“Blue cheese with apple ice-cream”


So, this happened …

Have you ever wondered, if a Michelin Star Chef from another country were to go ‘on assignment’ to another 5-Star Hotel for a few months, what kind of menu would they cook up? And what could we possible learn from this?

I was in Singapore on a business trip and was meeting clients for lunch, and this is exactly what happened. My local team member had booked a table at the main restaurant of a glamorous hotel, with the added bonus that this restaurant had hired an overseas Michelin Star Chef on a three month contract. We thought this would be a nice way of showing our clients that we really cared about them.

Obviously this chef had to show that he was adding “bang for his buck”, so made a particularly showy menu for patrons to choose from. And to be fair, it did taste fantastic.

By the time we reached dessert, though, I was already stuffed, as the food had been so rich! But there was one item on the menu that really intrigued me, I had seen it when I first looked at the menu, and it kept popping back into my thoughts. On the menu they had written “blue cheese with apple ice-cream”.

I like blue cheese, and I like ice-cream, so that was a great start. But blue cheese with ice-cream just didn’t make sense to me. In fact, it was slightly off-putting. But here I was in a 5-Star Hotel with a Michelin Star Chef. This guy obviously knew what he was doing, and I was probably just a pleb for not appreciating the genius of the mix. With some encouragement from the others, I ordered it.

When my dessert arrived, on my plate was a slice of blue cheese, with a scoop of apple ice-cream. In spite of the fact that it’s exactly what I ordered, I didn’t know what to do next. I called the waiter back and asked the waiter how I should eat it, because, well, there must surely be a ‘right way’. Should I eat them together? Should I have the cheese first and then finish with a sweet ice-cream? Or should I have the ice-cream first but finish with a strong palate-cleansing cheese?

The waiter had no idea. Perhaps I was the first person to have ordered it?

So I asked the waiter to go ask the Chef how I should eat it. I mean, it’s such an odd mix, the Chef must surely have intended something specific when he came up with it. But a few minutes later the waiter returned, saying, “Chef says you can eat it any way you want.”

What? That was a very disappointing response. I had ordered it because a Michelin Star Chef had put it together, but the pleasure was gone when I realised he didn’t have anything particular in mind. It felt so random.

You know, he could just have lied. He could have told me to eat the cheese in my left cheek while eating the ice-cream in my right cheek, and I would have set myself to the task with gusto. But instead I just ended up feeling tricked.

Simple Definition

Blue cheese with apple ice-cream: When someone does or says something that seems rather unusual and specific, we need to take a moment to understand whether it was deliberate (and thus try to appreciate their intent), or whether it was just contrived (and thus try not read too much into it).

Discussing what it means

It’s not unreasonable to believe that, when someone says or does something very specific, that they intend something very specific. Yes I know you can get slices of apple on a cheese platter, but the chef chose blue cheese, which is probably the one cheese which you wouldn’t expect to pair well. Yet in spite of the apparent mismatch, if he designed it that way, it must have been deliberate. Or so I thought.

So we need to look at these situations from two perspectives:

  • What should go through your mind when you face a “Blue cheese with apple ice-cream” situation?
  • How you should do things if you intend to offer the option of “Blue cheese with apple ice-cream”?

Since we like bullet points in #HashtagYourLife, we will lay out a few examples which are easy to read and process. You’ll notice that sometimes there was a specific intent behind the deliberate action, which was quite revealing. And sometimes there really was no special intent, which just made things feel weird.

When you have a #hashtag-story entitled “Blue cheese with apple ice-cream”, and when that flag pops up upon hearing or seeing something oddly deliberate (or is it deliberately odd?) this gives you the chance to quickly process what’s going on and add (or not add) additional insights and draw conclusions.

  • I personally have used the ‘trick’ of arranging meetings with certain people at odd times, like 10:05 instead of 10am. I would usually do this with people who are generally late, because when they see the 10:05 invite they interpret it as a very specific time, rather than a broad “around 10 o’clock”. And amusingly, this works very well for getting them to arrive on time. This is an example of an effective application of this #hashtag.
  • When I missed my friend’s birthday (to be fair, I was travelling on business) she appeared a little annoyed at me, so I asked if she was. “Not especially,” she replied. Hmmm, she could have just said ‘no’, but instead she said “not especially”. That’s a very specific wording, so I assumed – and turned out to be right – that she had indeed intended something particular by it. It showed me that she didn’t actually mean ‘no’ (in spite of her initial protestations when I pushed further). This is using the #hashtag to read the truth into what someone says.
  • He thought they were just friends, but found it a little odd that she always seemed to bring small gifts for him when they met for coffee. A small bottle of massage oil, a beautiful polished piece of rose quartz, a box of single-use sachets of ground coffee. Was she like this with all her friends, or did she intend something specific by her deliberate efforts in buying gifts each time? Here the deliberate actions triggered a #hashtag which gave him the chance to tell the difference between what she said and what she did.
  • If you order more than $50 of grass-fed beef for delivery this week, we will include a 10% discount card for a family photo shoot at a premium photo studio nowhere near where you live. The #hashtag here shows that sometimes specific actions, without any obvious connection, can just look odd and totally out of place, and thus the likelihood that they incentivize sales is low.
  • Do you have a friend (or is that you?!) who, on Facebook or Instagram, is always posting those “oh poor me” messages? Perhaps they believe they’re just sharing, but as the people around them, we have to wonder whether they just want attention, whether they’re trapped in victim-thinking, or whether they’re in a dark place and really need some support.
  • Have you seen those adverts for a house-for-sale, which say something which looks OK, but actually means something less appealing? For example, they say ‘cosy’ but mean ‘small’. They say ‘low-maintenance yard’ but mean ‘it has been paved over’. And they say ‘motivated seller’ but that’s just to hook you in, because it’s the realtor who is motivated. Their wording is so specific that a #hashtag should pop to mind, allowing you to consider what they really intended by it.
  • I remember being in India and was taking a tuk-tuk (a three-wheel motor rickshaw) to my hotel. Suddenly the taxi driver started suggesting a very specific drop-off point that was near the hotel (“at a wonderful shopping centre almost next door”, he said). When we arrived, I realised that firstly, the shopping centre wasn’t quite as close to the hotel as he said, but it meant a shorter trip for him. And secondly, since these taxis are un-metered, he then wanted to charge me 15x the ‘regular’ price (hoping that as a tourist, I didn’t know better) – he even threatened to call the police when I refused to pay. He knew that, at the hotel, I would have the doorman to confirm that the price was extortionate and he’d lose, but outside the shopping centre I had no one to back me up. My blue-cheese #hashtag didn’t pop up at the time, so I didn’t see his offer for what it really was – a con – until it was too late.

Remember that “Blue cheese with apple ice-cream” doesn’t say that there is always something deliberate behind what they say or do. Instead, it’s a reminder that when someone does say or do something very specific, we need to take a moment to try understand what they really intended by it (or indeed, if they were not deliberately steering things, why did their words feels odd).

Making it personal

The chef might have thought he was just being clever, but he should have allowed for the possibility that his guests would ask ‘how’ or ‘why’. He didn’t, though, and that spoiled the experience for at least one guest. Me.

We need to ask ourselves, what are we saying or doing that feels normal to us, but is being seen differently by others?

For example, can you think of situations where you’ve made a comment, and been challenged on what you meant? Have you ever told your partner, “I love you”, only to have them reply, “Do you? Do you really?” What ‘big picture’ are they seeing that makes them think the words you’re saying might not match what you’re feeling?

Have you ever been speaking to someone who told you, “I paid you for that already”, but then they add “I’m sure I did.” And just by adding “I’m sure”, they give the sense that they’re not actually sure! Was your suspicion later confirmed?

The types of events which match the “Blue cheese with apple ice-cream” are quite broad, so I don’t want to limit your thinking by giving you too many examples. Instead I’d like you to spend some time exploring your own examples without my constraints.

Hmmm, I wonder what I meant by saying that!

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