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In praise of working bass ackwards

Decades ago when I married my first husband and we got nice serving pieces from our gift registry, we decided to keep kosher. Keeping kosher means, in part, not mixing meat and dairy in the same meals. It also means dedicating each utensil, dish, and piece of cookware to one or the other forever.


For some people it also means a third classification of items used for vegetables, fruit, and other foods that are neither meat nor dairy. Plus for people like us who occasionally brought nonkosher into the house, we had a hefty supply of paper plates and plastic forks. Then we owned a good china pattern that could not endure the dishwasher and was safely packed away. Oh, and at least two separate sets of everything for the bread-free holiday of Passover.


So we had lots of stuff cluttering up the kitchen cabinets, but when it came to planning a meal for company, we came up short in creating a refined dining experience in any category.


Looking at what we had, I realized that our best serving pieces were for dairy. Apparently 1979 was a big year for gourmet cheese experiences. We had received lovely, large platters illustrated with various types of cheese, as well as beautiful cutting boards, little knives with ornaments on the handles, and even a fondue pot with long forks for swiss fondue.


Therefore, every time we entertained, we served dairy. We didn’t prefer dairy. Our kitchen collection dictated our decision and we obeyed.


I was secretly ashamed to base our menus on such a criterion, feeling that I should decide on the most delectable edible array and then somehow have the tableware to conform.


One day I confided in a caterer. I was amazed to learn she did the same thing. Figure out which recipes your serving pieces can accommodate and proceed accordingly.


There’s a name for this: reverse engineering.


The beauty of reverse engineering


I was reminded of this lesson today as I read an article in the August 2015 Wired about the Duplass brothers. Mark and Jay are young, fabulously successful filmmakers who direct, produce, act in, and everything else that can be done in independent films.


The article has lots of interesting anecdotes about how they interact with other young filmmakers to create 24 movies in the past 19 years, but a photo caption summarizes the whole thing quite nicely: They are “famous for reverse-engineering a movie to fit the available props, scenery, and actors.”


One of their latest films is Tangerine, shot by Sean Baker entirely on iPhone 5s smartphones. Terry Gross recently interviewed Baker on NPR’s Fresh Air. He shared that the story about two transgender LA sex workers was intentionally plotted to unfold in a single day to slash wardrobe costs and simplify the whole project.


First Baker listed his restrictions. Then he developed a story line to accommodate these restrictions.


What it means for you and me


Finding this story today is perfect timing for me. My coach has been working with me to identify the pressures I place on myself to come up with the most original concepts and implement them perfectly. Excellence is great, but it’s too hard for me to get anything out there and translate business concepts into cash.


My tendency is to give every project its own website, its own marketing effort, weeks or even years of thought, and infinite attention to detail.


Things have got to change. I’m working on it.


Originally posted 7-27-15

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