Passion and care: Business lessons from the top chefs

In recent months, I’ve found myself watching numerous food-related documentaries. From the Netflix show, Chef’s Table, to the PBS series, The Mind of a Chef (also available on Netflix), it’s fascinating to see the passion displayed by these culinary geniuses. It’s also interesting to see how they focus on every detail, how they all craft the unique experience they provide with care in an effort to achieve customer delight.

These shows also share glimpses of the journey some of them took to find their own voice, their unique value proposition that enables them to stand out. While each of these chefs have very different culinary styles and experiences, they offer amazing examples of customer delight. And although the lessons they teach are from the culinary world, they can be used by companies of any size and in any sector to achieve similar success.

Here are a few of my favourite chefs (and their restaurants) who create unique experiences because their passion and care is off the charts:

  • René Redzepi from the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen (The Mind of a Chef, S01E06)
  • Magnus Nilsson from Fäviken in Sweden (Chef’s Table, S01E06; The Mind of a Chef, S03E9–16)
  • Francis Mallmann at Patagonia Sur in Argentina (Chef’s Table, S01E03)
  • Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana in Italy (Chef’s Table, S01E01)
  • Niki Nakayama from n/naka in Los Angeles (Chef’s Table, S01E04)

In business terms, they have differentiated themselves by creating a value proposition that goes far beyond the product itself. If they were to measure their Net Promoter Scores (NPS), I have no doubt that they would consistently be well above the 80 mark.

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There is no doubt that top chefs around the world are amazing cooks having turned their craft into an art form. But just because you can dice carrots into equally sized small cubes (a technique known as “brunoise”), doesn’t ensure people will be willing to pay a premium or travel 750 kilometres north of Stockholm to eat at your restaurant. (The Fäviken Restaurant has GPS coordinates instead of a street address and offers tips on how to get there by air, landing at airports that are over an hour away.). You make that journey for the unique experience it offers.

So, if it’s not about the diced carrots, what is it about?

First and foremost, it’s about the chefs’ passion. When you watch these shows, you can truly see how they love what they do, that putting products together to provide something unique puts the sparkle in their eyes. Not only that, but they also know that they are not in the food business, but in the experience business and they craft that experience with deep care and attention to detail at every step.

As with any business, these restaurants work with suppliers. To achieve the best quality possible, the effort in selecting and working with the right suppliers is very important for every chef, as it should be for every business. Your user experience is only as good as the responsiveness of your web site, the quality of your hardware, the user’s experience of your packaging.

These restaurants tend to work with a handful of local producers who care deeply about the quality of their food. Look at The Mind of a Chef, S03E14, to see how Magnus Nilsson works with a local mill and how he sources the ducks for his restaurant. Amazing proof that it’s not enough for you and your company to care only about the products you create. You must show that kind of care at every step along the supply chain.

You’ll note, as well that these top chefs do not realize their visions by themselves. They work with a team of passionate people throughout the organization that together, continuously works hard to delight their customers.

From the kitchen staff to the front-line servers, if everyone is aligned and committed, they can deliver an amazing end-to-end experience to the people walking through the door.

Episode 16 of season three from The Mind of a Chef gives a glimpse of how the whole experience is choreographed and prepared down to the smallest detail, coordinating the timing of food with the changing pace you see throughout the evening. The devil is in the details as they say, and if the slightest thing isn’t perfect, customers will notice. Top chefs know that.

They also pay attention to how they look and the impact that has on the user experience. (Think about Apple stores. They are designed to provide the best user experience from the time you approach the store to the minute you step outside after your visit.)

Fäviken restaurant is aligned with the vision from its chef/owner. Its exterior, interior and furniture come together to deliver on a specific end-to-end experience for all senses.

Businesses can learn from this. Even if you are a purely SaaS/cloud-based solution, you need to look at every touchpoint with the user, considering every device they will use to interact with you—and that begins with the first ad they see on Google (you do use AdWords, don’t you?).

We can’t talk about these world-class chefs without mentioning reputation and word-of-mouth (free!) advertising . For restaurants, references such as the Michelin or Zagat guides drive awareness. Even better if you can have your own television show! Word-of-mouth advertising is usually also a key source of new customers for any restaurant and now, with social media, this is becoming even more important.

Rarely will you see the restaurant of a top chef advertise based on discounts and limited-time offers Why not? Because their offer is so different and it resonates so well with their target audiences that they don’t have to.

If you are familiar with TED talks, you may know that the first rule of their content guidelines is “no selling from the stage.” Because they know if you connect with your audience in a meaningful way, you won’t need to give a strong sales pitch. It’s the same with any other type of product or service. (Besides, unless you are Wal-Mart—and, maybe even then—and you continuously compete on price, you will end up with no margins to sustain your company over the long haul.)

There are many things we can learn from these top chefs (not least of which is that if you use salt when you fry mushrooms, they will likely boil and steam rather than fry properly) and their shows. If you haven’t seen any episodes yet, you might want to tune in. Better yet, why not take a road trip to see for yourself? That’s exactly what I aim at doing in the not-to-distant future.

Table for two please. . .

Original picture and photographer credits available at

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