Emulate Chefs

With the culinary art/leadership connection going on, and the fact that I’ve been rereading Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s great book “Rework“, I thought the following post from last year would be appropriate again.

You’ve probably heard of Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Rachel Ray, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Jacque Pepin, or Julia Child. They’re great chefs, but there are a lot of great chefs out there. So why do you know these few better than others?

Because they share everything they know.

They put their recipes in cookbooks and show their techniques on cooking shows. They want you to take what they have developed and make it your own.

Great organizations should share everything they know, too. Don’t be paranoid and secretive, but be open and generous.

A recipe is much easier to copy than a business idea. Shouldn’t that scare someone like Mario Batali? Why would he go on TV and show you how he does what he does? Why would he put all his recipes in cookbooks where anyone can buy and replicate them? Because he knows those recipes and techniques aren’t enough to beat him at his own game. No one’s going to buy his cookbook, open a restaurant next door, and put him out of business. It doesn’t work like that, but many organizations think that’s what will happen if others learn how they do things.

Emulate famous chefs. They cook, so they write cookbooks.

What do you do? What are your “recipes”? What’s your “cookbook”? What can you tell the world about how you operate that’s informative, educational, and promotional?

What’s cooking in your “kitchen” that you should share?

 

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Pursuing Excellence…

Always.

From an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America:

Cooking is an inexact science, and this is where the art comes in. You’ve got standard ratios that work up to a point. There are always variables, as far as: Did you cook all the roux out? How high was your cooking temperature? How much evaporation did you have? How much did it reduce? You have to take all those things into account, and see what your final product is, and figure out how to fix it. You have to be not so stressed out or under pressure that you can say “I know it’s not right and I need to fix it.”

“You can’t ever send a product out if it’s not right,” he continued. It doesn’t matter how busy you are – your reputation is on the line every time you put a plate out. If you send it out hoping they won’t notice, then that’s the kind of chef you will be all your life.

“So. Start. Good habits. Early! Do it right. Take your time.”

As Tom Peters would say:

EXCELLENCE.

Always.

If not EXCELLENCE, what?

If not EXCELLENCE now, when?

Excellence is not a goal – it’s the way we live, who we are.

What’s up at your place, excellence-wise? Are you content with the same old, same old? Is is good enough? Or are you pursuing excellence?

Strive for excellence – ignore success.

What’s Your Stock?

Stock…

…the foundation for all classical French cooking.

At the CIA (that’s Culinary Institute of America), you start off your three-year education by learning how to peel vegetables and prepare a basic stock. You don’t do it once – you do it every day during the three-week rotation of the first class. Students move on after the first three weeks, but will continue to use the stock prepared by the next class of new students. Every three weeks, a new rotation of prospective chefs learn how to prepare stock.

A great stock is judged by:

  • Flavor
  • Clarity
  • Color
  • Body
  • Aroma

The perfect stock has what is referred to as a “neutral” flavor. This is a kind way of saying it doesn’t taste like anything you’re used to eating or would want to eat. But you can do a million different things with a great stock because it has the remarkable quality of taking on other flavors without imposing a flavor of its own. It offers its own richness and body anonymously. When you reduce it, it becomes its own sauce starter. You can add roux to stock and create a demi-glace, and with a demi-glace, you can make over a hundred distinct sauces that define classic French cooking.

What’s your stock?

Personally. Organizationally. However you want to define it.

What’s that basic “thing” you are, have, or do that makes everything else come together to make things happen?

Learn to make a basic stock, and the possibilities become endless.

Making a Leadership Emulsion

Some of the most flavorful, satisfying, and versatile sauces in the culinary world are an emulsion – but you’ve got to work to make one.

This is an emulsion: an agreement between two unlike elements (butter and water), achieved by heat and motion. If you get it slightly wrong – as when the sauce starts to dry out, destroying the balance between the fat and the liquid – the unlike elements pull apart and break up. When that happens, it takes more work to get the emulsion back to where you want it than it did to get it in the first place.

As a ChurchWorld leader, you are, in effect, an emulsion.

Both leadership and management are necessary skills to bring your organization forward. While many people separate “leadership” and “management,” they are both necessary.

Leadership involves inspiring, motivating, crafting a vision, setting direction, strategic thinking, and bringing out the best in your people.

Management involves planning, tracking, and measuring – in short, handling all the nuts-and-bolts of day-to-day business operations.

People in positions of responsibility and leadership – like you – need to do both well in order to be successful. This need dramatically intensifies during times of economic uncertainty, shifting internal and external forces, and the constant need to do more with less – like now.

You need to be an “emulsified leader:” building solid skills in both leadership and management AND the ability to switch gracefully between the two.

I’m Hungry

I love food. This love of food runs in, and through, my family. It began with my mother, a transplanted Midwesterner who adapted to Southern cooking in the mid 1950s and honed the craft with family and church for almost 60 years. It continues with two of my sons: the oldest, a restaurant chef and regional trainer with Outback; and the youngest, a first year student in Johnson and Wales University’s Culinary Arts/Food Service Management program.

And of course, I practice cooking when I can: old standby recipes that have become family favorites, new ones pulled from magazines or off the Web.  One look at me and you see I don’t miss too many meals!

Then there is the learning part: I read food magazines, culinary books, first person narratives about life in the industry, and so on. When I eat out, I focus on the food – and the people preparing and delivering it. It’s always instructive.

Beyond the simple love of food, I think that the food and culinary industry can be a great teacher as well. For instance, ChurchWorld leaders would be well advised to emulate chefs. They also would benefit from having a great “stock.” And of course leaders should use all their senses – just like a good chef does.

Over the next few days, I want to invite you on a food journey that focuses on leadership. I hope to uncover some new dishes, revisit some old classics, and hopefully give you some ideas that will help you create just the “menu” you need in your organization.

I suppose Bon Appetite! is too corny – but it rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Good Cooking is Simply a Series of Problems Solved

The title of this post is actually a quote from one of the instructor chefs at the CIA’s cooking school. Author Michael Ruhlman, in “The Making of a Chef,” chronicles his time at the legendary cooking school, the oldest and most influential in America.

The comment came in response to a student’s unique suggestion of how to keep hollandaise sauce at just the right temperature to keep it from “breaking”. The chef had never thought of his idea, and encouraged him (and the rest of the class) to approach a problem from a unique angle (outside the box” thinking?).

This line of thought falls right into a post by Seth Godin entitled “Sell the Problem.” He noted that many business to business marketers tend to jump right into features and benefits, without taking the time to understand if the person on the other end of the conversation/call/letter believes they even have a problem.

The challenge is this: if your organization doesn’t think it has a  problem, you won’t be looking for a solution. You won’t wake up in the morning dreaming about how to solve it, or go to bed wondering how much it’s costing you to ignore it.

And so the marketing challenge is to sell the problem.

I’m passionate about helping churches thrive by turning challenges (problems) into opportunities. It’s very personal with me – I want to understand prospective clients so well that I know their situation almost as well as a leader or staff member. In fact, that statement, made a couple of years ago by a pastor, is one of the highlights of my career!

It’s my job to understand their problems.

When a prospect comes to the table and says, “we have a problem,” then you’re both on the same side of the table when it comes time to solve it.

All I have to do now is follow the recipe – a series of problems solved.