Idea Graphing

As I was listening to Chef Amadeus spring from one idea to the next, a powerful image popped into my head, which I had seen in the Harvard University Food For Thought course 2013, during Chef Grant Achatz’s spotlight.
It was an idea spider graph, essentially. No, I bet that’s not the real name. I actually have no idea what it’s called.
Anyway, in his presentation video, Chef Grant (with his R&D team) drew a key ingredient in the middle of a page. Then he would draw lines radiating from that key ingredient of potential pairing ingredients and flavor profiles. Then from those second ingredients, he would brainstorm other components that would balance. Then a tertiary list of pairings for those components. And so forth until the page is full. Then he would look at those ingredients and evaluate how those would pair with the original, key ingredient. Sometimes a unique pairing was identified, and a brilliant dish would begin to develop.
Let’s give it a try. Now, I wrote this in one stream of thought, so you’re really following along the brainstorming I did.
Take the ideas listed yesterday that Chef Amadeus and I discussed. He had led off with a “simple” scallop dish on a plate. Write that in the middle of your page.
Now, what pairs with scallops, and what do you often see?
Draw a line and write that word and continue drawing radially around the scallop word. A few items came to me: bacon, chorizo, cream, white wine, tomato sauce, butter.
Now draw a line from bacon. What pairs with bacon? Apples, Applewood, lettuce & tomatoes, eggs, kale, smoke, pineapples.
Draw a line from pineapples. What else goes with pineapples? Coconuts, slushies, salsa, grilling, candied pineapple/dried pineapple.
Okay, now look back at your center ingredient and your tertiary or even quaternary ingredients, if you went one more level past pineapple. Can your tertiary or quaternary ingredient(s) pair with the center ingredient? Yup, most definitely. Pineapple salsa on a sear-grilled scallop is definitely a real dish. The acid and heat from the salsa would cut through the creamy, buttery scallop beautifully.
And there you have it: idea spider graph.

Next week–How Chef Amadeus uses the “What if” question in the kitchen.


Chef Amadeus - What if?

Courtesy of Chef Amadeus
Chef Amadeus is a large man – not in stature, but definitely in personality. I’ve been following his radio show ever since considering going to culinary school (insert post), and I listen carefully to the advice he sometimes gives to his callers. He’s based in Jacksonville, FL, now, but he had spent some of his earlier culinary years in Seattle. I was able to catch him during his last visit to the area.
We sat down together at Miller’s Guild, in the Hotel Max. Chef Jason Wilson, owner of MG, is known for his creative food items, so I was curious about his breakfasts. I wasn’t disappointed with my Coffeflour® Waffle with millet. Puffy, slightly tart, hearty, and dark brown colored, the waffle was filling and thick. Chef had the quiche du jour and a side salad. Coffee with milk for me and tea with honey for Chef.
As we started talking, I started jotting down key wisdom bombs that he kept dropping. We briefly discussed our food, and I described Coffeeflour, a product I had the opportunity to preview a few years ago when it was being developed. We started throwing ideas around of what other opportunities exist for our breakfast items and others, too. Early in our chat, he looked at me and asked me the thesis question.
“What if chefs got together and brainstormed? What kinds of great ideas would we generate?”
Chef continued by pointing out ideas that occurred to him while he reviewed the menu, looked around the dining room, and studied the giant plancha that Chef Jason, Chef Kelly, and a few of the other founding team members had built. The questions poured in:
-          Think of a basic dish, like a plain scallop. How would you prepare it? What if you grilled it on Chef Jason’s plancha?
-          What other wood could you use in the fire?
-          Can you cook directly on the wood? On the coals? Would you wrap the food in foil or clay to protect it from direct contact?
o   Look at Jamaican grilling methods for jerk chicken – they grill directly on larger wood sticks placed above a fire to impart a unique flavor to the meat surfaces.
o   If you wrapped the meat in clay, you’re making a version of a Beggar’s Chicken
-          How can you harness the flavor from the smoke?
o   What other non-traditional foods can you smoke?
o   How do you use smoke as an accent?
§  Think of how scotch makers capture the peaty smokiness in some scotches
-          How about dried and dehydrated foods? What can you dehydrate that will change the format of the food but keep the spirit of the dish?
o   Chef is dehydrating all sorts of ingredients to really challenge the traditional or conventional dishes that we eat without really reflecting on the components – until they’re made differently
o   Can you grind everything that you dehydrate into a powder, if the product is dried out enough?
I ran out of space in my pages when I was writing, and I write fairly neatly. It seems there’s no stopping the idea stream!

Tomorrow: a different structure of an idea stream. 


Accountability: Surfing the Wave of Change


I'm an alumna of Pepperdine University, and our campus is located in Malibu, CA, just off the PCH, across the highway to famous beaches. Surf culture was definitely around, and many of my friends could surf. Our mascot is even Willie the Wave, so, I'm familiar with waves. 

When in a mastermind group I've joined talked about our ups and downs at work, my mind conjured the image of waves battering a surfer hanging onto to her board. It's a familiar feeling. 

I was complaining about feeling battered around by the changes that had been occurring and the feeling of spinning out of control. A fellow caller was also describing her feeling of helplessness. Geoff Woods, our host, paused us and told us that we need to take accountability for the feelings and for the situation - regardless of the cause(s). He reminded us that our responses (not reactions) to the changing situations are the ways that we can get back on the board and not feel so helpless. 

It took me a few days to reflect on it. Instead of clinging to my surfboard and following the crests and troughs like a piece of dead wood, I can get on the surfboard and ride a crest through its progression. Okay, that sounds great, but how do I do that??

Well, here are three ways: 

First, change your mindset. I haven't met anyone who has a problem-free workplace or job. Stress at work and the requirement to respond to situations will occur. Instead of framing the situations as problems, what would happen if you considered them as opportunities to set up a system or to teach/learn? Would you feel differently about walking through that challenge?

Second, prepare yourself. When situations at work seem to go crazy, and you feel like you're being battered by waves, you probably are. And you're probably not taking the time prepare for the crests and troughs. 

There are times that I've been impressed by the ability of certain leaders to respond to crises. They seem calm, able to take in the details and issue an appropriate decision. Do they think more quickly and creatively than I do? Nah, they're better prepared and had anticipated a situation like that. 

Preparedness is key. In my work, many issues that occur in each project are similar to issues in other projects. Once you've checked off a few projects, patterns will emerge. Get ahead of those patterned problems and eliminate them, if possible, or anticipate and plan accordingly. Get ahead of the wave. 

Finally, beware the riptide. Go into the surf knowing which way the tide is flowing and which areas will drag you out to sea. There are certain tides to avoid going towards, and there are certain people whose attitudes and work practices will drag you down. Just don't go there.   

So remember: Surf don't sink in the waves of change. Prepare and practice.
Special thanks to my cousin, Joe Bergantine, for his incredible picture from Costa Rica, and to my friend, Jedediah Hohf, for his Surf like an Egyptian pic.


Culinary School ROI and a Change of Direction

ROI, a set of letters that I first heard in college when I read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," stands for "Return on Investment" and refers to the money invested into something compared to the amount of profit earned. 

Entrepreneur.com writers defined it as A profitability measure that evaluates the performance of a business by dividing net profit by net worth. In some ways, we measure the success of college students against the amount of money they paid for college. 

When I was pitching going to culinary school to my "CFO" (Josh), I had to explain the potential ROI for speeding through some of the time to gain experience by attending culinary school. I had specific goals and felt that having a professional culinary background would give me an advantage. 

With Graham in 2010
While my mentor and friend Graham Kerr had encouraged me to study at the Seattle Culinary Academy, it was never a guaranteed investment that I would be able to get further into R&D. Fortunately, the chef instructors supported my desire, and several of them provided connections that helped me cross from line cooking to recipe and product development. 

Fast forward four years, and I'm on a management track and working to develop my skills in R&D as well as hone my leadership experience, leveraging both to help me grow my career. A strong argument can be made that my investment into culinary school has reaped great benefits. 

Chef Vicki explains effect of pH on vegetable texture
That got me thinking: what about the other cooks from my culinary program? What have they done with their training? I've decided to find out. 

PeasOnMoss has been about tracking my journey from nutrition scientist to professional cook and product developer. At the beginning of the blog, I weighed the costs and benefits of attending culinary school versus working through the stations. I also personally evaluated the different culinary programs in Seattle, though I didn't post any to avoid endorsing any single program. 

Now, PeasOnMoss is continuing the narrative: tracking back to cooks and chefs I've met along the way to see where their lives have gone and what they've done with their culinary experiences. I hope you enjoy the journey. Peppered among the interviews, you'll also find my notes about personal development as a leader in the food manufacturing world - both in professional kitchens and industrial facilities. PeasOnMoss will provide you a unique inside look to the world of food, and I hope you gain an understanding and appreciation of the Back of the House. 
Photo by Elaine Cox