Sunday, September 04, 2011

Yefim Bronfman on Iron Chef

I tire of the "cookie cutter" (please excuse the pun, but no other expression will do) nature of the Food Network. What started as a great idea, has become a series of programs that have very little variety in their presentation, aside from the name of the host, the decor of the cooking space, and the "point of view" of the food the host is presenting. The basic script is mostly the same, particularly when you consider the way people describe the food they are eating.

Iron Chef is a little bit different, because the chefs don't say much, and the people on the panel of commenter/judges are not expected to follow the "recipe" for food description. Still, the Iron Chef always wins, no matter how wonderful the "challenger" is. I really don't watch the program enough to be any kind of expert, but I have NEVER seen anyone except one of the program's Iron Chefs win.

The panel of judges is usually made up of people I don't know who do things I don't really care about in places I will never visit, but yesterday I was surprised to see Yefim Bronfman, a pianist I truly admire, on the panel. I slept my way through the cooking portions of the program, waiting to hear what Bronfman had to say about the food.

A thought crossed through my mind. In the world of popular food culture and television, a person like Bronfman is a real anomaly. He is by no means a "personality." He gives off an air of humility (something that doesn't play well on the food network) and practicality. He mentioned that chefs and musicians were similar because they both worked under extreme pressure, worked at odd hours, and sometimes were prima donnas. I appreciated that observation, but I think the rest of the people on stage were a little baffled. Bronfman clearly enjoyed his food, and he had nothing but appreciation for the opportunity to taste it. He mentioned that if he were to go into a restaurant and have one of the meals, he would like to return soon to have the same meal. He described the cooking of one chef as "genius." One judge said that she was "confused" when trying to describe a dish she was eating. Bronfman said that was because she was a professional, and it's OK for a professional to be confused. He added that when he played, he was often confused.

I imagine he was talking about matters of interpretation, which can be confusing and complicated for the interpreter, but do not appear confusing to the listener, particularly when the person performing has humility, practicality, and a deep love for the music he or she is playing.

Perhaps the larger world doesn't see humility, true sensual appreciation, and practical honesty as the traits that an "artiste" like a solo pianist would put forth when asked to be on a panel of judges judging something for which he was, at best, a happy consumer. These traits are essential in interpreting a piece of music.

I wonder how the rest of the panel would fare trying to judge the finalists in a high-level piano competition? I wonder what the rest of the panel would make of the subtleties Bronfman brings out in the Schumann Arabesque?

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