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 eatatgaggan.com

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6 Replies to “Something more: A lesson from Chef's Table”

  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.
    Best,
    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.
      Cheers!

  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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