LAST SUNDAY, BENOIT VIOLIER, chef (reportedly also the world’s best) at the Swiss de l’Hotel de Ville committed suicide a few hours ahead of the release of the Michelin guide’s new star ratings. The restaurant in question was being downgraded. This, incidentally, is not the first case of suicide associated with the Michelin star ratings, as a handful of chefs have, not so long ago, taken their own lives in similar circumstances. The extraordinary importance attached to honours conferred in one’s profession and the extreme disappointment that ensues when such honours elude one needs a closer examination.
THERE ARE ‘GOLD STANDARDS’, ‘BENCHMARKS’ or ratings in most professions and all those who take their vocation seriously compete vigorously for these honours. Naturally not everyone makes the grade. But is this such an issue that should be life-denying ?
PERFORMING TO THE BEST OF ONE’S ABILITIES is the halmark of every true professional. One aspires to do a good job always. But here is the catch : others judge our performance. But why should such evaluation matter if we are truly convinced that we gave our very best each time we performed our tasks ? Also, did we raise the bar each time? If the answer is a resounding “yes” to both questions, awards be damned – well, they are a good thing to have, but not a matter of life and death. The trick is to be so pre-eminently good in what we do that the world cannot “keep a good man down!”
THE HISTORY OF AWARDS, OR MORE CORRECTLY, the system of conferring awards in any field of human endeavour is replete with controversies – be it the Nobel or an Oscar, let alone the Michelin stars. Bias, undue influence, fraud, prejudice, have, on several occasions denied merit when it was actually due in hundreds of cases. A true professional has only got to grin and bear it and not allow a missed award or honour to dissipate his professional competence.
A TRULY HONEST JUDGEMENT OF ONESELF matters more than an award. If in all honesty one truly feels that one has slackened somewhat, the tomorrows that we have to live in anyway, beckons us to reach greater heights and when we give our everything in what we do, we will have redeemed ourselves fully, awards or no awards.
LASTLY, IN A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT AND MUCH BROADER CONTEXT, when thinking about Benoit Violier’s death, I remembered the memorable book The Ajax Dilemma by Paul Woodruff which examines the larger issue of distributing rewards and public recognition without damaging the social fabric and which is set against the backdrop of the ancient conflict in Greek mythology between Ajax and Odysseous. Woodruff argues that a perfect system of distributing just rewards is very difficult to create and that the dilemmas will always remain on “whether it is fair or right to lavish rewards on the superstar at the expense of the hardworking rank and file.” The distribution of a limited number of awards fairly is a problem that will never go away.