society teaches us to bullet-point life because this is more measurable: by teachers, by employers, by the Guinness company as it assembles its Book of World Records.
When a list appeals to me, there’s something to learn from its contents. I ask myself:
What is the real desire here, the one that may not be a neat and pretty checklist of things? What is the value to uncover, a habit to form, a daily life shift?
My attraction to Michelin and Munros uncovered new knowledge about my desires. Michelin stars revealed a personal yearning for artful dining experiences. With the Munros, I learned that I dislike ‘shopping for mountains’, and want to hop straight to the adventure.
The question should not be ‘Can I do that?’ or ‘Is that possible?’ but first, ‘Do I want that?’
Michelin tasting menus are expensive, but before even looking at the numbers, I consider the expense of my time and energy.
I listen to my wishes, and assess not how realistic they are, but whether I want them to come true. I close my eyes, envision its outcome as a reality, and pull out the pieces I want to keep.
Sometimes I commit to the full tasting menu version of a project, but more often than not, I like to cherry pick from the à la carte.
Until the next chapter,
P.S. If you would like to learn more about discovering your dreams, join me this Thursday for my masterclass, ‘What Would a Heroine Do?’. RSVP here (it’s free).