Leadership Lessons from Chef’s Table

Chef's Table

The original Netflix series Chef’s Table is six delectable leadership lessons. It starts with a profile of Mossimo Bottura, a three Michelin star chef in Modena, Italy. He is so full of life and creative energy. He is also generous and orientates his life around his family. His family includes his restaurant employees. As he shares, “If you live an incredible moment of happiness, the happiness is much more deep and big if you share with others. And you get to the point together—the happiness, the feeling is exploding. It’s doubled.”

As a chef, Bottura transcends mere cookery and creates art. He also demonstrates how an artist’s best work often emerges from mistakes. One day he and his sous chef broke one of the two remaining lemon tarts on the counter and in that moment he began his postmodern departure from traditional Italian presentation. He created “Oops I Dropped the Lemon Tart.” His sous chef Takahiko Kondo said, “That day I learned something. That in life, to move forward you learn from mistakes. Maybe I did something wrong, but you learn from it.” I suspect that this lesson was shared with more laughter than cursing.

Bottura’s restaurant is Osterio Francescano.

Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City, is the focus of the second profile. He is an innovator in the farm to table movement. I appreciate his leadership in reforming our overly industrialized food “system”. His temper was off-putting and I mentally crossed Blue Hill off my list as a result. Even though I completely agree with his belief that taste or flavor is dependent on quality ingredients, which is dependent on healthy soil.

Blue Hill restaurant sources much of its ingredients from Blue Hill Farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

The third profile focuses on the Jeremiah Johnson of cooking. Francis Mallman does wild, open-fire cooking. He lives on an island in Patagonia, but he and his crew fly around the world doing extreme barbeque. Watching his team work together made a big impression. Mallman said, “I love the joy of working with all the team. I need to be happy with them. There has to be a festive feeling about the hard work we are doing.” His team is learning from their leader, as one member said, “Francis has an energy to materialize—a person with ideas that also accomplishes what he dreams.” Mallman owns multiple restaurants and has written multiple books.

Chef's montage

I was relieved when the fourth profile considered a female chef. Niki Nakayama overcame the sexism in professional kitchens AND the low expectations for women in Japanese culture to become the renowned chef of N/Naka in Los Angeles, California. I loved her description of “flow” when she is creating great food. If I liked Japanese food I would make the effort to eat at her restaurant because I admired Chef Nakayama so much.

After Bottura, my next favorite chef is Ben Shewry, the focus of the fifth profile. He is a Kiwi relocated to Melbourne, Australia. I love the photos of New Zealand and Australia. I will be there in a few weeks and I can hardly wait. Like many of the other chefs, Chef Shewry struggled for a few years before his food was appreciated. He is humble and hard-working and places a high priority on time for his family. At Attica on Tuesday nights you can enjoy Chef’s Table for $140 per person and take your chances on the chef’s experiments. Wednesday through Saturday you can partake in the Tasting Menu for $220 per person plus $145 for wine (or $75 for non-alcoholic beverages).

The final profile is of Swedish chef (no relation to the muppet) Magnus Nilsson. His 12 seat restaurant Faviken in Jarpen, Sweden is in the middle of nowhere. He demonstrates how it is possible to create from nothing. I found the community that has grown up around Faviken to be very appealing. It takes some commitment to make it part of your tour of Sweden. The good news is you can stay over and you can hunt with Nilsson’s colleagues.

I have tried to remember if I have ever eaten at a restaurant with a Michelin star and I do not think I have yet. I am going to be in Melbourne, so I looked up Attica to find out what it costs to eat there. I do not normally budget so much for a meal. I might bust out and spend $50-75 per person (includes wine) once or twice in an adventure. I am not an adventurous eater and I am always concerned that I will fail to appreciate the effort. For me the company makes the meal.