Over a lazy weekend recently, I have finally stumbled over Netlix’s ‘Chef’s Table’ series and binged my way through most of the culinary tour de force project’s 3 seasons.
For that one person unfamiliar with Chef’s Table, each episode of the series follows a single world-renowned chef, typically with one or more Michelin stars and with a restaurant ranked among the best 50 worldwide. The series was originally created by David Gelb as a follow-up to his critically acclaimed documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
To me, the magic of the series lies in its multi layered approach — beyond the dizzying display of extravagant dishes and world of fine dining; there is relentness pursue of excellence, business success, authenticity and creativity.
Is there anything that an entrepreneur (or anybody for that matter) can learn from Chef’s Table?
I started my binge session with no expectations beyond admiring some fancy food and beautiful cinematography. However, after several episodes in, commonalities and patterns started to emerge and form from individual stories.
I jotted them down and these are the 6 most important ones I have identified:
1 Embrace and Master The Traditional Way First
An emerging pattern in the series was embracing the tradition of french cuisine. You do not become a world renowned chef without first grinding through and mastering the traditional cooking styles from ground up.
For entrepreneurs, the implication here is to be smart about figuring how to first gain skills in whatever constitutes ‘the tradition’ in your field. This could mean spending some time working in a startup or even corporate in the vertical you are interested in and gaining experience before going out on your own.
It will help you to build out a network, open doors, gain applied knowledge but also help you to identify potential business problems to solve which are not easily spotted for an outsider.
2 Be Bold To Do Things Differently When The Time is Right
Virgilio Martínez Véliz is a is a Peru-based chef and restaurateur whose Central Restaurante was featured in Season 3 of the show.
In Central, he and his team explores Peruvian territory focusing on ‘environments and elevations’ and using super rare ingredients — ‘which have included an edible cyanobacteria called kushuru, a root vegetable called arracha, and an Amazonian freshwater fish called arapaima’ 1
Véliz came up with a menu based on elevation of where these indegenous ingredients can be found in the Peruvian ecosystem.
These dishes and ingredients are not simply re-imaginations of the existing, they have never even appeared on a restaurant menu before.
What’s the learning here? Think outside in whatever you do— and be bold enough to experiment and do things from a brand new angle. Re-imagination and incremental improvements are great, but being radically different and innovative can pay off big time.
By the way, Central has been named the best restaurant in Latin America and the fourth-best restaurant in the world by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
3 Be Authentic
Unless your work is not authentic you can’t achieve significant success — at least that would be the observation from Chef’s table stories. Pretty much every featured chef does something truly authentic to their personality, environment and current condition.
Clearly, there is a direct correlation between producing at the top of your game and being truly authentic in what you do in your ventures.
4 Prepare for The Battle
A common trait in top-of-the-game restaurants featured in the show was a particular detail which caught my attention.
These places are usually small with reservations planned out months in advance and when the actual guests arrive everything has been planned out.
Daily briefings get everybody on the same page — the menu, who are the guests, their allergies or preferences, seating and table plans and so on.
When the rush our arrives, avoiding chaos is of top priority to ensure quality of output. Preparation for the critical moment is crucial.
5 Develop Meticulous Attention to Detail
In a sense, this is an obvious one — you would expect the best of the best Michelin-rated chefs to have amazing attention to detail.
Perhaps it is because I am unfamiliar with the world of Michelin-level cuisine, but what surprised me was just the painstaking level of attention to detail exhibited.
Magnus Nillson is a head chef at Faviken, a 2 Michelin star restaurant based in a remote rural area in Sweden. Nillson is famously obsessed with detail.
In the episode dedicated to him, Nilsson describe how his tasting menu experience is set up for the restaurant’s guests. The first 6 or 7 bites come in a rapid succession, one every 180 seconds. Then larger plated courses arrive every 7–8 minutes. After a precisely timed break with wine the pace changes again to a rapid one-bite courses and then it’s back to plated courses.
All in all, 30 (!) precisely timed and executed courses served in 2,5 hours time span.
In another example of this obsession with detail, Faviken cookbook devotes an entire page on how to peel a carrot properly(‘Giving a Carrot the Attention it Deserves’).
This attention to detail in the end contributes to the customer experience required of 2 Michel star establishment — even without the customer realizing what is going on behind the scenes and how perfectly it is planned out.
How can you you improve your customer’s experience by paying more attention to detail? What is worth paying super high level of attention in your business or career — What is your carrot?
6 Push Through the Hard Times
One episode particularly stood out — it described a story of a chef-entrepreneur working tirelessly to open his restaurant, from the interior design to menu concept to staffing and every other imaginable aspect of the business.
On the big day, nothing happened — nobody came in. In fact, nobody really came in for the next 2 years (this is clearly an hyperbole but the fact is the business was struggling really hard to stay afloat).
Can you imagine the sinking feeling of working super hard and then essentially failing for the next 2 years? The fact is though if the chef/owner did not push through these super hard times he would never see the success which eventually led to being featured on the show.
If you believe in what you do, you need to push through in your ventures — even if no one comes through the door the first day, month or even a year. Otherwhise you might never make it to Netflix.