Knowing a Good Thing When You See It

Pastries in France got me thinking about how we perceive the world. For example, if you only occasionally eat croissants, then most croissants will probably make you happy. But if you eat croissants semi-regularly and considered yourself a pastry connoisseur, then you'd know that most croissants suck. Especially in the US.

A good croissant should be super light. It has to have a darker exterior (if it is pale it means they didn't apply enough egg wash). Inside, the flaky layers should be defined with air gaps where the butter melted and the steam expanded. When you bite into it, it should come apart easily, almost melting into your mouth.

Once you understand traditional croissants, then you can appreciate an almond croissant. Traditionally made out of a day-old croissant. It is cut open and almond paste is put inside like a sandwich. Almond paste is then applied on top of the croissant, sprinkled with almonds and then baked. Almond paste is its own science. It can't be too chunky, it shouldn't be be too wet or too dry, and it shouldn't use too much almond extract. On top of that, a good almond croissant will continue to have many of the same characteristics as the traditional croissant.

All of this to say, if you don't eat croissants regularly and I was to hand you a chocolate almond croissant from Le Boulanger de la Tour in Paris, you'd say it was good. You'd probably even enjoy it a lot. But I'm not sure you'd really understand the profound nature of that croissant or its transcendent nature (Michelle and I went back four times during our trip).

The fact that you might not fully understand this is fine. And unless you are paying attention you'd probably go back to enjoying other croissants just as well. But if you are paying attention, like I was, then it becomes the new standard of what a great croissant should taste like. Before this trip my favorite almond croissant was from Bakery Nouveau in Seattle, Washington. I thought that was a 10/10, but now I'd say it was probably an 8/10 compared to this new standard. This doesn't mean that every future croissant will suck. It just means I know where it falls short compared to Le Boulanger de la Tour.

So what is the takeaway? Besides the fact that you should expect more from your croissants, eat more of them, and actually think about quality of food that you are eating in general... I think it also shines a light on our experiences in general. That unless we are intentionally being observant we'll miss out on truly great experiences.

As a software developer who enjoys good user experiences, I have preconceived notions of how software can work. I know how the internet is built and what the back button is supposed to do. So when a webpage breaks that functionality it grates against me like fingernails against a chalkboard. Or when Google Maps decides to change my zoom level when I click a non-zoom related button, it irritates me because I know things can be better.

It is important to have areas that you truly care about. A topic that you pay enough attention to that you can really know when you come across something extraordinary. Otherwise you never give anything the chance to truly blow your mind if it doesn't have a foundation to jump from.

Ryan Mathews

Ryan Mathews

San Francisco, CA