Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Agency = Restaurant

It's become my habit to buy a book every time I visit Sydney.
(Ok not true, I buy books everywhere I go.)
My most recent purchase was David Chang's cookbook, Momofuku.
I know, a cookbook isn't a real book, but the genius behind Chang's marketing gimmick was to make the book half recipes, half memoir.
Peter Meehan, the then New York Times food writer wrote from Chang's perspective, from being an English teacher in Japan aspiring to be a ramen cook, to being kicked around the New York dining scene, then starting his tiny struggling dirty noodle shop, and ended up at where he is now, award winning gourmet super star.
What bugged me though, was the evolution of a small noodle bar into a 5 star, online booking, sold out, $200 per head, fine dining empire.
What I got out of this book, is that growing into greatness wasn't his choice.
When he started Momofuku, he had difficulty hiring an extra staff. He put an ad on the internet and only one person applied. Someone who was as hungry and as frustrated as he was.
But the place was still struggling. Somehow, his old friends from previous big restaurants came to help. Presumably because his shop was so tiny and primitive, that they had the freedom to improve on the food. (Like a start up compared to multinational agencies.)
Eventually, regulation forced him to include dessert on his menu. And that's when he consulted his friend Christina Tosi, who was this pastry chef in another fine dining restaurant, and eventually became his full time staff aka head pastry chef at Milk Bar.
His staff was feeling tired of cooking mediocre meals, so he started KO, a 12 seat fine dining restaurant that focuses on the skill and craft of cooking.
Chang understood his staff,  it forced him to provide an environment where angry talented chefs can experiment and do whatever they want.
He was still an asshole, getting everyone Blackberrys so he could ask them to brainstorm on the go.
But he had the connection, and he knew how to spot and hire passionate chefs that are better than him, and he knew how to back off from a good idea.

Sounds like a great creative director to me.

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