Archive for September, 2014

Gordon’s Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares is a lesson in life and business. As an expert chef and restauranteur, the scope of his expertise extends far beyond just turning a restaurant around. He turns people around. I am not usually one for reality TV shows, typically you can spot when they’re fake, but not this one.

Here’s how it works and what it means to me.

Real at First Taste. Ramsey arrives at the restaurant, forms an initial opinion and tastes a wide selection of food. Typically, chefs are defensive even before hearing his criticism, which usually is about the quality of ingredients, their freshness, or presentations. Ramsey has a gift for spotting whether something was microwaved. About 50% of the time chefs try to BS him on this fact alone. Once he has sampled a variety of dishes, and has formed an negative opinion about the food, he meets with the chef and his cooking team. Without fail, Ramsey’s lets them have it. It’s a mixture of superlatives “worst, driest, most disgusting food” with direct confrontation “how can you even serve this to customers!?” Chefs reactions vary. He verbally attacks those who are defensive. And for others who do not fight back, he challenges their level of commitment. Before getting into it to fully, he’s gone for the day.

The Confrontation. It’s fascinating to see how overly prideful people respond to attack. Too often, as is the case with a direct question about whether food was microwaved, they lie. They defend poor standards even though they know those standards are indefensible. And they will attack Gordon himself, especially ethnic restaurants that claim Gordon does not have the subject matter expertise to critique them. Even when comforting with irrefutable evidence those chefs attacked in this should would rather lie and avoid the truth the own an uncomfortable reality.

Shock and Bounce. Ramsey technique is worth comment. He doesn’t stay and argue. He shocks and disappears. This sets the stage for what the next week will be like. The creates space for the wounded chef and team to reflect and regroup.

Submission. The next step in Ramsey’s process is to observe and to shame into submission. He observes by watching chefs cook dinner, make mistakes and use a series of bad habits including platting food in an unpleasing manner, creating a mess, having disorganized tickets and not delegating to staff effectively. With each mistake, Ramsey calls it out in realtime with profanity, energy and blame with each chef misstep. The impact is immediate, shocking and stressful. Some chefs collapse and others lose their temper. Gordon also enjoys shaming both chefs and owners with a refrigerator inspection. He searches for whether frozen food has dates, if cooked and raw food are being stored together and the freshness of the fish, meats and vegetables. He also inspects pots, pans, floors, seeking rodents and the disgusting build up that happens when a kitchen is not cleaned daily.

Recognition of Need. But more than just shame owners and chefs, they force them to recognize the harsh realities of what they are really working with. Typically, they will provide excuses: the ingredients can’t be bought fresh every day, or I don’t see or smell anything wrong with that. Ramey’s relentless style and his deep expertise move almost everyone he encounters to exclaim, finally, “I need help.” This is the magic phrase. Once it is said, a transformative turn around process will begin.

Getting to Help. The way Ramsey gets people to see their mistakes, drop their egos and cry “I need your help,” intrigues me. It’s done with force and with skill. At no point does he soften his blows, or attempt to make people feel better until they show a willingness to change. His tools are knowledge, brute force, and experience to provide immediate, corrective and shocking feedback. When it’s applied over and over and over again within several hours–it works.

A Different Approach. This, of course, is not my style of guiding behavioral change. I much prefer listening, raising awareness around issues and developing a strategic approach to solve them. It’s slow and hard work, and it requires getting an organization’s leadership team on-board. While Ramsey’s process is abrasive and shocking, how satisfying it must feel to conduct it without worry or embarrassment, only the knowledge that your advice is the right advice.

How He Turns It Around. The reminder Gordon’s process is exciting. During it Ramsey always makes the same changes yet they always seem to work – at least for the short term. Here’s how he fixes restaurants:

  • Modernizes the dining room look/feel removing clutter and cutting out gimmicks and cutesy design
  • Ensuring spotless, clean restaurants and kitchens
  • Changing the menu: Condensing the options for a typical 50+ to a 10-15 winners
  • Changing the menu: Sourcing local meat, fish and produce
  • Reigniting passion: Finding the “why” that motivates staff and owners and making them believe again that they can cook and finding their “inner ratatouille”
  • Opening up all communication blocks and blind spots
  • Acting like a leader by taking responsibility

Applying Lessons to Transformation. These transformative techniques have help me in my life and in my business and parallel the process utilized by Ramsey.

  • Remembering the abundance of fresh ingredients (people and solutions) around you
  • Focusing on doing less better
  • Cleaning physical surroundings to provide for a peaceful mind
  • Digging for the why to truly understand motivations
  • Building a culture that seeks out negative feedback
  • Behaving as a leader by setting and enforcing standards

These life principles are explored through Gordon Ramsey’s show.

Although each episode operates with the same formula, they are always worthwhile to watch because of the transformative change which occurs to the business and the people. I feel very energized by this show, and I certainly hope you will watch it soon on Netflix. It has a life-enhancing quality helping me remember that my why, like Ramsey’s, is helping people transform.








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