If Google ran a restaurant, it would be the one I’m in right now, wedged between eateries in London’s SOHO. Every seat is at a chef’s table. You lean into the bustle of cooks, cutting, pouring, arguing, coaching, training. No wait staff. The chefs serve your food themselves.
And the most radical difference is why this place even exists. They are not interested in your money (though they take handsome amounts); they want your feedback. They are not here to serve great food; they are here to learn.
You see, Test Kitchen is a one-year-long experiment by Adam Simmonds, a Michelin-star-winning chef, as he prepares to open his next restaurant. He serves a constantly changing menu of small sample plates. Diners typically order at least four. The chefs want to hear what you liked or didn’t. Too much salt? Over cooked? What would make this dish perfect?
I struggle to find constructive feedback on my first dish: warm barley mixed with tiny cubes of pear sprinkled with shaved truffle. I delicately savor it as I watch my steak float around in hot water as they raise its temperature, they explain, to just the right degree for searing. My next dish – caramelized scallops with thinly sliced white asparagus covered with walnuts and shredded lychees – was nearly as perfect. More salt, was the most I could come up with.
Learning is everywhere. They’re learning what I think of the food, I’m learning cooking techniques as they prepare my dishes (watching one of the chefs delicately lean over the griddle as he prepares my scallops shows me I’ve been doing it all wrong!), and they’re learning from each other has the head chef coaches the junior chefs.
Go on a Disney cruise and you will see a similar dynamic. Staff stepping aside, looking others in the eye, giving and getting feedback. A culture of continuous learning. My days at McKinsey were the same: you couldn’t step into an elevator after a meeting without giving and getting feedback on how it went.
This seems to be the agile, learning, experimentation approach espoused by Google and Silicon Valley, that, I think, may redefine how mainstream strategy is done. No longer must we figure it out before we start. Instead, you start in order to figure it out.
Most chefs keep test kitchens behind closed doors. They only open their doors when the menu is perfected, the restaurant assembled, chefs and staff trained. This guy decided to open his doors in the design phase.
Which way are you playing it? Are you still trying to get your new “thing” – product, marketing strategy, advertising plan, organizational structure – perfect before you open the doors?