Six lessons I learned from Chef Ramsay
In the last two weeks I’ve seen far too many back-to-back episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. The damned things are addictive.
Who can resist the pull of The Dilemma of the Failing Restaurant, the arrival of The Expert and the inevitable Confrontation as a restauteur discovers just how bad everything is? Not me.
There is the whole dynamic of Bad Gordon/Good Gordon as he at first condemns and then encourages the owners, chefs and staff. There is the journey from Dilemma to Conflict to Epiphany and Redemption.
I love the short, downwardly inflected ‘Wow’ that is Ramsay-speak for ‘I am appalled’ and the heart-cry of ‘Oh My God!’ he expresses at the walk-in, which is Ramsay-speak for ‘How is no-one yet dead of food poisoning? HOW?’
Yes, the show has an easily surmised ‘story arc’, and clearly the episodes are edited for effect: but it’s cracking good television!
For all the high drama, the crafting of footage for narrative and effect and the sheer voyeuristic glee of it all, I’ve come away from Kitchen Nightmares with several important lessons.
1. Pretending there is nothing wrong until the problem goes away has never solved a problem.
2. Stop panicking and step back. When your project isn’t working and you don’t know why, going heads-down, tail-up in a panicked frenzy, doing the same stuff you’ve been doing all along may be a natural instinct, but it’s what got you in this mess in the first place. Make time to stand back and reassess.
3. The phrase “I don’t know how” is not always a weakness. It’s okay to ask for help from people who have more experience or a different perspective. New viewpoints are valuable, and you may discover something about yourself or what you do. You may in fact learn a new skill!
4. Listen when you ask an expert for advice. There is no point in asking for expert advice and then telling the expert you don’t think they know what they’re talking about, just because you a) don’t like the advice, b) don’t like the expert’s tone and/or c) don’t like the expert.
5. Trust your team. You need to lead and make the final decisions, but you should gather all the facts first. Listen to the expertise you have in your partners and colleagues. You’ll go further rowing in the same direction. (Jean-Luc Picard provides a good example of this as well.)
6. For god’s sake, clean out your fridge on a regular basis before you kill someone.
All this came to a head recently when I realise I needed to find (and please excuse me for the dry business talk) a marketing and engagement strategy for the Kitty and Cadaver multimedia project.
I was getting increasingly anxious about not knowing how best to bring in readers and encourage interaction, but felt so frantically busy with writing the book sufficiently ahead, and getting other parts of the project moving, that I couldn’t stop to find out how. And I didn’t know where to start. And I couldn’t make time to start. And, and, and…
Cue spiking stress levels.
Cue my team, my partner, my colleague, my resident expert, my husband, who had great ideas (and with me hyperventilating in the corner, plenty of incentive to get me to stop and deep breathe long enough to listen to them).
We’ve just returned from a brainstorming weekend in Warburton, and I am now armed with two pages of (excuse me, more office-speak) action items. I have many more pages of detailed notes and a commitment to put aside three hours a week from the writing to work on them.
I have a plan! I feel confident, and supported, and I know there will be a lot of work ahead, but at least I have a roadmap now.
So many thanks to Tim Richards, my wise and helpful guide. And thank you Gordon Ramsay for reminding me to both ask for help and to listen and act on it when it was given.
And for reminding me to clean out the fridge. Because. Wow.
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.