Seth Godin's first law of pizza quality: "The quality of the pizza in a pizza place is inversely proportional to how nice the owners are to the typical outsider.” This is not an article about pizza, or food. But it is about connection, owning ourselves. Little things essential to the wild heart. And so the theme is about chefs, the ones who live connection through the food they share. Ingredients to play with. Perspectives on our rebellious hunger to feed and be fed. Even if we don't recognize this hunger, prefer to go out as lone pioneers. When we think we can do things alone, warrior shields ablaze. "We are wired for connection, but the key is that, in any given moment of it, it has to be real," writes Brené Brown in Braving the Wilderness. Chefs are often very real.
The word connection in its Latin origins means "to join, bind, or fasten together." It is related to the word nexus, the central link, the link that is already bound together and can therefore bond with other things. We are wired for joining together at the nexus of ourselves, where we ourselves are bound and at home with who we are. We can't connect unless who we are and what we offer to one another is real. We can't feed others unless we know how to nourish ourselves, how to receive nourishment. Connection, nourishing, always in the moment. No small task.
Respect. Back to Godin's law. You see, the owner-chef who creates a unique and remarkable product, something that only she and her team can make, through great ingredients, a great work culture - she respects herself, her patrons, her employees, the hours she sets and the prices she demands. Courage over comfort. No compromise. No need to be "nice." She knows her circles of influence and responsibility, makes deliberate choices. With strong spine, open heart. We can't be for everyone. And that is okay. Clear boundaries that allow compassionate generosity. We know who we are. Simple, transparent. Calm. We are no longer competing with others. We belong to our own niche, ourselves. This isn't convenient for everyone, not conventional. It is, however, filled with care and the possibility of real connection. Belonging. A beautiful creation shared, hearts come a little bit more home.
Love and paradox. The impermanence of any meal demands that chefs must love the process of creating, in and of itself. Must be insatiably curious, about ingredients, techniques, flavors, colors, textures, life. The moments of meals are so fleeting otherwise. Hunger and its release. Will the moment of release be enough? Yes, because of the fierce force of love. Everybody loves Samin Nosrat, said a recent Bon Appetit article about the radiant James Beard Award–winning food teacher and author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’. This is true. But it is because Samin loves us, loves life. She does not hold back. And she knows it is her super power, this fierce longing for love and wanting to be loved in the fleeting paradox that is life, a meal. With peaceful heart. She belongs to her truth supple, at ease. She is enough. She is plenty. And around her we all feel well-fed.
Engagement. Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist at Harvard, wrote a book about rebel talent. She apprenticed with a chef. Massimo Bottura upended convention in 1995 when he opened his restaurant, Osteria Francescana, in Modena, Italy. He too serves radically reinvented dishes in a culture that values tradition above else. Originally, people were furious. Yet twice in recent years, the Osteria has landed the top spot on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Because he lives a commitment to ignite and reignite the creative edge. Through engagement. Engagement follows connection. When hearts connect and in doing so come a little more home, new dynamics reveal themselves. Genuine interaction is possible. A new safety nurtured by genuine interest, to play, invent, create. Bottura approaches his ingredients with this sense of engagement. A cheese as it ages. A cauliflower in a sequence of dishes. But more than that, he engages his employees, his customers. He may just come into the kitchen and say, "‘Okay, everybody, new project for today: Lou Reed, Take a Walk on the Wild Side. Everybody make a dish.’" He may just order a pizza for a kid who doesn’t want the fancy sampler menu that his parents propose. To play with change, with each other. Innovation thrives. Engagement over predictability.
Trust. Encouragement to experiment builds trust, energy. Mutual trust is vital to a team's wellbeing. The wild-hearted leader dancing with a team has many ways to build it. Safe spaces to play, learn, fail, such basic human needs. Coupled to clarity of vision. Peter Merriman, one of the original Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs, has his name on eight restaurants on four islands. In full disclosure, I developed my own passion for rebel leadership by working for Peter Merriman in his earliest years, just one restaurant. For Merriman, trust thrives when we can hold a safe space for creativity and enough structure to remain true to vision. "You have to ask, What is vital to the company? And then not worry about the other stuff," he says. Where will we not compromise. Where can we let go and offer a creative open space to others. Hanging out in this unknown, magical. Something else: Rebel leaders play in their zone of genius. So they are passionate, quite happily play all day long. But not everyone likes to play like this. The wild heart also has a vast capacity for empathy, responds capably to each relationship. Empathy also builds trust. For a culture where people are in their most productive state possible because they want to do what they are doing, energized, autonomous, yet sharing a common purpose.
Intention, morality, transparency. Thirty years ago, in his first restaurant, Merriman served as cook, bartender, dishwasher, answered phones. Sometimes our paychecks came late. But Merriman had a vision, our trust. Candid honesty and care. We felt seen and could see. Wellbeing. Loyalty. From one restaurant to the next. Steady. Quiet. A measure of philosophy, vulnerability, moral compass. "Do the right thing,” was the motto. Over and over again. Trial and error. You got to have a clear mission (for Merriman around local agriculture, honoring farmers, quality.) But no need for an exact road map. Things change too fast. Just a compass, simple, transparent: Reading the compass on intention, appreciation, humility. Closing the loop. For only when the wild heart belongs to itself dare it trust the deep truth of such a compass. A compass pointing to connection.
Thank you as always for reading. Not subscribed? Just click the button below. And if you are a big Yes to exploring the abundance of enough - with relief and wildly beating heart - contact me for a deeper conversation. Thank you, Sophia.