The first time I met Chef Thomas Keller, it was at his New York City restaurant, Per Se, where we were about to do a Bloomberg Television interview. He was dressed in a sharp business suit--out of his "Chef's Whites" we joked--to match the outfits of his business partners, Steve Ross, the Chairman and CEO of Related and Ken Himmel, the CEO of Related Urban.
Then came the kitchen tour and suddenly, Chef Keller appeared in his white uniform. In the time it took me to unwire myself from the cameras, Chef Keller was already ready for the next part of business. And so were his staff--dozens of them busy in common commotion for a weeknight at the three-Michelin starred establishment.
You can learn a lot about running a business from watching a chef run his kitchen. Chef Keller would be the embodiment of that idea. Known for his exacting, detail-oriented approach, many in business have taken notes to learn how he came to build two of the most sought-after restaurants in the country.
Below are 5 of the biggest lessons drawn from watching Chef Keller work:
1. Execution is near flawless. Chef Keller is known for how consistent and precise his dishes are. You experience with almost mathematical precision each dish done exactly as it was meant to be which is no easy feat at such a high level, 365 days a year.
2. No detail is too small. The best leaders look at every detail with care, whether it's the grand strategic plan or whether the spoons are the right size. Some might dismiss this as "maniacal" but every detail matters. No problem is too big or too small to be given some attention.
3. Setbacks are opportunities. Chef Keller has had his share of setbacks. His first restaurant closed after the stock market crashed. Per Se was almost wiped out right when it first opened after a fire blazed through the kitchen. After the Chef began receiving congratulatory calls from his peers in Asia who said a fire was actually good luck, he began to rebuild Per Se into the restaurant it is today. Everyone goes through hard times--you have to adjust your vision and find your opportunity when those setbacks happen.
4. Don't be afraid to apologize. When the New York Times wrote a critical review of Per Se earlier this year that set off a tizzy in the luxury dining world, Chef Keller came out with a direct apology. "We are sorry we let you down," he wrote. "When we fall short, we work even harder." A simple, direct acknowledgement went a long way in calming any further speculation of what might happen and that in turn, allowed everyone to move on.
5. Surround yourself with talent. It's almost a cliche among leaders but it's so true, no matter what business you're running. If a top chef is not finding others who become as good or better than him or her, he or she is not doing the right job. "If you're hiring the right people, then ultimately they'll be better than you," he told Men's Health a few years ago. Here's a list of some of the proteges who got their start working for Chef Keller.
I only spent that one afternoon with Chef Keller, but as part of Radiate's latest "unique experience" for members, I'm about to spend an evening learning more from one of the best in the world. You can win this exclusive chance yourself from Radiate by entering to join a private free dinner with Chef Keller at Per Se. Deadline is tomorrow so enter soon and good luck!