Why I praise “kitchen thinking” instead of “design thinking”

My first job here in Chile was as a kitchen assistant in a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant. That was the most important learning I have ever had.

In April 2013 I came to Chile after spending almost a year working as a trend researcher for trendwatching.com in their first office in South America (Sao Paulo).

When I arrived to this place, nobody knew me and I was just another foreigner with pretensions to work. I took a sabbatical month to put my thoughts in order, but then I figured out that the savings I brought to establish myself were ending and I needed start to work.

My first job here in Chile was as a kitchen assistant in a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant. That was the most important learning I have ever had.

Washing dishes seems to be a very ordinary work, which anyone could do. Yes, anyone could do it, but doing it well is pretty hard. If you are not fast and efficient enough, you won’t have space to do your work, and you will tend to have accumulated work to your fellow on next morning, and it’s probably that he also won’t cooperate with you.

My direct boss, the main chef in the restaurant (a peruvian guy, who came to Chile years ago to work and send money to his family in Peru), once told me that I needed to clean all the kitchen in the end of our turn, and everything should be in the same order as the day before. You can be working in Adobe Suite or in a kitchen, “workspace” will mean the same, and it should be organized enough for the others making easy for them to find anything they need, it can be a pan or the colour palette.

While cleaning, I did had to clean every corner. I think the only place that you will find cleaner than a kitchen should be an hospital. When you work as a kitchen assistant you’re a kind of Master Miyagi’s pupil.

Sometimes, the chef asked me to help in the kitchen, frying gyosas and arrange them to serve. There were a “code” to distinguish meat, chicken and vegetable gyosas, each of them has a different form, a different fold. When you work in a kitchen you should comprehend all the visual features. I realized that visual thinking is everywhere. Making things visual is make things easy to understand. Also, all the kitchen tools needed to be visually exposed, as I told above. And in moment arranging gyosas on dish, you need to conceive the finesse to don’t exceed on chive or sesame, or soy sauce.

Working in a kitchen gives you many tips about working with on demand production, deadlines of 15 minutes and about being very sensitive about your final product. Each “product” you’re giving out is unique, and you have a standard to stick to: the food shouldn’t be so much raw or too baked, for example.

But when you work with food you start to be more creative. Sometimes the chef used us as ‘guinea pigs’ to make experiments during our lunchtime. And at home I turned a McGyver while cooking, doing amazing sandwiches using just the basics, like onion, tomato, green pepper and eggs.

Eating is a ritual, and cooking also is. In that kitchen I learned a lot about chilean and peruvian cultures, sharing great moments with my fellows, talking with them, knowing about their families and their country (most of them were from Peru).

I praise this “kitchen thinking” more than “design thinking” also because for me that was a true living experience, and not a pretentious ethnographic experience, to get back to the office with notes. I experienced what is doing it for a living. This experience was so deep that I changed the manner I treat people who do this kind of work. And I hope you also can change it, after reading about my experience.

I’ve written it on ‘beta english’: I’m a non-native writting in english, so please advise me if you find any gramatical error in this text.