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Simple is Complex

Simple is Complex

Hello and good day!

I’ve been hearing about a Vietnamese restaurant in town for a while now. I’d been meaning to get over there but didn’t have time until yesterday. Something fell through and I found myself with a small gap in my schedule. There are several Vietnamese places in town. My family has a favorite and I haven’t been able to convince them to take a crack at a new place.

 The one they like is in a busy, well trafficked shopping center, surrounded by popular and nicely decorated shops.

 The place I went yesterday is in the seediest shopping center we have in town. It is between a small nail salon and a dive sports bar. The curtains are always drawn down and the sign is dull and in disrepair. 

t's not a very inviting place. You almost don’t want to open the door because you feel like there might be a surprise waiting for you, like a speakeasy where a bunch of gangsters are sitting around playing poker. And if you walk in, maybe they’ll all look up and then somebody will sneak behind you and bar the door, and you’ll be taken hostage.

 Alas, my imagination had run wild on me. It wasn't like that at all in there. It was a simple, pleasant, clean, quiet little place with wooden floors and wooden tables. The restaurant was about half full and people were eating and talking.

 If you’re familiar with Vietnamese food, you probably know that the most popular dish is Pho. Pho is a simple noodle soup, generally made with white rice noodles, broth, meat or vegetables, and served with bean sprouts, basil, lime, and hot sauce on the side, which you can use to garnish your soup.

 I was first introduced to Pho by my brother Brian who has traveled to Vietnam several times and considers Saigon to be his favorite city in the world. What I like most about Pho is its simplicity.

 I am always taken aback when simple things are powerful. How can just noodles, broth, and a couple of additional ingredients be so delicious and comforting?

 My brother has pointed out to me many times that within the simplicity of the dish, there is a lot of complexity. The broth must be stewed over low heat for several hours. And the recipe itself may take many decades of practice to learn and perfect. A good broth recipe is kept secret with great care.

 It is a competitive advantage.

 I walked into the place thinking that I would read and eat soup. I am reading Ben Hur, which is a great, great read.

 But when the soup came, and I slurped the first spoonful, I realized that multi-tasking would be unethical. This dish deserved my complete attention.

 It was so, so much better than the other place we go. As I was eating and thinking, I heard two women speaking Vietnamese to each other. I looked up and saw the cashier, who was a middle-aged woman, speaking with an older woman, petite, grey-haired, hunched in the shoulders, strong, and wiping her hands on an apron.

 The older woman was obviously the boss, and I figured she must be the one with the excellent broth recipe living in her head. This was as it should be.

 The times in my life when I’ve eaten a simple, powerful dish, I almost always find that an older person with decades of experience has prepared it. They’ve learned to strip away everything superfluous and leave in only what really matters.

 Here is another example of that.

 I offer our humble Fortunato No. 4 68% dark chocolate for your consideration. The fellow in charge of chocolate production at Max Felchlin AG, the Swiss company who makes chocolate for us, has 50 years of experience making chocolate.

 His name is Sepp Schönbächler, and he is one of the greatest guys in the world. He came up with the final roasting profile and recipe for our dark chocolate. The company Max Felchlin AG has been around for 114 years.

 It takes that kind of experience to produce dynamite chocolate from very simple ingredients. The dark chocolate is just organically grown pure Nacional cacao from northern Peru, deodorized cocoa butter for texture, and organic cane sugar. He added cocoa butter is for texture, it doesn’t impact the flavor.

 The organic cane sugar does impact the flavor, but it isn’t a big differentiating factor. Most chocolate has cane sugar in it.

 The single ingredient that drives the entire flavor profile is cacao. It is just one ingredient. So simple.

 We do a lot of work at the source to make the cacao taste as good as it can, through sourcing a fine genetic variety and doing proper post-harvest processing, namely fermentation. But then it must be turned into chocolate by an extremely deft hand.

 That’s Sepp.

 Likewise with the older Vietnamese women who knows how to make a delicious, simple soup. The only problem I had with the dining experience is that too many people were multi-tasking and not allowing themselves to become fully absorbed in the experience.

 Special things like that aren’t common.

 There were a couple of businessmen eating soup and looking at a power point presentation on a laptop, noodles hanging out of their mouths while they talked, comparing notes. Of course, plenty of people had their phones laying on the table, and they were scrolling with one hand while eating with the other.

 That’s not right.

 If a woman gives you decades of experience and several hours of early morning work on a plate, and it only costs you a few bucks, do yourself the favor of fully savoring it.

 Likewise with our chocolate.

 And really with any other dish that you love. Let it be the only thing you do for 15 minutes. It deserves that.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!