Something more: A lesson from Chef's Table

Chef’s Table

My wife, Julie and I recently happened upon the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. Each episode features one of the world’s most successful chefs, digging into the background story and finding out what drives the person.

We are late to the game. We watched the last episode of Season 2, but as of the date of this post, there are already three complete series on Netflix. If you are unfamiliar with Chef’s Table, here’s a trailer:

Since that first episode, we have since watched three or four others and love the series even though our approach to cooking is completely different.

The difference between my wife and me

Julie is a terrific cook and is constantly coming up with new dishes that are as healthy as they are delicious. She writes a blog called Health Continuum that has dozens of great recipes. Julie is regular contributor to One Green Planet and has been featured in the print edition of Thrive magazine in the United Kingdom.

Below are the links to just four of Julie’s recipes that I love. As someone who has eaten everything that is on her blog, I can vouch for how good the food is. Check it out!

  1. The best olive dip ever
  2. A hearty bok choy soup
  3. A tasty black bean, quinoa and walnut loaf
  4. An unbelievable carrot walnut date cake

I, on the other hand, am not a cook and I don’t particularly enjoy cooking. When my daughters were younger and people would ask whether I cooked, they usually replied along the lines of “Dad can make toast and eggs. And sometimes spaghetti sauce. From a jar.” That pretty much sums it up. My strong suit in the kitchen is washing up.

But even though I do not enjoy cooking the way some people do, I have enormous respect for those who can cook well. It is both an art and a science, and I like seeing (and tasting) it done well. Hence my appreciation for Chef’s Table.

Lessons from an Indian chef in Thailand

The first episode that we watched featured Gaggan Anand, the No. 1 chef in Asia. Gaggan, who is generally referred to by his first name, comes from a very humble and difficult beginning in Kolkata (Calcutta), India.

I won’t go into the details of Gaggan’s inspiring life story here, but in 2010, he opened his eponymous restaurant, Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, it was named both the best restaurant in Thailand, and Asia’s best restaurant on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants as reported by Restaurant magazine. In 2017, it was named the 7th best restaurant in the world.

Gaggan describes his cooking as progressive Indian cuisine. On his website, he sets out his philosophy on what it means to be progressive:

  1. Moving forward, advancing
  2. Happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step
  3. Using or interested in new or modern ideas
Gaggan - Chef's Table

It hasn’t been easy for him. Gaggan faced many challenges with his repeated attempts to disrupt traditional Indian cuisine. People told him that trying to change traditional Indian food was a mad idea. They wanted their curries and their chicken tikka masala.

Although Gaggan loves traditional Indian cuisine and used to include it on his menu, most of the food he prepared was new and innovative and audacious. Gaggan wanted to cook what he wanted to cook and his daring has paid off.

Going forward, he has promised to become even more aggressive and says that he will have an even bigger appetite for the “destruction” of traditional Indian cuisine. Indeed, near the end of the documentary, Gaggan has his staff assemble in the restaurant and announces that that week will be the last week for many dishes. “No more curries! No more chicken tikka masala! No more naan breads!” he says with conviction.

To change a menu that is working extremely well and try something new is a bold move indeed. It requires courage and conviction. But Gaggan has plenty of both. And he is not satisfied with sitting still. He wants to improve and stretch the boundaries of his creativity. As Gaggan says,

For those traditionalists who don’t want to eat progressive cuisine, we had chicken tikka masala as a comfort pillow. And now, I won’t cook chicken tikka masala. It’s about having the confidence to do what you want to do [instead of] what a guest wants you to do.

Indeed, Gaggan is so focused on being innovative, that he is closing Gaggan in 2020. He believes that every restaurant “… has a 10-year life span nowadays, otherwise it becomes very predictable and I hate to be predictable.”

Gaggan Anand - Chef's Table
Gaggan Anand

Applying Gaggan’s philosophy

This is a great philosophy that can be applied to so  many aspects of one’s life. If you are not living at the edge of your comfort zone, if you are not willing to try new things—things that might not work—you are not growing.

It should be the same way with your presentations. They should be relevant for your audiences, of course, but who says they have to be the same every single time? Who says they cannot be innovative? Who says it has to be business as usual?

Try something different! When was the last time you:

  • changed your title slide
  • changed your final slide
  • presented without using any slides at all
  • told a story
  • told a different story
  • engaged the audience with an interactive exercise
  • used humour
  • talked about one of your failures and what you learned from it
  • took an unpopular stand on an issue
  • spoke to a new audience

When did you last try something new?

Gaggan’s philosophy of being innovative is something that is shared by the other chefs whom we have seen featured on Chef’s Table. Indeed, at 1:25 of the video at the beginning of this post, you can hear the following comments from two of the chefs:

You can’t be creative without being risky. Will you destroy yourself in the pursuit of doing something new?
It’s not just about food. It’s not just about a restaurant. It’s about something more.

Don’t give us the same old tired presentation. Give us something more.

Photos courtesy of

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  1. Dear John,

    I particularly liked this email. Just as you suggested, you told a different story. The changed perspective made me think about taking your thoughts and ideas as to other fora — not just “public speaking. If life is the “stories we tell ourselves,” we might just take the lessons associated with speaking in public to writing [screenplays, dissertations, novels, plays, short stories or long ones] and other shared endeavors [debate, eating/cooking with friends and family, business]. One can assume there will still be the same audiences — eager for a presentation and an experience.


    Andy — that other JD on the other side of the world.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Andy. You are spot on.

      The lesson from Chef’s Table about innovation and pushing ourselves applies to so many realms beyond public speaking. The more people who give “something more,” the more people who will be affected in a positive way.


  2. Thanks John – thought-provoking stuff. Gaggan announcing that he’ll close his business shows amazing commitment to being on the cutting edge!
    I really liked your bullet list urging us to present without slides, tell stories, tell a different story, etc. No matter where a speaker is on their journey, they can always go further!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International