It’s 5:30am and I’m watching Chef’s Table on Netflix.
I actually planned to write about something else this morning, but I was inspired by Francis Mallman – an Argentine chef and leader who was the focus of the episode of Chef’s Table that I was watching.
Chef’s Table, if you are not familiar with the show, is a documentary series that profiles a single, world-renowned chef. You learn about their backgrounds, their path to success, and their philosophies.
What you learn, when you watch several episodes, is (1) each chef is a leader – in their profession and in their own personal leadership, and (2) that, while each of the chefs are wildly different people with different lifestyles and perspectives, their leadership is developed through their successes and their failures.
Every one of the chefs profiled on Chef’s Table, had crucial failure that taught them about themselves and how to be true to themselves, before they gained international fame.
It’s inspiring to hear their stories and I was particularly struck by Francis Mallman talking about one of those turning point moments in his career that I think is an important lesson for all of us.
Francis Mallman on Chef’s Table (at about the 32 min mark):
“I was quite arrogant and I thought I was best chef. I was always with my huge white hat. I would use caviar and salmon and I was so serious.
Then, one day, the restaurant was booked by the head of Cartier, the jewel company. French men.
The people sat, they dined, they laughed, they talked, they drank. And I was walking around the tables, after dinner, in my whites with my hat…(laughs)…with my hat…and the head of Cartier got up and he came up to me and said, ‘I would like to have a word with you.’
So, we went, sort of, on the side and he said, ‘You know, Mr. Mallman, this was a really horrible meal. And I think you have to think what you are doing because it wasn’t quite right. I want to say this in a nice way to you, because I see a lot of effort in what you do, but this was not French food.’
I looked at him and I said, ‘Sir, thank you very much.’ But on my insides I thought, this guy, you know, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s not a chef. He’s French. He does beautiful watches and jewels, but, you know, what does he know about cooking?
So, I went home to sleep with that and I never forgot it. It was something heavy in me.
In time, I realized that he was right. I wasn’t doing the right thing. I was just trying to copy, exactly, everything I had learned. And I think that, that happens in every craft in life. You know, you’re young, you have a master, you want to emulate him, do what he does, but, at some point in life, you have to turn round and say, ‘I have to find my own way in my own language.’
There comes a point, when it is time to take all that you have learned from those who have gone before you and live and work the way that is right for you.
This comes naturally and there is no set timeline for it, but, when you feel it is that time, take the risk.