The Reach of a Chef: Book on Design?

I am an unapologetic foodie. Left with any kind of free time in my days, I fill it […]

I am an unapologetic foodie. Left with any kind of free time in my days, I fill it with wandering around grocery stores staring at ingredients, reading food essays and cookbooks, and cooking. The end of the brutal day when everything went wrong, and you want to crack a beer? I want to turn baby artichokes. So it’s not surprising I’m reading The Reach of a Chef: Professional Cooks in the Age of Celebrity when I should be reading Wikinomicsor Designing Interactions.

But as I closed the book on the last page this morning, I couldn’t help but feel the plight he described sounded familiar. Chefs, having struggled for years to perfect their craft, find themselves stuck with two choices. They must either become businessmen in order to open more restaurants, or become master craftsmen so they can charge higher and higher prices for their dishes. In the book this is epitomized by Thomas Keller, opening Per Se and Bouchon in Las Vegas, with plans for more, and Masa charging 350 a person for dinner as a start. Meanwhile Keller sighs over not being able to cook anymore. Does this sound familiar, anyone?

How many times have you heard a design manager complain abut not being able to design anymore? How many times have you heard a senior designer puzzle over going into management. How many large companies now offer “senior practitioner” routes for their best talent, allowing them to have the earning power of managers rather than lose them?

Other chapters, on Grant Achatz’s Alinea (written about here earlier) and Melissa Kelly’s Primo show chef’s pushing their craft toward innovation, seeking to engage their audience in new and more compelling ways. Cross your eyes slightly and you can see the struggle between design innovators and user-centered designers played on on a new field. The book speaks to the challenges chefs face as they grow more successful; how the struggle to define themselves, reinvent themselves, and —hardest of all— make a decent living.

Life repeats itself over and over, it’s called convergent evolution. And in the craft-professions —design, engineering and now cooking—we see the same patterns and the same solutions. Which leads me to the next question: when are we going to see the design channel on TV? Top designer? Hell’s Studio? I’ve got my application ready…


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    did you watch Top Design? While it was Interior Design, it was close to our facet of the design profession – at least I could relate and loved the cattiness and the pretentiousness of it all.

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