"You have to listen to the ingredients."
Dan Kish knows more about food than anyone I’ve ever met. He has been an entrepreneurial chef, a teacher and an executive. He has always been a student. A few months ago he left his position as Head Chef at Panera Bread where he was responsible for developing the menu for 2000 restaurants across America to become a consultant.
Over the last few years, he has met with the world’s greatest chefs, learned how to predict the date an Avocado will turn ripe and sourced suppliers capable of providing hundreds of thousands of pounds of antibiotic-free turkey.
He understands the growing conditions, the harvesting practices, the shipping methodologies, the preparation techniques, the chemistry of, the cooking of and the delivery of food that tastes like a memory and is good for you.
Dan is the embodiment of someone in flow with their work. Someone able to unlock their own creativity and the creativity of others, every day.
- It doesn't feel like this is work. It is the natural expression of who you are.
- The willingness to accept or to explore the possibility that what you currently believe might be wrong. That open mindedness allows new inputs to enter into the way that you look at the world and the way you do things.
- Having a vision of the future that is framed through the lens of the consumer experience. How satisfied will they be with with this? How much joy will they get put of this? How memorable would this be? When that reference point provides the guard rails and the focus, it allows you to bring everybody else along for the ride.
"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT
Episode 15: Dan Kish / Panera Bread
Hello, you're listening to Fearless. Where we explore the art and science of leading creativity. That unpredictable amorphous and invaluable resource that's critical to every modern business. Each week, we talk to leaders of the world's most disruptive companies about how they're jumping into the fire, crossing the chasm and blowing up the status quo. Leaders who've mastered the art off turning the impossible into the profitable. Today the world needs leaders who can unlock creativity like never before. Fearless leaders, why shouldn't that be you? This episode is called The Chef. Before we start, housekeeping from last week's episode. I got a number of emails from people responding to my question about whether it's possible to be close, personal friends with people that work for us when we are the leader. One of the most interesting came from somebody who has actually built a business with friends of theirs, that was designed to invest in people they wanted to be friends with.
I'm going to have more on this topic in a future episode. I think it's really interesting conversation. Meanwhile, if you want to add your voice, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now onto today's show. Success as a leader, depends on overcoming two sets of obstacles. Those that other people put in our way and those that we put in our own way. The second kind are much harder to see and much, much harder to overcome. As human beings, we tend to see our flaws and our weaknesses in sharp relief. When something comes easily to us, we believe almost automatically, it must be easy for everyone else too so we minimize it. But if a leader is going to fulfill their potential reframing this misconception is critical. Only then can they recognize their natural capacities and gifts and only then can they gain confidence through the simple act of trusting themselves. I say simple but of course trust is not simple, it's hard won and easily lost. Even more so, when it comes to trusting ourselves. We expect so much and become self critical so quickly.
We remember the loses and gloss over the success. The second we achieve something, we raise the bar and reactivate the doubt, sending trust in ourselves back into the far corner of the room. There's a moment when someone suddenly sees themselves clearly that is magical. Their facial muscles change and their eyes fill with possibility and self belief. When that happens things start to fall into place very quickly. They become confident, more willing to try new things while simultaneously becoming more selective about how they spend their time. They start to become more intentioned, more focused and more energized and they start to become more creative. Both in how they think and in how they lead. There are different names for that state of being. Sir Ken Robinson calls it The Element. Professional athletes call it the zone, the Chinese call it being in [Chi 00:02:51].
I think it's what happens when someone has discovered their strengths and married them to the difference they want to make in the world. A few words that describe what for many is a journey of a lifetime. You know when you're in the company of a leader who has reached that place, their work is a natural and often instinctive expression of who they are. They attract opportunity and talent as though magnetically. Problems seem smaller, solutions seem more obvious and more impactful. There is for [inaudible 00:03:19] better description as flow to their lives. I believe this flow is available to everyone, it's not simple to identify and it's not simple to find. But I've seen it often enough to know that it's a realistic ambition and that it is the right ambition, there's no single path. It takes a jigsaw puzzle approach sometimes, finding pieces and slotting them in. I've spent the last few days in the Qigong workshop. Qigong is an ancient Chinese movement meditation and healing practice.
There are many ways to describe Qigong, the simplest and most meaningful to me is that it helps you to help yourself. Practices like this can often be part of the jigsaw. As you think about the picture of your own life, ask yourself how often you feel you're in flow and what's stopping it from happening. You get one life and it's happening right now. Dan Kish knows more about food than anyone I've ever met. He's been an entrepreneurial chef, a teacher and an executive and he's always been a student. A few months ago, he left his position as head chef of panera bread where he was responsible for developing the menu for 2000 restaurants across America. During that time he's met with the world's greatest chefs. Learnt how to predict the date an avocado will turn ripe and saw suppliers capable of providing hundreds of thousands of pounds of antibiotic free turkey a week. He understands the growing conditions, the harvesting practices, the delivery methodologies, the preparation techniques, the chemistry of, the cooking of and the delivery of food that taste like a memory and is actually good for you as well.
He's the embodiment of someone in flow with their work. Someone able to unlock their own creativity and the creativity of others everyday. I talked to Dan about the challenges of designing menus and delivering food to millions of people a day. About how to unlock new ideas at scale and about the risks involved in unlocking creativity and innovation.
Charles: Dan welcome to the show, thanks for being here.
Dan Kish: You're welcome, it's great to be here.
Charles: We're sitting in the middle of Millbrook in the heart of Dutches county on one of the hottest days of the summer. We're surrounded by green fields and fresh food and the challenge of getting something good to eat while we sit here right now doesn't seem that difficult but I've always been fascinated in talking to you about how you take the essential goodness that is in the ground, fundamentally and turn that into food for literally the masses. When you were at panera, just to give us some scope and some context around this, how many restaurants were you servicing at panera everyday?
Dan Kish: We were just over 2000.
Charles: How many customers a day roughly?
Dan Kish: Right around 9 to 10 million a week.
Charles: 9 to 10 million people a week?
Dan Kish: Yes.
Charles: With food that you oversaw the process by which you develop what you came to describe as clean food. Completely devoid of pesticides and chemicals and so on talk to us about that.
Dan Kish: Yeah, the journey to clean if you will was many years and many meetings as we explored how to define what we meant by clean. When we talk about clean food, we came up with a definition of free of artificial colors, artificial flavors, other artificial preservatives and artificial sweeteners. It's important, when we talk about things being natural or clean, to put some perimeter around that, some sort of a definition that we could live with. Keeping in mind that the journey to clean is just that. It's journey, not a destination and it's what began as kind of a flavor of the month or a cause dejour when it came to was it going to be high fructose corn syrup? Was it going to be trans-fats. We were getting hit up by these one off things and then just took a step back and said, you know what let's just clean the whole thing up. As a legacy brand that's been around for 25 plus years, you could imagine the food that came to the menu and let's call it in the late 80s, this wasn't even a consideration set.
As tastes evolved and as people leading inclinations and habits came to light, we found that there was a real momentum around good eating and then kind of a good food movement. What's great about that is it's not a trend, it's something that I think is here to stay, it's going to get more and more. As a business, the opportunity was or was and is and will be there isn't a lot of good food in America. There's a lot of food and when we talk about good, I think of it as is it something that I would eat, that I should eat, that's good to eat and also good for me. When we think about what's inside the food, and this is what led to clean was taking just an honest look at the food we were serving and saying, "Well why is that ingredient in there. Why is there that much salt? Where does that sweetener come from?" For me I'm not a food scientist, I'm a chef.
I've asked the naïve questions around well, what does that ... What is the function of that word I can't pronounce. We partnered with food scientists and those in the nutrition community who could really help us distill down and put parameters around and define what we meant by clean.
Charles: Food is one of the most creative forms of expression in many ways. I want to talk about that in a minute the notion of taking food that is good for you, seems so obvious as to almost be redundant but we both know it's not. There's more and more evidence coming out that fundamental science about what is good for you and what is bad for you has been wrong for the last 50 years. We've been working towards low fat diets and we've replaced fat or the food industry has replaced fat with sugar and salt and as a result of which we've got epidemic levels of obesity and heart disease and diabetes. The shift that you made at a company as large as that is staggering actually. To take basically, commonly accepted food practices and say we don't want to create food like that, we're not prepared to make food like that, we're going to create food that is essentially healthy and as natural as possible, is a shift in it of itself and I'd like to hear about how you went through that process.
I would really like to talk about how you take that kind of scale of challenge and make it practical on a day to day basis because the level of innovation, the level of original thinking that has gone into many of the practices that you put in place at panera and that you continue to espouse in your consultancy, I think really are great examples of creativity at work. This is really creative leadership. Talk to us about how you first convince the company or where the mindset shift in the company came from. From food as everybody understood it to healthy food. Then lets talk a little bit about how you then went about innovating at scale to allow 9 to 10 million people to eat that way.
Dan Kish: Sure, well, I think it's important to clarify this notion of healthy food. I think most food begins healthy, now how much you eat and how you live your life, defines how healthy you are and this ... This is a very personal journey for everyone, I would also start by saying it's a business and not a charity. In order to be successful in business, you have to give the customer what they want. At the same time, if you have a mindedness around wanting to improve the way America eats, well then you have to challenge certain norms. This was a hybrid exercise of ... There were products on the menu that remain that are staples that if you took them off the menu they'd be in mutiny. However, just because they've always been made a certain way doesn't mean they should continue to be. Yet the customer experience needs to be the same. What I've found is that you can make something "as healthy as you want" but that doesn't mean the majority of the customer base is going to gravitate to it.
This is what I loved about the work around cleaning up the menu was we could still serve something that was decadent, it was rich but you could pronounce everything in it.
Charles: That's a good reference point actually. Can you pronounce the things that you're adding to the food.
Dan Kish: If I can't enunciate the ingredient, I should take pause.
Charles: That doesn't count for radicchio.
Dan Kish: Well, there are some things that are hard to pronounce that are completely out of nature. But I guess my point would be that I don't want to vilanize certain ingredients. Cooking is a choice, cooking is a craft it's an art, it is ... You can apply a lot of creativity to it and there's a level of creativity to creating food at scale, craft at scale as I like to say and that's craft with a C, not a K. Where we enlisted the help of lots of partners out in the vendor community to help source and deliver to us enough food to feed millions of people a week. Literally millions of people a week. This is no small task. However, it starts at home. It starts about saying, "Well, I'm I serving the kind of things I would serve my own family? Do I feel good about this?" For as big of a company as it is, the fun for me was cooking at home and using my own family as my focus group if you will.
Pretty honest opinions came out of it. Just saying, "Well, if I would eat it and I would want to serve it to my family, this might work for others and the creative part is to find ways to go out into the vendor community and get the quantity needed to do it at scale.
Charles: Give us an example. If you wanted to put a turkey sandwich on the menu, how much turkey are you having to source for that?
Dan Kish: Well, we're talking hundreds of thousands of pounds a week in the finished cooked ingredient. Then you think about, well it's got to be sliced, it's got to be portioned. It has to be served in a ... While it's still fresh. It has to be served when the flavor is at its best. What I found is having a staple of good ingredients and a pantry to work from was a great basis to create from. You mentioned turkey. Having say, okay well, where is it going to come from? Well it should be antibiotic free. Never ever used, it should be easy to understand what's in there and if the ingredient statement says, turkey, salt pepper and a little bit of vegetable oil to sear it with, that's pretty easy to understand. Then it goes into how do I cook hundreds of thousands of pounds of turkey a week and deliver it to thousand of locations. There's a lot of logistics at play. But in the end, it's just a multiple on getting it right in a small batch ad then scaling that up. Having a lot of good culinary common sense.
Unfortunately so much of the food that's served in the US today, the flavors are driven more from a laboratory perspective than the flavor that gets created just in the simple cooking process. Again I come from a basis of simple cooking and not thinking of reaching for flavor systems. The flavor comes from the ingredients you cook with. Therefore you better start with some good ingredients. Okay that turkey better have eaten good things and been raised in good conditions. As you go down this path, it really takes you into thinking about and considering all of the phases through the farming and the harvesting and the processing. I don't mind the word processing by the way. Cooking is a process. You want to minimally process, don't do anything more than you have to. I don't have a problem with the notion of freezing something. There are good ways to freeze and there are bad ways to freeze things. The slower and longer it takes to freeze, the more disruptive it is to the texture and the integrity of the ingredient.
If you're employing all of the best technology in cooking and in preservation, blast freezing or even using liquid nitrogen in some of the processes is an instant freeze. You think that sounds a little scientific but you have to understand the principles of cooking, the principles of what happens in the cooking process and do as little as you have to to accomplish the effect.
Charles: What does blast freezing look like, how does that work? How long does it take to blast freeze something?
Dan Kish: Well, when the environment that ... The smaller the pieces are the faster they freeze if you will, I mean, it can take moments, less than a minute. Were talking 40 degrees below zero so very subarctic temperatures with a high velocity of air and the exchange of going from a warm temperature to a frozen temperature happens very quickly and the ice crystals form very microscopically. There's very little disruption to the food itself.
Charles: The texture when the food comes back ... Do you bring it back that quickly, how do you thaw a piece of-
Dan Kish: Actually thawing should be done very slowly. [inaudible 00:17:47] freeze as fast as you can, thaw it as slow as you can. You take it out of the freezer, ut it into the refrigerator and it might take a day and a half or two days for a full [loab 00:17:56] of turkey to thaw slowly but that's the best for the quality of it. Even in the ... In all of the handing steps along the way you're building in a continuum of time and process and touch points and understanding them all and linking them together is the trick.
Charles: It's interesting isn't it because domestically, we tend to do exactly the opposite, we tend to freeze slowly because our freezers take a long time to take something down but we want to microwave back as fast as possible.
Dan Kish: Right. Speed is relative but generally speaking whenever ... There's something very unnatural about thawing something out quickly. A lot of times you expose it to temperatures that continue the cooking process and parts of it while other parts are still frozen. It's just not good.
Charles: The science of this is really important you've talked about the technology but the science of it actually is an important factor so that when you're forensically breaking down how do we take natural food, good food, healthy food, into the cooking process, into the creation process and the deliver process the technology plays a huge role. When you talked to me in the past about the delivery trucks that panera uses and using those to their maximum capability so that you can actually deliver multiple ingredients utilizing them. Let's talk about ... [inaudible 00:19:25] was a great example if you don't mind sharing that for a second.
Dan Kish: Sure. You think of the distribution network it would take to deliver food all over the country and there trucks on the road 24 hours a day moving everything we eat from coast to coast. As a company what was great as we had our own panera hazard zone infrastructure of trucking. Because it makes ... Every loaf of bread comes from fresh bread dough that gets made and then delivered ... The fresh dough while it's in a slow state of fermentation, cold fermentation is delivered to every café and then baked everyday. Well, on those same trucks there was a lot of head room above the trucks that carried the dough. We were struggling with the quality of the produce and it was a naïve and simple thing to say. Why don't we deliver our own produce if we're going to every store everyday, why not just put the things that have the shortest shelf life or the most susceptible to spoilage, let's take control of that.
Because one of the challenges in a nationwide distribution system is anything that's got a very short shelf life, you have to pay very close attention to the rotation of it and how quickly you can get it to its final place of service. It enabled us to bring full truck loads from the fields where the things were harvested to regionalized centers to be broken down and be put on all of the individual trucks, cross docking as it's called to expedite getting it from the field to the café and taking in some cases, 10, 12 days off of that life cycle. When anything fresh is harvested from the ground, as soon as it's harvested, it begins a ... It doesn't sound great but it begins a period of decomposition. If it's an a cold environment, that slows that down. There's a lot of ways to control the spoilage of food or the decomposition of food through time and temperature.
Again it is very scientific, in some ways, you have to understand that and then you have to just link it all together and that chain of custody from the farm to the point of service in our case a bakery café was all about understanding all the touch points in between and then having controls in place to make sure that they made it from one side to the other in a very fluid motion.
Charles: When you are developing or designing a new item or reconstituting an existing one, where would you start that process from. From the consumer end, from the beginning. Talk to us about how that process work how do you map it out because as you said, there's lots of pieces to this.
Dan Kish: We think a lot about it in the form of sub categories on the menu. Within a category called soup. You'd have different styles of soups and I'll give an example of a vegetable soup that is very popular, been there forever but it just ... It was good but it wasn't great. It was something as simple as saying, there's a lot of dry herbs in this recipe that really aren't adding much to the taste of it, it's very grassy and not all that great. We took them out of the recipe, made the same recipe of the soup but then put a little dash of pesto in just before it was served and the pesto obviously a lot of fresh basil, parsley and olive oil and a little bit of garlic and it perfumed the soup in a way that ... By the way this is not rocket science. The french have been dong this for hundreds of years. It's called sous vide. It's a very simple simmered vegetable soup but it's the pesto at the end that brightens it and brings it to life.
As simple as that sounds, training thousands of people to that and not forgetting to put it in there. Because if you don't then it's clearly a very flat taste. A lot goes into even the smallest nuance of change but some simple changes had great effect and big impact. To me those were the most proud achievements were to take good culinary common sense, simple application at the store level where you could have for the most part unskilled culinary labor or well intended people and well trained associates who are great members of the team and just teach them a little bit about where flavor comes from and open them up to the notion of why. Why did we make this change? Why are we doing it this way versus that way? That's one of the ... I'd say that's one of the most important parts about making change in a large organization is communicating the why behind the change. In order to communicate, you must first understand it. Taking the time to fully understand and not just believe everything you tell yourself but actually challenge it.
That's why some of these things take time is because you do have to challenge the notions from all angles, you have to pick it up, turn it around and see it from the top bottom, right left and make sure that it's a solid decision. Because once you push that first domino and it starts to cascade out into thousands of locations and thousands and thousands of people are impacted by the change and millions of customers receive that change, you want to make sure it's as right as it can be because there's no pulling it back.
Charles: How do you challenge your assumptions? How do you develop an environment or a process that is willing to and capable of challenging what you start from?
Dan Kish: Well, the challenge comes from again, being able to ask questions. Questioning the norms that are there. I'm going to use an example in salad dressings. In cleaning up the whole menu but especially the salad dressings. There were things in the dressings that were completely harmless, totally fine to eat. I don't think that water should be one of the first ingredients in a salad dressing quite often we work really hard to take the water off the lettuce and we just want to put the flavor of the dressing on there. For me I was thinking, why do commercial salad dressings have so much water in them? Well, there are basically emulsions of water and gum systems with some flavors in there and a little bit of oil so we-
Charles: It sounds very appetizing.
Dan Kish: Yeah, sign me up. I said, what if you didn't put the gum system in there? What if you didn't put the water in there? Well, then the oil and vinegar would separate. Okay, so what if it did? I remember growing up, salad dressings were just oil and vinegar and a few seasonings. Some of it is a process of deconstruction and then there's a real function on nature to why they're suspended and that's because if I take a [leto 00:27:06] and I don't stir it up right, some person is going to get all oil and another person get all vinegar and it's very inconsistent. A lot of the things that are done in food that's produced in mass and served in mass is done ... I don't know if it's to make it easier but it's to make it more consistent. Then again, I said, "Well, every one of our location have blenders." They do a really good job of emulsifying things. We could put fresh herbs in there, there's a lot of things you could do to a dressing and so we sort of brought back the old classic of green goddess.
Simply enough it was a little mayonnaise, a little yogurt, fresh basil, some pesto that was already in the pantry and then a crafted vinegar that had the right balance of seasoning in it and wasn't too harsh. Well, that and about 30 seconds later you've got an amazing dressing. You do have to go through the trouble of making it every day, sometimes, twice a day but things that are made in small batches, with good ingredients tend to taste better. These are ways of challenging the norm to say, just because it's always come in pretty made in a big jug and then [inaudible 00:28:28] onto to ... Portioned out onto to a salad, doesn't mean that's the way we always have to do it.
Charles: Do you think your background as a chef is a significant guiding force in your thought process because it sounds like a lit of the decisions, many of the decisions you're making were driven from the standpoint of how can we make this taste better. Is that accurate?
Dan Kish: I was very fortunate prior to my life in corporate food service or multi unit restaurant living. I spent a decade or so teaching cooking and so I think of my career and three waves I did a decade of doing, a decade of teaching and then a decade of doing it on a national level. In that middle point where I was doing a lot of teaching and eventually a dean at the culinary institute of america, I taught a lot of courses and managed the courses that were about the fundamentals of cooking. What was wonderful about it was ... People would say, "Don't you get tired of teaching the same thing over and over? How to make mayonnaise, how to make hollandaise." All the classics. I said, "No." Because however how many weeks I would get 30 new students who asked all new questions. Every time they made it, it was for the first time and there was so much light bulb going off. I learned more from them than they did from me, I swear.
Doing that for years, you start to amass a basis of knowledge of yes it helps to have seen it screwed up a thousand different ways. Every once in a while somebody finds a new way to screw something up. You learn for that. It wasn't just a matter of trial and error and me learning from my own mistakes but in teaching and watching the natural mistakes that happened or the naïve curiosity that people apply to cooking just because they're cooking and they try things that I would have never thought to try, rooted me in the fundamentals of food and in the fundamentals of creating flavor through cooking in food. That's my basis to work from. What was great when I went into the big system that is panera, I brought with me a lot of knowledge but also a lot of ... I call it useful ignorance. I didn't know how it all was supposed to get done, I just knew what I knew about food.
It was a happy marriage for many many years of combining what I didn't know about multi-unit food service and what I did know about food and vice versa to get to the places that made all the impact that we did as a company and continue to do. I also think that there's a point in everything where you actually know too much about it. For me after 12 years and having moved on to this next chapter of my life, I still know what I know about food and I know what I know about it as scale and now I want to apply it in different ways. For me it's I need to learn everyday. I'm very curious as a person. When you reach that point to where you know so much about what you're doing, I think you're just too smart for your own good and then you make assumptions. I needed to disrupt myself and step away from what I had gotten so comfortable with.
It was a very proud place to be, it was a very honorable place to be but now I think less about the corporate things in my day to day life and I get to be curious about all the other stuff I wasn't thinking about. Taking on new challenges and helping solve problems in the restaurant industry is how I see my next, however many years. For me it's not work. I get up everyday and I'm just so in love with what I do and as along as I'm learning. It doesn't matter how complicated the issues are. I think of it as a puzzle. I remember, date myself a little bit but the Rubik's cube, when it first came out it was fascinating. No one could figure out how to do it but once you knew how to solve the Rubik's cube, you could solve it quickly. For me I'm on to new puzzles. Because it's less fun to solve the same puzzle over and over. For me it's an adventure to find, what can I do next.
Charles: What have you learned in that process about how to get people to change their outlook their, behavior. You talked about coming up with a different way to handling salad dressing and having to teach the people at the [inaudible 00:33:40], that was always a challenge right, at panera.
Dan Kish: Yes.
Charles: That at some point the practice and the process, ended up in the hands of a person. What have you learned about ho to get people at every part of the process to change the way they do something, to change the way they perceive something.
Dan Kish: Well, I did mention understanding why something is being done the way it's being done is really important, I also firmly believe that when people teach each other and this is the old saying to teach is to learn twice. Well, I thought it was very important for there to be a lot of interactive learning amongst peers. It's more of a lateral management of knowledge versus top down or bottom up and I think there's real value in the hip to hip learning that can occur when somebody is sharing knowledge with someone else. Now, in order for it to be affective, they have to fully understand what they're sharing. So having a culture of shared knowledge is not an easy thing to do. Most companies wish they had it and don't. It's not something to take for granted, managing change in a big organization generally is most affective when you try to change less things, less often. You go deep, you get understanding in all levels of the organization. Trying to change quickly is a recipe for disaster and tying to change too many things at once is a recipe of disaster.
I mentioned the making of the salad dressing in the blender. Well all I had to say was if you can make a smoothie, you can make a dressing. You correlate something I already know to something I don't know but I know how to do. I already knew how to make a dressing, I just didn't know I knew that. Instead of putting in yogurt and fresh fruit and some ice and pureeing it, I'm putting in yogurt plus some vinegar, plus some fresh herbs and pureeing it. I should use a different container for that so they don't taste like each other. There's a lot of little things that can go wrong along the way but it's about creating a basis of knowledge and building upon it. That's what great about food and cooking is there are certain basics that will never lead you astray. Then there's the creativity you can layer on top of that to try to create something new and different or ... I say there's nothing new, there's no new ingredients, there are some interesting ways of combining methods
I live pretty simply in the kitchen and there isn't much you can't do without a good knife and a cutting board and a proper heat source and a good pan. To me the challenge is really getting into the ingredients and understanding them. I had a chef tell me, long, log time ago he would say, "Listen to the ingredients."
Charles: That's so powerful isn't it?
Dan Kish: Right. When you look at the lamb shank, if you're listening to it, it's a very tough cut of meat and he would joke and he would say, "It's whispering braise me." I'm kind of mailing fun but it's true. You have to take pause. You don't just dive in and start doing something with it or trying to do something with it that it doesn't want to be. There's a connectedness to a food that you really have to understand what makes up that particular ingredient or those ingredients and I had no qualms about looking in the rear view mirror about what's been done to food in the past. Some of my favorite things to cook, the recipes are hundred of years old. Now I do it on a very modern stove or on a very modern oven that combines moisture and fan speed and temperature. You can be very selective as to how you apply the cooking method cooking today that you couldn't in the past because the controls weren't there. That way, and today's terms, you can get incredibly consistent results.
That the hybrid of good classical knowledge, a basis of fundamentals and not being afraid to employ the latest technology.
Charles: Delivering consistency at the scale that a company like panera does when there are so many people, human beings involved in the process. You've mentioned process ... Within the process you've mentioned the individual steps to it. How do you make it easier for the people at the front end. What were some of the approaches you took to say there's a way to cook beef for instance, how do you get 2000 restaurants to cook a piece of meat the same way so whichever panera I go to I'm getting the same experience, how do you solve those kinds of problems?
Dan Kish: I think you have to be really choice full about what you choose to do and not do. I say do the things you can get credit for and that you can get done every time in every location, everyday, multiple times a day and then don't try to do things that are really hard to do. That take true skill, true depth of knowledge from a culinary standpoint. In the case of the ... You just mentioned steak. The doneness of the grass fed beef in every panera is always the same. That's because there's someone who does that for panera. It wasn't something we've found sitting on a shelf somewhere but it's something we created collectively, collaboratively that involved sourcing grass fed beef and then cooking it [suvid 00:39:52]. Which is a process of cooking it in a vacuum long a slow. What could be cooked in 10 minutes takes hours to do.
Charles: Sous vide is a process that's used by some of the finer chefs in the world. This is not an institutional approach, it can be but it's actually a really highly specialized process in many situations.
Dan Kish: You find a lot of it being done at the three star Michelin level but temperature is temperature, 54 degrees centigrade is 54 degrees centigrade, whether I'm in a three star Michelin kitchen or I'm in a big facility that's doing thousands of pounds at a time. Exchanging that water and getting those temperatures accurately within a half a degree centigrade when you're dealing with thousands of gallons verus 10 gallons of water, well that's engineering and you need really smart people who know how to do that. Anything that I can say I was able to accomplish was accomplished alongside really smart people who were experts in their field who could move the amount of food through a process. Robotics, conveyor belts. You name it, the blast freezing. There's so much that goes into some of the simplest things that you can eat when they're being done at scale. There's a reason why there isn't a lot of it out there. It's just hard to do. It's hard to bring all the right people to the table to understand it in such a way.
The one thing that has to be in place from the beginning is a vision of what you want to end up with. Then knowing enough to ask other people, help me get there because I wouldn't know how to do the engineering it would take to make that a reality but luckily there are lots of people who are very motivated in what they do and they just want to be attached to something meaningful. This ... I get excited about this because it is about bringing some of the greatest minds in engineering and in farming and in distribution and in logistics and in planning. It takes all of that to sit here and say, "We were able to do this XYZ." So much goes into it.
Charles: To your point of [inaudible 00:42:26] a vision so everybody is working towards solving the problems that are necessary to get to that end place, to get them to that destination.
Dan Kish: To go a little bit further than that, sometimes it's not even ... You don't start knowing where you want to be but you have to ask the right question. If the premise is, well it needs to be this size and it has to be pre sliced, well that can't be done. Well, what of it could be done and what if you did this and what if you .... There's so many what ifs you have to explore and I'm very sure that I've driven many people crazy and sometimes we didn't get it done, sometimes you don't get it right on the first hundred tries but you have to keep trying. If you know it's the right thing to have, you can get there, you don't always have the right people at the table the first try. I would go so far as to say what will improve the way america eats isn't just the sources of ingredients of what is served but what happens to it from source to experience.
There's a lot of touch points in between where things can go wrong. Really good food leaves the ground everyday and really well intended people screw it up or do things to it that they don't know any better and it ends up on the grocery shelves and then in the pantry of restaurants all over the country. There's a movement. I didn't start it, it's been happening for a while, it's going to continue to happen long after I'm done working I'm sure but there's movement towards understanding where food comes from, how it's cared for, who handles it and it all comes down to understanding all of those moving parts and being committed to it because it's not easy. This is the part that differentiates one company to another is you have to be willing to take it on. These are the kind of challenges that there are many easier ways to get there. There are ways that cost less, that have much better upside much better margin but in the end I will hitch my wagon to wellness over illness any day if I had to pick a path.
There's a future in wellness and there's more to wellness than the ingredient and there's more to wellness than the food you serve but we all have to play a part somewhere along the way. Then if I had a magic wand, I would probably wave it and ask for Americans to put more value in the food that they eat. Cheap food is probably the worst thing that America has going for it. I don't mean inexpensive food, I mean cheap food. Food that's been cheapened by the processing that goes into it. It's [inaudible 00:45:30] soap box but it has its effects across our country and in our healthcare system and this is a generational problem to come, that's why I think it's not a trend. Eating better isn't something that's going to go away anytime soon and just because it's a movement it doesn't mean everybody is involved in it. There's a lot of ... I would call them the appetite insecure in America who when they get hungry, they just look around and I eat what's near me.
We are a spoiled ... Literally spoiled to death as a country in that there's so much food available, most of it is not what we should eat but it's what we want eat and because we didn't put any planning into what we were going to have for lunch until about 11:55, our appetite insecurity gets the best of us and we end up making choices when we're hungry. I see it as three levels of food in the US. You've got the food elite, who can eat anything they want and that's me and you where we're very fortunate in that when we want something, we can go get it there's probably 5 to 10% of the people of the people in the US have that luxury. Then there's the bottom 10% who are the food insecure who do not know. They honestly don know where their next meal is coming from. I would argue that a lot of those people also work in the restaurant business which is the biggest crime of all. Then you have the 80% in the middle which I would call the food insecure who they've got a little money, they've got jobs.
They're not going to go hungry today but the choices they make are generally not good ones and the reason they're not good ones is because you don't have the access to the food that's good. You're surrounded by bad choices so what do you make? Bad choices. The evolution of better food in America is going to ... This is an all industry problem. This isn't ... panera is a great company that did a lot of good things with food and in the landscape of food when it's time to make that choice at noon it's a pretty good one to make it's one of the better choices to make. It also happens to be a very successful business because of that. I would hope that everybody gets on board. Other companies, wake up and say, "You know what, they're on to something, we should do that too. Not to copy it but to actually live it, to understand it and go about it in their own way.
You shouldn't try to mimic what someone else is doing but if the principle makes sense and the reason it's so successful is it resonates with a consumer base that wants to eat better. Very few people wake up and say, "How much bad food can I eat today?"
Charles: But end up doing so.
Dan Kish: But it's the-
Charles: [inaudible 00:48:35].
Dan Kish: Exactly.
Charles: The focus of this show is how the best leaders unlock creativity in a business environment. I'm always interested in looking at creativity in that sense through two lenses. One is creativity as an input and one is creativity as an output. The price of creativity is risk from a business environment. The more risk you're willing to take the more original you allow yourself to be. There's an implication to that. When creativity is the output of the business, advertising agencies, production companies, the risk is significant to the business but relatively mitigated from a humanity standpoint. The ad doesn't work, the movie doesn't satisfy somebody. When creativity is the input, the risk is exponentially larger. When you're talking about the food industry, the risk of getting it wrong is enormous, potentially life threatening. We've seen even this week Chipotle is having more problems again from an operational standpoint and the business impact on that is dramatic in their case because of the problems they had a couple of years ago
When you are as innovative as you are from a leadership standpoint in the food industry, how do you manage the risk of we want to innovate, we want to keep progressing, we want to learn, we want to challenge our own preconceptions and our own current thinking. But we have to be conscious of the worst case scenario which is we might kill somebody if we get this wrong. How do you mange that, how do you manage the tension of those two pieces in a very real world way?
Dan Kish: I think the safety of food is paramount it all begins there. There again through biology and science, we know what the thresholds are of safe and unsafe. It's great. I love creating inside of guard rails. Constraints are not a bad thing. In fact if you have no constraints it's actually very difficult to create. Give me some parameters and I will find a solution inside of those parameters. Starting with it's going to be safe from end to end no questions asked, and there are factors that we don't control. There's a lot of talk about the neural virus and there are many many people who know a lot about neuro virus but the layman's version of it is people get sick in restaurants not because the food made them sick but because it could come from a customer walking in from the outside sneezing. Cross contamination is a big issue in food but you can have parameters around and that's why you don't see people walking through the kitchen. There are constraints.
Charles: In the case of somewhere like Chipotle or even panera, you've got plastic cases in front of you right? You can't reach across and-
Dan Kish: It's called a sneeze guard for a reason. They're there for a reason and they do work most of the time. At the same time understanding a problem and dealing with it and I'm not just talking in a PR perspective but truly understanding what went wrong. An isolated incident normally won't be a big deal. People get sick in restaurants everyday across the country. Very few people die, thank goodness. And some people are compromised in their health to begin with so they get sick easier than others. I would say when a ... I'm not going to pick on the poster child dejour but when a company doesn't do good job understanding its own safety protocols and answering for its actions when something goes wrong and you don't have a good way to speak to it and you don't have good protocols to prevent it from occurring in the future, it only takes one or two occurrences that make the front page and all of a sudden your stock just dropped 7%.
That didn't happen because one person got sick, that happened because of a track record of things going on that ... I'm the last one to point a finger. Any of us in the food business know how hard it is to be safe everyday. If anything, I would put my arm around the person who is suffering and say, "How do we band together?" Because we're all feeding everyone everyday. If there was something systemic wrong, we should all be there trying to figure out how to fix it. In the end of the day there are still things that can go wrong that you have no control over.
Charles: It's a great reference point actually. I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago and talked about fear and the influence of fear on all of us and the influence of fear on leadership and made the point that the media likes to make us afraid that every time there's any kind of incident with an airliner that's front page, breaking news all the time. 2015, I think there were 516 people killed in airline crushes. That year there were 769 million airline tickets bought. We're talking about 0.0007%. To your point, I walk in New York, I walk in and out of delis a lot. You walk up to those salad bars and I'm astounded actually that people are lying on the ground next to them because you think, "These must be recipes for illness. They have to be." It's incredible. Yet with literally billions of people who are being fed everyday around the world, there are remarkable few incidents actually at scale. [inaudible 00:54:31] getting sick.
Dan Kish: You just made me think of something which hadn't really occurred to me before but on one hand, it's amazing more people don't get sick from food born illness. On the other hand intentionally, we create foods that make people sick so if we think about the level of diabetes and the amount of highly processed ingredients that go into the food that we serve to millions and millions of people a day, no they don't get the sweats and throw up or get diarrhea, no they get illnesses that are chronic that hunt them for a lifetime and they hunt all of us because of the cost. Again, I don't want to sound preachy at all. I'm just one person just the rest of you and everybody else. We can only do so much, but to be conscious of that and to say, "Well, I'm going to do something about it." This is where it's not a slogan, this notion of access to good food. It's principally driven around saying, "Let's do less of that and more of the good stuff."
I know the other stuff is still going to be there. I can't make it all go away, I wish I could. But until we start displacing it with better options, that's going to be the option. People eat themselves into illness and it's longterm illness, it's not ... You should be so lucky that all they do is get sick and 24 hours I feel better. It's the kind of things that ... And a lot of folks don't understand what they're putting in their bodies. There's a lack of awareness, this notion that it's not going to hurt me, no it's not bad for me. It's definitely a cumulative effect. I am the average of everything I've eaten. All the good stuff and the bad stuff. If I opt for better things on average I'm going yo be in better health as well as how much I sleep and how active I am, how much stress I have, how much joy I have. This does come down to me personally, it's my own ... I am personally accountable for me and everyone should be personally accountable for themselves.
If there are better options it makes it easier to do the right thing for yourself.
Charles: What makes you afraid? What are you afraid of?
Dan Kish: You know, I honestly only have one fear and that's that with my children. Beyond that I really I'm fortunate. In my hierarchy of needs, I don't worry about survival, I'm very, very lucky. I really don't worry too much about a lot of things. My wife worries for me. She's awesome at it.
Charles: I like to wrap every show with what I come to describe as three themes that I think make you an exceptional leader of creativity. The ones that strike me today listening to you are one, you don't feel like this is work you get up and you live this everyday. It is the natural expression of who you are and I think the leaders for whom that is true are inevitably successful. It just allows them to bring their natural strengths to the table. Second I think is and you've also talked about this quite a lot, is not just your willingness to learn or your enthusiasm for learning but your willingness to accept or to explore the possibility that what you currently believe might be wrong and how I think that open mindedness allows all kinds of new inputs to constantly enter into your personal ecosystem of the way that you look at the world and the way you do stuff.
Then the third thing that really strikes me actually, is this notion of having a vision that every time you're addressing whether it's a single item or it's a broader concept, you're doing it from the standpoint of what does success look like and I think the nature of what you do and how you do it, the really elegant and human part of that is that it ... The vision is what will a consumer experience? What will the taste be? How satisfied will they be with with this? How much joy will they get put of this? How memorable would this be? When that reference point becomes the guard rails and the focus, it allows you to bring everybody else along for the ride. Do those three resonate with you?
Dan Kish: I love that. Well said.
Charles: I want to thank you so much for doing this and for being here today. An amazing conversation and I think what you do is just ... It always makes me smile and see the world differently. That's very much for being here and for sharing today.
Dan Kish: You're welcome. Thank you Charles.
Charles: You've been listening to fearless the art of creative leadership. If you like what you've heard please rate us on iTunes, it helps a lot. If you want more information on this episode or any others go to fearlesscreativeleadership.com and thanks for listening.