3 Lessons I Learned from a Cooking Show

Ever watched Chef's Table on Netflix? Each episode features a world-renowned chef from all corners of the globe. Each dish is intricate, unique, and mouth-watering. 

I'm a sucker for cooking shows in general, but what fascinates me about each episode of Chef's table is the way they masterfully weave personal story, creativity, and business. You get to step into the mind of the artist and the visionary.

Although photography is quite different from a plate of "Tasmanian Ocean Trout poached in Olive Oi", the stories, principles, and wisdom are music to the ears of this photographer. So here are 3 lessons I learned from a cooking show:

  1. True creativity stems from owning your story.

  2. Creativity takes time.

  3. Creativity is important but not ultimate.

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1. True creativity and connection with others stems from owning your story. 

Each chef excelled – not by all going to Paris to learn how to cook one sophisticated cuisine – but rather by drawing from their own cultures, experiences, and ingredients. My favorite episode so far is Season 1, Episode 5, featuring New Zealand Chef, Ben Shrewy. He tells the story of almost drowning in the ocean, his dad's heroic rescue, and how that experience has directly affected a number of his most creative dishes.

They build off of foods they grew up with, twist their traditional dishes, translate personal stories into flavor and presentation, and learn to work with ingredients from their backyard. I've noticed a trend or progression to each story: 

  • Childhood experiences, relationships, curiosity — introduction to their skill or palette.

  • Persistence and practice — developing their skill.

  • Adulthood struggle and rejection — many of them were fired, received terrible reviews, or were in financial crisis.

  • Continual experimentation and developing creativity — even at the heights of their careers, still making time to create new things.

  • Recentering and refocusing — often times after giving their life to succeed at their art, realizing or refocusing on what was most valuable.

Do you see any of those themes in your own journey? Or maybe you're in the middle of one of them? Each of us have a trail of moments that have led us to this point – this is our story. I know, it can be so hard to see what's unique to you. But it doesn't have to be as grand or dramatic as you think. Sometimes simple is most meaningful and easy to resonate with.

A few bonus videos to help you think through your story:

How to find your story and tell it compellingly
How to uncover your story for an authentic brand

2. Creativity takes time.

One practice that Ben Shrewy implements at his restaurant is "Experimental Tuesdays". One the slowest day of the week, he invents a totally new menu and the team works on developing each new dish that day – serving it to their brave customers for dinner. Some dishes are disastrous, but some become new standards. 

"When I started, I didn't feel that I had a culinary identity. . . .Each week, each year, you gain confidence and your vision becomes clearer."
- Ben Shewry

Be patient with yourself as you grow, learn, create. We are by far our worst critics and it can be enslaving. Give yourself freedom to take it slowly, finding your place and your voice along the way. 

3. Creativity is important but not ultimate.

...It must work in harmony with business.

"There's a romantic story that says people are just creative because that's what they like to do. And they just go around all the time creating. Which is just kind of ridiculous in a way. Sometimes people have to create out of pure necessity. If I didn't create things that were inspiring to people or that people didn't like, we were going to go broke." 
- Ben Shewry

We want to say that everyone should just create and "be true to yourself" and all those wonderful ideas, but sometimes you have to be strategic and mindful and cater to your audience. I'm not saying to always replicate or to simply please the masses – not by any means. But I've wrestled through this tension myself and found it fascinating to hear the same perspective shared from a totally different industry.

...It must work in harmony with life.

At some point in the episode, each chef mentions either their regret at missing out on their relationships and kids' childhoods or points to those relationships as their greatest joy and motivation. Hard work, hustle, brilliant creativity is nothing if we're not truly living. If we're not resting, celebrating, exploring, loving. 

ideas for Application:

  1. Watch the videos listed under Lesson 1 and write out the themes and transitions of your own story. Find ways to incorporate portions of your story into 25% of what you write and share.*

  2. Create your own version of "Experimental Tuesdays". Build practice and creativity into your schedule – whether that's writing for 20 minutes each morning regardless of how "inspired" you feel, taking a week off during the summer to create a personal project, doing a 365 challenge where you take pictures for no one but yourself.

  3. Watch Chef's Table! Soak in the stories and inspiration. Or if you're not into cooking, but want to hear more stories of entrepreneurs building and learning and sharing their stories, check out the podcast How I Built This.

*Did you know that one of the services we provide each client is a pre-session consultation/chat/coffee date where we not only plan your session but get to talk about your story, the things about you that are unique and irresistible, and how to channel that into your images? If you need help working through your story as an artist or entrepreneur, I would love to walk through that with you!