What Chef’s Table has taught me about UX — Alex Atala

Chef’s Table is a documentary series produced by Netflix. Each episode focuses on a renowned international chef and tells the story of their lives, their restaurants, their sources of inspiration, their cooking techniques, and what makes each one of them unique.


I started watching as a way to pass time (as if I wasn’t watching enough Netflix series) but I realised it was a way learn from other areas, make new connections and gain new perspectives on User Experience. Because having a restaurant is much more than just cooking. I learned that as a chef you are designing a food experience for your customers, so I think we have a lot to learn from them.

I decided to start writing about each chef featured on the show and what they made me think about users and experiences. This is the second one about the chef on the second episode of the second season (very neat), Alex Atala. If you want to check out the first one about Grant Achatz, click here. As a Brazilian I am really proud to be writing about a Brazilian chef and his amazing story. Let’s get started!

Defy expectations and paradigms

“Maybe Brazilians didn’t want to think of their cuisine as restaurant food, as a cuisine that has gastronomic value, a cuisine worthy of the ritual of dressing up, getting ready and going out to eat. Alex Atala appeared bringing the possibility of a more modern Brazilian cuisine.”  Luiz America Camargo / Brazilian food critic
“If caviar is fancy and tucupi is not is just because someone told me.” — Alex Atala

Patterns are good for a lot of reasons. For one, they make it easier for users to recognise and learn how to use your product. But not all existing patterns are the best patterns they could be. Just because something was always done this way it does not have to always be this way.

There is no right way or wrong way. It is about doing things your way. The way that will solve the necessities of your users. People that connect to you and your product. Yesterday’s crazy idea could be tomorrow’s breakthrough.

Bring what is special about you to what is special about your work

“Alex is supremely gifted individual. Simple as that. He is one of the world’s best chefs, and I think what makes him different than anyone else is being a chef is just one part of who he is.” — David Chang / Chef and Founder of Momofuku

What is in your repertoire and how can you translate that in a user experience? Sometimes the best references can come from the most unexpected places.

To make new connections you have to have points to connect. These points can be experiences, ideias, points of view and even abilities.

If you become master one thing, you have a whole lot of possibilites. If you master a few things, you have exponentially more possibilities.

Think about the ecosystem of the experience

“When we are trained to be a chef we learn that the most important moments of our day will be “mise en place” prepping all the ingredients to make an amazing dish. There is a Brazilian chef called Roberta Sudbrack and she used to say something that I love. Our mise en place doesn’t start in the kitchen. It starts on the farm… and in nature.” — Alex Atala

If you are creating an experience you are solving a necessity. Where does this necessity comes from? How did people deal with that necessity before your product came along? Where do they have this necessity? What is the environment? At work? At home? When do they have this necessity ? Is it during a specific time of day, or at a specific event? At some point in their life?

You have to have those questions in mind. All of them come before the experience itself, but are, nonetheless, a part of it.

Work with the right partners, involve them in your work

“If we want to make delicious food, we need amazing ingredients. To find those ingredients, we need to find the person who loves that ingredient as much as we love it.” — Alex Atala

Build a great team. Build a team of different people with complementary skills. Learn to harness your team’s abilities. Multiply your possibilities with the possibilities of your team and you'll have endless possibilities.

Know what you want to do, trust your abilities, then the tools become secondary

“It is not necessary to use expensive ingredients. The luxury is in your hands, in your ability. This is luxury, the human capacity to transform something into emotions.”  Alex Atala

I’ve said this before, but I can’t stress this enough. More important than any tool is to know your goals. Know what you are trying to achieve. If you focus on that, tools become secondary. You’ll adapt existing tools. You’ll create your own tools. You’ll throw your tools away and create better ones. You’ll create the necessary space to innovate.

And that is how I want wrap up the insights from the second episode in the Season 2 of Chef’s Table. Thanks for hitting the 💙 if you enjoyed this article.

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