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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The art of cooking and doing business

I love food. I love cooking. I love sharing favorite dishes with friends. So it’s time to share a story about two leaders in the field of cooking whom I admire for their recipes and their leadership.
Born and raised on the outskirts of Strasbourg, France, the earliest memories of world famous chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten are about food. The Vongerichten home centered around the kitchen, where each day Jean-George’s mother and grandmother would prepare lunch for about 50 employees in their family-owned business. Jean-George is known as a savvy business man and an excellent chef with his innovative, high-quality cuisine. He is the owner of several three and four – star restaurants in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. He traded traditional meat stocks for the intense flavors and satisfying textures created by fruit essences, vegetable juices, light broths, and herbal vinaigrettes resulting in astounding tastes and ‘feels’. Jean-Georges is capable of creating intensely flavorful dishes. Anyone who ever had the luxury of having lunch or dinner at the Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis when Jean-Georges was still in charge will know what I am talking about. The secret is his subtle and surprising combinations and his dedication to innovative techniques.
Jamie Oliver is another great chef whose recipes I love to cook. He is known around the world for his cookbooks, his television shows, his work with disadvantaged youth and young adults, and his revolutionary influence on school lunches in the United Kingdom. Born in 1975, Jamie developed his fascination for food at his parents’ restaurant in Essex. He also loved the cooking that went on at home, with the delicious smells of home-made cooking with fresh ingredients stimulating his palate, his brains, and his imagination. Jamie is a chef who likes to take risks. He set up `Fifteen Foundation', a charity which trains unemployed young adults to become professional chefs, and gambled over a million pounds of his own money on its success, without informing his wife. The accompanying TV series and book were both huge successes.
You may ask yourself: what are the distinguishing differences between these cooks and your ordinary cook? What’s the relationship to excellence in the workplace and to great leadership?   I will gladly tell you my take on this, but it’s not a one-factor explanation nor an easy ‘how-to-get-rich-and-famous’ recipe.
Jean-George and Jamie ‘own’ characteristics of great, innovative leaders: courage, perseverance, passion put into practice, and innovation. Jean-George was the first to combine the flavor of Thailand with French technique. Call this innovative, courageous, visionary. Mixing Thai flavor with the famous French techniques was almost like cursing in church. Jean-Georges spent many years of travel and research through Southeast Asia. Call this investing and being in it for the long term. Jamie likes to take risks which requires courage, he follows his passion, simplifies his business, makes it affordable, and he exemplifies choices you make in life and career. Both men show a lifelong obsession with food, flavors, and techniques - a lifelong passion that shows itself in everything they undertake. Without this passion they would not be the leaders they are in their field.
If we look at people who excel in the business of creating flavors and dishes, is top notch cooking really that much different from doing excellent business with passion and courage?
Something to ponder: How can you spread the fragrant smells and the award winning tastes of home cooking in your business? How much time, energy, integrity, research, passion, and true attention do you invest in your people, your products, your services, your processes, your clients? If you take away only one thing from this article, than let it be curiosity about Jean-Georges’ and Jamie’s food and qualities and how they got where they are today. 

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