Three parts: the ingredients, the kitchen, the chef.
We like the ingredients to be fresh, seasonal, familiar to the chef.
We like the kitchen to be clean, well-lit, stocked with all the gadgets that are necessary and none of the ones that are not.
We like the chef to be capable, adaptable, knowledgeable, creative. And it does come down to the chef; I mean they don't make reality shows where the kitchens or the ingredients compete. It is the chef's ability that determines the quality of the meal, ultimately. You can't entirely blame the chef for coming up with a sub-par meal with ingredients purchased entirely from gas station vending machines, but it's definitely the chef's fault if the meal is burned or unpalatable.
I have no idea why this metaphor, which was so brilliant after a few glasses of crisp white wine the other night, is so hard to shape into words now.
What I want to say is that YES the ingredients matter, YES the kitchen matters, I don't think they don't, but I'm looking at the chef, and my judgement of the meal is there. Because that's the person who combined raw elements and environment and their own personality to make something that worked. Or that's the person who failed to. And anyway that's where the narrative is: how the chef read every cookbook available, how they tried different spices, temperatures, cookware, ways of pressing garlic, whatever. Some chefs go into the kitchen and flip a switch and don't care, and it shows. Sometimes the ingredients are so fresh they can't be ruined by such a lazy approach, but when the ingredients are ruined... well, you get my point.
Chefs that interest me: they love food. They care about how the food is received, and they think about the guests as much as they think about their own tastes, not because they want the guests to love THEM, the chefs, but they want the guests to love THE FOOD; they want the food to be as delicious as it can be. I like chefs who can adapt, I like the ones that say, "Gas station vending machines? That sounds interesting!" I like chefs who take what they learned at home and keep what works and don't hesitate to throw out what didn't. I like the ones who care so much about what they do that you can see it in the way they hold a knife, the way they put the plate in front of you.
Chefs that don't interest me: the ones who want to talk about how much they love food; the ones who want to discuss their preparation process with anybody other than other chefs unless they are asked; the ones who praise their own cooking instead of letting the food do the talking. The ones who consider gadgets necessary, rather than just helpful; especially especially the ones who want to talk about the gadgets more than they talk about the ingredients themselves. Too much ego in the game. I know I've said the chef is the interesting part of the narrative and the most responsible for the outcome, but I like the ones who pretend that's not true, who let the ingredients speak for themselves.
Maybe this doesn't work because it's not just one thing, it's everything. I see the assignment, the software available, and I'm interested in who does the work; I see the characters and the plot but I'm interested in how you write it; I see your children and the environment but I'm interested in how you parent. The question maybe is: if you don't see it this way, why don't you?