Yes, Chef!

Barbara Bermes
4 min readMay 22, 2024

What a show and a successful kitchen can teach one about leadership

Product leaders like to find concepts to compare (product) leadership to; it helps us apply and learn if/how well we can have a positive impact on the success of a business and its people; one regular reference is using the military and Navy SEALs practices (btw I recommend this book).

Although this post is about people with uniforms, it’s not about weapons or defending countries, it’s about people excelling with food services! Today, I’d love to add another concept that might be more enjoyable for some leaders: running a kitchen 👩‍🍳.

I never really got into Ted Lasso and was able to relate much to everyone’s feelings about how this show embodied good leadership, yet I found another show I’d like to highlight here when it comes to leadership lessons; I recently finished watching season 1+2 of “The Bear” and was instantly convinced to compare some of Carmy’s (main character) leadership practices to product leadership.

But, before I start writing about the show, I want to ask you — have you ever paid close attention to how a kitchen functions when you eat at a good restaurant? If not, I highly recommend doing the following; pick a restaurant you believe has great service and quality, and ideally has a kitchen to look into to see the action in real-time.

https://www.instagram.com/p/C38geYvM4gI/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igsh=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

I did this the other day at Aloette, a higher-end Toronto-based restaurant, I sat at the bar (direct view into kitchen) with a dear foodie friend and we couldn’t stop observing each staff/function in the kitchen, i.e. how and what they did, so well. The service was excellent. That made me ask the question of how they do it and why. Below are high-level observations that can easily be tied back to product teams and leadership.

  • Clear ownership (= RACI in product team): Each person in the kitchen had a specific job assigned to get done. Nobody was confused, and the expectations were clearly defined. Nobody was trying to get into the other person’s business.
  • There is no “I” in Team: the kitchen and restaurant business is only successful if everyone works together.
  • Repetition and preparation make perfection (= formal product craftmanship): Even if the staff rotates, the roles, the food and the quality stay the same, no matter what day or time you decide to visit the restaurant.
  • Focus (= OKRs): Structure, focus and clear guidance made the prep, the placement and the delivery of each of the meals perfect.
  • Quality control (= QA): There was one chef/person at the end to “sign off” on the dish before it was carried to the customer, they made sure the plate, the portion, the extras, and the placement were perfect. Only then did they tell the waiters to start delivering it to the table and customer.

So, I invite you to do the same, sit down in a restaurant, and see how you can get inspired by how a restaurant/kitchen operates. It’s fascinating to watch (to me).

https://www.cinemaexpress.com/english/news/2024/Feb/10/the-bear-season-3-release-window-revealed-51924.html

Let’s go back to the main idea of the post, i.e. what I have learned in addition to watching Aloette’s staff providing excellent service, the Bear gave me further similarities/structures that resembled great leadership and customer service.

  • Empowerment (= Low-ego management): Respect and flat hierarchy, Carmy invites everyone in his kitchen to call their peers Chef, not only making it clear there is on one Chef but also calling a dishwasher “chef” who is respected for their work, no matter what impact or seniority. It helps everyone feel needed, respected and valued. It’s refreshing to keep hearing everyone responding to each other with “Yes, Chef!”.
  • Targeted Professional Development: Carmy sends Tina to culinary school, Marcus to Copenhagen to advance his pastry techniques, and Richie gets to polish forks (!). Carmy sees what each of his staff knows and can do well, and helps them enhance such skills by sending them out to seek development.
  • Diversity: I almost didn’t continue the show, why? Because to me the first 3–4 episodes were so male/bro-heavy that I was disappointed in the show that got almost 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. How can a show be so highly rated when all you see is just guys running a business? Over the following episodes AND the end of final season 2, this perception takes a 180-degree turn! More and more females-identified get air time and show off progress and success.
  • Grow talent into leaders: Pass the torch, Carmy is growing Syd (a young female chef) into the main chef throughout season 2 to run the kitchen. She is young, eager and talented and Carmy recognizes it and lets her go at it!
  • Vulnerability: In the final episode of season 2, Carmy is under the table, panicking before their grand re-opening, and Syd calls him out for not being focused. He agrees and apologizes. This is not the only example where Carmy apologized for his actions, but a true example of reflection on one's shortfalls. Throughout the seasons, Carmy never stops being vulnerable, reflects and keeps coming back to his staff to correct and apologize for his behaviour where needed.

Season 3 is coming up in June and I’m keen to see how the characters and the restaurant will inspire me.

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Barbara Bermes

Product Director @Workleap | Formerly Product at @Deel, Head of Product @lever, product @Mozilla | Author of @lean_websites | bbinto.me