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6 Things You Can Learn from Thomas Keller

We've all heard the story before about the famous chef who got his or her start as a dishwasher. Even the country's most decorated chef can tell that story.

In a recent article in Forbes, Chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame sat down to discuss his past and how it has carried him into the future. Like so many in the foodervice industry -- and even those in the workforce at large -- Keller worked his way up from a small, entry-level position, and he learned a lot along the way.

Starting as a dishwasher, or the "dish pit" as Keller calls it, he put in his time and learned some valuable lessons that eventually led him to culinary immortality. Those lessons were summarized by Shep Hyken in the Forbes article.


Even in the "dish pit," it's important to develop and adhere to a process. When things get busy, you'll be happy you have a system in place. The other option is to get behind and fail. Know where everything belongs. Even dishwashers can have a system of mise place.


Rooted in organization, efficiency is often data-driven. How many plates can you clean in an hour? Being efficient is to get the most out of what you have, and this will ultimately save you time, effort, and money.


Feedback is much more than just positive or negative affirmations. It can also be a lesson as to how to become more organized and more efficient. Feedback isn't just external, either. With an honest and critical eye, we can also self-evaluate in ways that will lead to greater success. Be disciplined enough to be honest when you can do better work.


Rituals are an opportunity to define habits that are rooted in discipline. Doing the same things day in, day out provides an element of consistency that can translate to how well we do our work. There's even ritual in the process of dishwashing.


Both literally and figuratively, repetition is critical -- and it's different from ritual. Repetition is the act of doing the same thing over and over again, the actual task. Ritual is a larger set of processes in which a task is repeated. As Keller says, many say practice makes perfect, but "perfect practice makes perfect" might be closer to the truth.


Every single staff member is part of a team. Everyone depends on everyone else, even the dishwasher. Especially the dishwasher. Though a clean plate in a fine dining establishment like The French Laundry might be expected and often unnoticed, you can be sure a dirty plate would garner some attention. Everyone has an important job to do.

These are lessons for the kitchen and for life.

Every foodservice operation, every organization, and individual within would be wise to consider these nuggets from Thomas Keller.


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