Yes Chef


TV addicts are all a flutter over the drama on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. For the first time, the restaurateurs he was trying to help were so offensive and stubborn that he begged off. It’s typical for Ramsay to bump up against major resistance from restaurant owners confronted with the glaring weaknesses of their business. Generally they see the light and at least give Ramsay’s suggestions a try. In this case, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo of Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizone dug their heels in against any critique. Amy melted down repeatedly at the slightest stress and lashed out at team members wading their way through the emotional minefield she and Samy created. Both Amy and Samy were abusive to customers to a level bordering on assault. Ramsay walked away. Major trainwreck. Major internet sensation. Major fail for their business.

The Huffington Post clearly had fun summarizing the episode. Video links included.

I don’t watch much TV anymore. I don’t have a cable subscription, but I love watching cooking documentaries (like El Bulli or Kings of Pastry) or vegging out with the occasional episode of Cake Boss or Chopped.

I’ve learned a lot of things from watching cooking shows, like the inevitability of dirty icing and fondant when making elaborate cakes. More importantly, I’ve learned about the restaurant kitchen tradition of acknowledging orders or feedback with a “Yes Chef” or “No chef.” It’s about letting the boss know you listened. It’s about pacing and information flow and learning and, yes, power structure.

On Kitchen Nightmare, Gordon Ramsay was Samy and Amy’s boss. They brought him in to fix their problems. Their business had been going off the rails, and rather than answering “Yes Chef” when customers had feedback, they labeled them haters or trolls, insulted them and threw them out of the restaurant. They pushed away the people with the most power to transform their business. Then they did the same to Ramsay, who was met with the same lack of “Yes Chef” spirit. It’s no surprise they learned nothing.

I’m finding “Yes Chef” to be an incredible tool in expanding my own skills.

Yes Chef

As a coach, my continuing training involves getting feedback on my sessions. This morning I got on the phone with some fellow coaches. I was the coach, and the others gave me feedback on how I did. The whole premise of peer feedback is to support one another’s growth, so we expect feedback to be both brutally honest and constructive. The hard truth will expose our weaknesses and illuminate new paths to growth. And yet, receiving feedback can be a challenge for the most thick-skinned among us.

As I listened to three people, including my client, tell me what worked and didn’t about the session, I repeated “Yes Chef” to myself. Every bone in my body wanted to argue with their observations, rationalize why I might have been right or justify why the level of a skill I showed was where it was today. And I would learn very little by giving in to those urges. By Yes Chef-ing, I put myself in such a subservient role during feedback that I have no option but to listen to exactly what’s being said. To listen. To really consider the message. To take it as 100% valid. To feel the reality of what my fellow coach experienced during the session.

“Yes Chef” does not preclude questions. That’s another thing Amy and Samy don’t get. They rebuffed growth. No questions allowed. Amy fired a staffer for confirming which table to bring food to, after Amy had said two table numbers in her directions. A clarifying question got her fired. What it should have gotten her was clarification, for the benefit of the staffer, the chef and the restaurant as a whole.

If we’ve really heard the feedback from a “Yes Chef” point of view, we should want to learn more. We might even be confused. And what an opportunity to start a dialog for greater learning.

And what about those urges, those skeptics, our body of knowledge that wants its own say in this feedback. In due time. In due time, with bushels of patience.

After the feedback, we get to fight the critique as much as we want. Or if we’re smart, we get to consider it. We get to weigh which things might be isolated moments and which are correctable habits. We get to imagine which are the visions for our future and which may not fit for us. We get to discern. By setting aside reaction, we give ourselves the gift of discernment. We get to discover which opportunities to grow are available and decide when we’re taking them on.

We get to grow, and we do justice to the chefs who have shared their wisdom with us.

Who could you say “Yes Chef” to today?