Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thank you Danny Kaye!

The speaker had serious difficulties with his AV. He continued speaking as his assistant fiddled with the slide show while we endured watching the screen flashing wifi options and ios settings. Instead of being illuminating, it was at first distracting and then annoying. For the final five minutes of the show, the flummoxed assistant held a laptop up over his head facing it to the audience, which was worse than nothing, as it made the nervous audience laugh. from the ridiculous to the sublime. Nevertheless, we applauded at the end. In all fairness, the material in his presentation was good—only the AV was a disaster.

Watching this show, a chill ran down my back as a 35-year-old memory stirred, yawned and ambled back into my consciousness. "Hey there—remember me?" the memory quipped. I did. It was one of my own presentation disasters. A celebrity chef, booked to do a cooking demonstration at Lawry’s California Center, was taken ill. The trained professionals who could have filled in for the Beverly Hills culinary club were also absent—out of town or sick. With no better options, the event coordinator, scraping the bottom of the barrel came to the lab and asked me if I could pull something together. I told her I couldn’t do a cooking demo...but I did have a presentation on how new products are developed. I’d given this talk to groups interested in learning about manufacturing seasoning and spice blends and it had been well received.

Lawry's California Center
This was long before the internet and there was no Google to answer any questions about ingredient declarations on packages. They were a mystery to most consumers.

We had two hours. The lab people pitched in and made demonstration mixtures for the visitors to taste. A simple beef broth with and without MSG was the one that got me into trouble. “Chinese Food Syndrome” (1) was an issue in those days and many manufacturers, including us, underestimated how negatively the ingredient was regarded. The stuff worked magic for food formulators and our beef broth demonstration was dramatic. I thought these culinary people would enjoy seeing it in action.

The reaction I'd hoped for. Com Stock Photo

Twenty-five people filed in and took their seats. I opened by apologizing and explained about scheduled chef and his sudden illness. A nerdy handout with bullet points listing the ingredients and their functions was passed out. As I blabbed on, I gradually realized the familiar face in the third row was Danny Kaye! Wow, I thought to myself—Danny Kaye is listening to me speak. But the usually smiling Danny Kaye was scowling and sitting with his arms crossed. He looked irritated with me. Then I looked around and realized they were ALL irritated with me. The sick feeling that I'd bombed washed over me like a hot flash.

The reaction I got (well almost). www.wespeaktheworld.com
I tried a few things to get their interest to no avail. Expecting an elaborate cooking demo, they were disappointed when they got MSG and me in a lab coat, looking like I was going to draw blood or ask them to cough. They never warmed to me or the subject matter.  

At the end of the show they all swooped out of the room. Danny didn’t speak to me directly but I heard from the event coordinator that he and most of the group were offended by being asked to taste MSG. And they weren’t impressed with my presentation...too technical, not entertaining enough. At the moment, I was crushed, not only for myself but for the company as I’d managed to leave a bad impression. We would have been better off canceling the demonstration and giving them a tour and free lunch.

Danny Kaye was one of my mother's favorite actors. That evening I called her and said, "Guess what? I really irritated Danny Kaye today!" She wasn't surprised, familiar as she was with how irritating I could be. My only consolation was that at least I hadn't bored them.

Sometimes a lab coat isn't the best choice!
The moral of the story was always to know your audience and their expectations. Spurred on by that failure I worked hard to figure out a more entertaining way to teach technical material. Looking back on what I learned that day, I can thank Danny Kaye for inspiring me to improve. As it turned out, I spent the final ten or twelve years of my career making a living teaching Flavor School, a modified and expanded version of that same material.

But you can rarely satisfy everyone in a given audience. please all of the people all of the time. Even though I’d gather as much advance information about upcoming audiences as I could, I'd still miss things. Once, it was religion.

I was presenting the school (morphed yet again into a roadshow) around the country and after a show for a culinary convention in Dallas, I was admonished for mentioning evolution. I’d stated that Mother Nature rewards success and described how the bloodhound’s ears became long and floppy over years of evolution because this feature enhanced its ability to track scents. Not the wisest comment to make to a Bible-belt audience. From then on I'd say: "Some people believe this is evolution at work, but others disagree."

The magnificent bloodhound.The ears stir up aroma particles from the ground and direct them to the incredibly large area of aroma receptors of the dogs. Their baggy eyelids fall over their eyes when their heads are down tracking and effectively curtail visual perception, protecting the dogs from distractions. photo from vet.com
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." Oscar Wilde

(1)Chinese restaurant syndrome is an outdated term that was first coined in the 1960s. It refers to a group of symptoms that some people experience after eating food from a Chinese restaurant. These symptoms often include a headache, skin flushing, and sweating. A food additive called monosodium glutamate (MSG) is often blamed for the symptoms some people experience after eating Chinese food. However, there’s minimal scientific evidence showing a link between MSG and these symptoms in humans.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers MSG to be a safe ingredient, and most people can eat foods that contain MSG without experiencing any problems. However, a small percentage of people have short-term adverse reactions to the food additive. Due to the controversy, many restaurants now advertise that they don’t add MSG to their foods. Website: www.healthine.com, Ruth Levi. Chinese Restaurant Syndrome: What the Research Says about MSG. 3/8/2016

No comments:

Post a Comment