How a famous French chef helped me fight impostor syndrome.

French chef Jacques Pépin is a living legend.

He's an OG culinary genius, known the world over for his prowess in the kitchen, expert hand, and encyclopedic knowledge of all things French cuisine and technique.


Pépin flips crepes with (from right) Michelle Obama, Kelly Ripa, and Al Roker like it's nothing. Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images.

On a recent episode of "PBS NewsHour," Pépin shared his thoughts on recipes and how (in few words) he thinks they're kind of BS.

(OK, it sounded much more articulate and French than that.)

Pépin told a story about crafting a recipe for pears with caramel sauce. He made the dessert three different ways, and it turned out OK each time.

GIF via "PBS NewsHour."

For Pépin, this was proof that recipes are not the be-all end-all; they're just a place to begin — a Point A for a Point B yet to be determined. He said:

"So, what is the point of a recipe? A recipe is a teaching tool, a guide, a point of departure. ... But as you make [the dish] again and again, you will change it, you will massage it to fit your own taste, your own sense of aesthetic."

You hear that? You get to make the recipe, the technique, and the method work for you.

Yep, just like that.

But this idea doesn't just apply to cooking. Turns out that it's much, much bigger.

Pépin probably didn't intend to illuminate a beautiful truth about life in a four-minute segment about pears with caramel sauce. But he did.

Walk with me.

Each of us, through our parents, tradition, school, or cultural and societal expectations are handed a recipe for life. Here in the States, the recipe might look something like this:

Go to school. Don't make trouble. Find a job. Meet a life partner. Marry them. Raise a kid or two. Complain about Mondays. Retire. Have a quiet life. Die peacefully.

But, like Pépin suggests, every recipe leaves room to improvise and get creative.

You can follow the recipe to the letter or use it as a jumping-off point, but either way, the methods, techniques, and ingredients are up to you.

It may be scary. It may be challenging. But the adventure is all yours.

GIF via "The Simpsons."

Thinking about my own experiences in this frame made me better equipped to fight my own case of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is that nagging feeling that you're not as talented or as smart as you seem to others. Despite some levels of achievement or success, you always live in fear of being exposed as a fraud.

If you've felt a similar feeling, you're not alone. Even Maya Angelou (yeah, that Maya Angelou) dealt with it. She said, "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they’re going to find out now.'"

You earned every bit of praise, Dr. Angelou!

Thanks to social media, I get to see my peers hit every prescribed adult milestone in living color. Every beautiful wedding, island vacation, new home, new car, and chubby baby along the way. I've always been happy for them (they're my friends after all), but a little part of me always felt like I was two steps behind.

But with this new frame, I'm reminded that when it comes to "adulting," we're all just experimenting in the kitchen. We're using the methods that work best for our circumstances to create something beautiful — a life well lived. It doesn't matter how we get there or when, only that we do.

I am not a phony. I'm just doing the best I can. We all are.

So next time you're in the kitchen (or at your high school reunion), remember that perfectly executing a recipe is not necessarily the definition of success.

Whether it's poached pears or a Ph.D., you decide what comes next. Recipes and roadmaps can only take you so far.

It's up to you to shake things up, get creative, and have some adventures along the way.

Another French chef who knows a thing about adventures. GIF via "Ratatouille."

Hungry for more? Watch Chef Pépin's video essay from "PBS NewsHour."

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
True

This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

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Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

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