Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Lazy Baker: A Love Story

Since this blog is brand new, I am attempting to set up a routine: every Tuesday publish something light and fun, and every Friday (or Saturday) publish something a bit meatier.  In that light, I offer you a modern-day parable.  Wrap yourself up in a warm blanket, grab a cup of hot cocoa, and let Uncle Morris read you a bedtime story.  (Oh, and in case you wish to purchase the above terrifying picture, the least I can do is link to the site I stole it from.)

A long time ago there was a baker who lived in a small village.  It was the delight of the baker to make foods for the villagers, and it was the delight of the villagers to buy and eat the creations of the baker, because the baker was very good.  In fact, the villagers took a lot of pride in their baker, and believed him to be the best baker in the world.  All other bakers baked crap, straight-up proper crap, next to their baker.

The baker took joy in baking.  He worked tirelessly to ensure that there would be enough pastries and doughnuts and muffins and croissants for breakfast in the morning, and a steady supply of breads and baguettes for lunch, pizzas and rolls and cakes for supper, biscuits and cookies for snacks.  He took so much pride in his work that he refused to buy or import ingredients, but rather planted and grew his own crops, refined his own sugar and flour, and ensured that everything he used was of the highest and freshest quality.  His real pride though was his oven, a large contraption that filled an entire room and could bake several items at once, each under different tightly-controlled and highly accurate temperatures.  The oven was of his own design and making, and flawlessly produced his confectionaries.  Although the villagers always asked, they were never allowed to see him at work with his oven.

One day a new baker arrived in town and set up shop.  This new baker was not very good, and none of the villagers bought from him.  Every morning this new baker would stumble out of bed an hour late for work, carelessly slop previously purchased ingredients onto his baking sheets, set the timer, and go back to bed.  The beautiful smells coming from the good baker's store enfuriated him, because his store never smelled like that.  And people left the good baker's store happy, but his store they never left at all.  Leaving implies a prior entering, and nobody entered his store.  The new baker began to hate the good baker.

One day the good baker, after ensuring that there were enough baked goods to last the villagers, left for a weekend retreat to a baker’s convention, eager to share his new recipes with a wider audience.  While he was gone, the new baker, who was upset at not being invited to the convention, began to work.

“I am not a good baker,” he admitted to a villager.  “I was wondering if you knew how your baker was able to produce such delicious foods?”

“Well, I’m not really sure,” admitted the villager, “He never allows us to look in on him while he is baking.  He says he needs absolute quiet and solitude to do the work that he does.”

“You mean he’s never let anyone ever watch him, not even once?” 

“Well, no,” said the villager. 

“I might not be a good baker, but I’ve never met a baker that required so much secrecy.  I would let anyone watch me bake, and so would every baker that I know.  Why would this baker be any different?”

“Well, he is the best baker in the world,” said the villager. 

“Are you so sure?” asked the unscrupulous baker.  “Have you traveled the world?  Have you eaten at every bakery?  Have you tried the golden croissants of Baton Rouge, or the flam de ballonies of the Virgin Islands?  Have you sampled the sweets of Milan or the breads of the Dardanelles?  You are a mere villager – the world is wide, my friend, and offers many treats.  There is more to be offered than your baker has ever dreamed.”

“Well…” said the villager, “I guess that could be true…”

“In fact,” said the new baker, “How do you know that your baker isn’t simply importing foods from other regions and passing it off as his own?”

“He would never do that!”

“But how do you know, you’ve never seen him bake!”

“But he has an oven!”

“An oven you’ve never seen.”

“But he grows his own crops!”

“A ruse!  Like one human being could possibly do everything the baker claims.  In fact, I bet he is in Milan right now picking up some more “goods” to pass off as his own!  Maybe your baker spends all his time sitting around, doing nothing, and then accepts your praise for work he didn’t even do!”

“No!  You’re wrong!  Our baker is a good man.  He would never do that.”

“Then prove me wrong.  Gather your friends and let us break into the baker’s shop and see what he has to offer!”

The villager was enraged at these accusations, but the questions lingered.  Why weren’t they allowed to see him bake, after all?  How did they know he was the best in the world?  Getting his friends together, they decided to find out once and for all.

With purpose, the new baker led the villagers to the good baker’s shop.  They forced open the door and barged into the kitchen.

“See!”  exulted the villager, “The oven!  I told you it was real!”

“I never said it wasn’t,” said the new baker.  “But come, let me show you something.  Do you know how baking works?”

“Well, not really, no…I think the baker told me it was a long and difficult process, though, trying to make everything just right.”

The new baker chuckled.  “Of course he would tell you that.  Ah, here is the baker’s recipe book.  Let me show you what the baker does.”  He proceeded to direct them on what to mix with what and held up a spoonful of the resultant yellow goo.  “Now taste this.”  “Ugh, its awful!” said the villager.  “Now watch,” said the new baker, and he proceeded to set a few dials on the oven.  He placed the pan inside and they waited.  And they waited.  The new baker made a big deal out of twiddling his thumbs and yawning.  As they sat there, he explained to them about heat and particles, about denaturing proteins and activating yeast.  He explained to them the whole science of emulsions.  And he had them watch the oven.  They saw the yellow slime they had put together expand and rise.  They watched it harden and turn golden brown.  When the oven timer chimed, he took the food out and, to their astonishment, there lay a perfect loaf of bread.  “Now taste this,” he said.

“Its just like our baker makes!” they exclaimed. 

“But your baker didn’t make it,” he said.  “The oven did.  The oven did the work.  It was the science of heat that baked this bread.”

“Yes, but, the baker made the ingredients!”

“Did he?  How much work is it, really, to plant a few seeds?  It was the sun and the rain and the soil that grew the plants.  Any regular person could plant a few seeds.  You don’t need the baker.  He is obsolete.  The earth and the oven do all the real work.  Nature is the real baker.”

“But someone needs to put the ingredients together.” 

“And that took what, all of two minutes?  You did it yourself, it was child’s play.  Why then would your baker spend so much time in here?  Why would he pretend to be exhausted at the end of the day?  Was it for the praise, money, prestige?  Why else would somebody lie?  But know this: I have never lied.  My oven has been in the open for all to see.  I know that anyone could do my job, I have never pretended to be the best.  I humbly mix ingredients and let the heat do the rest.”

And with other such words he misled and deceived the villagers.  When the good baker returned, eager to get back to work, his store was boarded up.  When he asked for an explanation, people laughed in his face and told him that they knew the truth.  They told him that they understood now how baking worked.  They understood that it was heat doing the work.  When he tried to set up shop, they jeered at him and called him useless.  Children would sit around doing nothing, and when asked what they were doing, they would respond, “Baking!”  The baker was despised and rejected.  In shame he left the village and took his recipes with him.

Although the villagers knew that in theory they could bake as well as the baker, no one ever could.  They let the new baker do their baking for them, and although it left a bitter taste in their mouths, at least they knew that this baker would never claim to work hard when it was nature doing the work for him.

1 comment:

Keith Shields said...