By Reid Bryant
First published Flyfish Journal
There is in everything an opportunity for perfection.
Fish are better creatures than we are, and well-acquainted with perfection, and they humbly acknowledge the baby steps we sometimes make towards the same.
There are a few things of undeniable perfection in this nuanced world. One is a male brook trout in spawning color, skewered through the lower lip with an un-weighted muddler. Another is the Grateful Dead on vinyl. The last, and very most perfect of the three, is a bowl of pork Ramen from Momofuku Noodle Bar on 1st St. in Manhattan.
‘Ramen?’ You say, and in your mind it’s college again, and you’re broke and a little bit stoned, and a 99 cent dose of MSG is just what the doctor ordered. But Momofuku Ramen isn’t college-kid Ramen. Momofuku Ramen is heaven in noodle form, silky and rich and, well, perfect. It’s the platform for a slab of home-smoked pork belly, and fish cake, and an egg boiled to such runny precision that the yolk oozes forth like liquid sunshine. When you worm your way in among the slurping masses and first raise that spoon to your lips, you’ll realize at once that your flour-flecked grandma at her best ain’t got game. And the guy who just served your grandma is Momofuku’s David Chang.
Chang is something of an icon and he’s growing more iconic by the second. He’s made a career of taking something as simple as Ramen and pushing it over the brink of its greatest potential and thereby re-defining it. He’s done this by affording a bowl of noodles unremitting love, and by seeing the magic in the details. To point, a story goes that Chang flipped out on a young sous-chef who was prepping scallions in imprecise, unequal rounds.
“But these scallions are for the BOTTOM of the bowl, under the noodles, under the broth, under the pork and under the egg…” countered the pupil, nudging the twitching remains of his pride towards the floor drain.
“Which is exactly why they need to be perfect,” Chang replied,with his best Mona Lisa smile
There is in everything an opportunity for perfection. I notice this in my fishing routinely, and so, of course, do you. When I am tying blood knots with numb fingers, I choose to tie them correctly or not. How many times have I given one leg of the tippet 4 turns and the other 5, slipping the tags through the resulting opening so that they stand not in textbook opposition, but in parallel? How many times have I tied on a bugger with a dull and rusting hook, or a turn of unraveling hackle? How many times have I switched from a size 12 wet fly to a size 20 dry, hoping for all the world that the trout won’t notice that my 2x tippet is an improper match for either. But I do these things with eyes wide open, hoping no one, least of all myself, will notice. Bottom of the Ramen bowl, right? And fish are stupid anyway, right? I still catch ‘em pretty well, and my knots generally hold, right?
But what, at heart, am I saying to this thing that I love so dearly?
There are a few things of undeniable perfection in this nuanced world. Some of them just happen, like male brook trout and spawning colors and warm chords on vinyl. Others are the hard-earned creation of man. Norman Maclean once wrote, “all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy.” David Chang pitched a fit about uneven scallions. Both these guys got it right. And with grace and art and scallions, and a healthy dollop of love, both are showing us how to bring to hand our own little slivers of perfection.