“I’ve found that this dish takes a lot of black pepper.”
-Chef David Chang
Taste is subjective. It is a personal and/or cultural preference. Essence, on the other hand, precedes and transcends taste. It is the thing that just looks, sounds, tastes, or feels ‘right’ even if we cannot exactly describe why. Essence is the truth of a thing. It is the strawberry-ness of a strawberry, the buttery-ness of butter, or the beefy-ness of a steak. An expert is simply someone, whether through good fortune, practice, or education, who can more easily experience, identify, and recreate this essence than others.
When a chef like David Chang says that he has found that a particular dish “takes a lot of black pepper,” he is not saying that he prefers the taste of that dish with a lot of black pepper. He is saying that the essence of that dish demands a certain amount of pepper in order to be made manifest and be experienced in its ideal form. He is an expert not because he is an arbiter of taste, but because he has developed a palate that is more sensitive and more in-tune with the essence of a particular thing than the average person. He is saying that “this dish is more like itself when it is made with a lot of black pepper.”
The art of the chef is to honor the essence of an ingredient or a dish so that others may experience it as well.
“As in life, so too it is in budo. As in budo, so too it is in life.”