Foodie Friday and it’s time to plan out the weekend. I’ve got some friends arriving during the week and they’ve already asked for some very specific things to eat. Not because they’re picky eaters but because I’ve served them before and they seem to consider these things as signature dishes of mine.
If you watch “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network, the heart of the competition is when a chef names his or her signature dish and competes against Bobby who tries to improve on the chef’s version. Sometimes Bobby does just that, usually by making it his own. He’ll add some different spices or honey. He’ll plate it more attractively or top it with a relish that brings out the dish’s flavor. When you think about it, Bobby is altering the chef’s signature to make it HIS signature. It’s not forgery; it’s uniquely his.
That’s something each of us should be asking ourselves about our own business. First, what’s MY signature dish? What do I make in a way that is truly mine? No chef walks on Bobby’s show and announces some dish that the chef has made up. It’s always something standard – bouillabaisse, green chicken curry, veggie burgers, or any one of hundreds of things you can find on many menus. The chef is known for cooking it in their own unique way. What are you known for that may be done by others but not as well or as uniquely as you?
If you can’t really answer the question, that might be something you want to spend some time and develop. When you’re basically a commodity, you have very little room to compete on anything but price. If market demand is overwhelmingly high, you’re fine. When it’s not, you’re in trouble.
Your signature dish is you. It represents your style and identity. It becomes a part of how others see you. If your business doesn’t have one, you need to get in the proverbial kitchen and get to work developing one. Sooner rather than later, please!
This Foodie Friday I’d like to spend a moment thinking about what one commentator on this blog called the “cult” of Kenji. Kenji, of course, is noted food writer Kenji Lopez-Alt. He got his start working in food under some noted chefs in the Boston area, having graduated from MIT with a degree in, of course, architecture. That’s right, and to me, that makes perfect sense given his place in the food world. More about that in a second.
Kenji went on to work for Cooks Illustrated. I’ve written about Cooks before and I’m a huge fan. The way Cooks does things is very much reflected in Kenji’s work, especially in his book The Food Lab. The magazine and Kenji’s work are the result of applying the scientific method to cooking. Come up with a hypothesis and then test rigorously with skepticism about what you’re seeing until you either prove or disprove your theory. Now I realize that figuring out if you need to brown meat before you put it in a slow cooker isn’t the same sort of science as finding a cure for the coronavirus, but the process is sort of the same.
I’m a fan of this. If you’ve read more than a few of these screeds you know that I’m very much into a fact-based world. Most of Kenji’s work doesn’t involve preference although obviously when it comes to “what tastes better” it’s impossible not to be subjective. Objectivity, however, should be our goal, both in food and in life and in business. That’s why Kenji’s background in architecture makes sense to me. It combines the science of what’s “buildable” with the art of what’s beautiful. Great food is like that. It’s the art of combining flavors with the science of cooking ingredients to perfection.
Your business needs to be the same way. You can’t rely on opinions when there are facts available. You may think the pasta water needs to be salted “like the sea” until you test ziti cooked in varying levels of salinity for taste and texture. The facts say that’s too much salt, no matter what the opinion of your Italian grandmother might be. The opinion of your marketing director that a campaign is terrific is not as good as the results of A/B testing that shows what moves the needle.
We do, however, eat with our eyes and taste with our mouths. Art counts. What Kenji and his compatriots have done for cooking – combining art and science – is what you need to be doing in your business every day. You with me?
Filed under Consulting, food
It’s Foodie Friday and I can’t think of a more appropriate topic for these times than comfort food. I suppose that what’s considered comfort food varies from person to person. Generally speaking, I always think of it as some food that brings back wonderful memories. It’s the stuff we eat when we’re stressed, and if you’re not stressed even a little bit at the moment you’ve obviously not been paying attention.
I wrote about comfort food way back in 2008, even before Foodie Friday became a thing. I’d actually forgotten that I had done so until I saved the first draft of today’s post and WordPress attached a “2” to the title, to let me know there was already a post of the same name somewhere on the screed.
Anyway, here is what I wrote then. Enjoy it. Please stay home and cook something comforting this weekend.
Everyone has something they eat that evokes happy memories. Something that makes you feel warm and safe even if you don’t quite know why. It could be something your Mom cooked for you when you were sick or down. It could be something you associate with a meaningful experience. But everyone has one or two or maybe more.
One of mine is beef flanken – I know – you never heard of it. Basically, it’s short ribs cut across the ribs instead of in between the ribs and cooked in a mushroom vegetable soup. Butchers would call this “English cut” and it’s also how the Argentines cut their short ribs. One eats the soup and meat separately – I love to slather the boiled meat with horseradish. Hey! I didn’t say YOU had to enjoy it or find it comforting. That’s kind of the point – the unique memories and feelings each of us associate with the item.
Given all the positive feelings evoked by comfort food, the question for me is always how can I get my clients or business partners to feel about me as they do their favorite comfort food? If each of us can click with someone that deeply, we must be doing something right. Implicit in that is that a “one dish fits all” approach won’t work. Every partner is unique. Each one needs to be dealt with on an individual basis according to their tastes. It may not be easy to figure that out, but once you do it’s incredibly rewarding.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Do you have any idea how to become someones? Leave a comment!
Filed under Consulting, food