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Can HR stand the heat in the kitchen?


Metaphors are dangerous. For this blog post I try to use cooking as inspiration, and a little bit as a metaphor for HR and the impact of HR on organisations.

Ingredient number 1: El Bulli – Cooking in progress (movie by Gereon Wetzel, 2010). 
I saw this documentary a couple of years ago high in the air, so my recollection might not be totally accurate. This documentary follows the chef of famous restaurant El Bulli (now closed) and his team, during a period of one year. In a year the restaurant was closed for six months. During these six months the creative team worked on new recipes. They did this in a very methodical way. What if we mix A and B? Would this work? if not A and B, then what about A and C? All their findings were captured. If A and C seemed to work, they would add D. My recollection: a very systematic and a very creative process. And a lot of hard work. At the end of the six months they would have 20 or so new dishes. When you were able to get a table in El Bulli, they would serve you many small dishes. On day one of the new season, they would start with 18 “old” dishes, and two of the new ones. In the documentary you can see the cooks in the kitchen, when the waiter comes back, having served one of the new dishes. “Did they like it? What did they say?”. Based on client feedback they would make some changes, or remove the innovation from the menu.
Key words: creative, systematic, experimentation, no compromises, teamwork.

Ingredient number 2: the company
Foodpairing is saying: not all restaurants can work like El Bulli, and afford to be closed during six months. We will do the work of El Bulli for other restaurants. With some chemical analysis as the basis, Foodpairing does El-Bulli like experiments.  On the Foodpairing site, you can find which ingredients matches well with other ingredients. Foodpairing is sponsored by big food manufacturers, so, for example, you can also find what matches best with Heinz tomato ketchup, an ingredient that was never used in El Bulli.

Ingredient number 3: find your own food in the Vondelpark
Some old colleagues went to a farewell party at a restaurant in Amsterdam (I think one of, and with the chef they had to go out into the Vondelpark to find the vegetables for their meal. With these vegetables (and herbs, and berries etc.) the chef cooked a very nice meal.

Some thoughts inspired by El Bulli, Foodpairing and The Vondelpark:

  • The ingredients are important, but in the end it is about the interaction between the ingredients and the right mix.
  • The chef is important, but cooking is teamwork.
  • Experimentation is key, no good recipes and no great meals without experimentation.
  • The El Bulli approach is not for every-one. Many restaurants might be a lot better of when they use Foodpairing then when they experiment in their own kitchen.
  • Cooking together can be fun. When you have been part of the creation process, the meal might taste a lot better.
  • is not a restaurant. They provide suggestions for ingredients, but the chef’s have to make a choice and the cooking has to be done in the restaurant.

Reflect on the following questions: What lessons can HR draw from the above? Where do you see HR in your organisation? Is HR part of the chef’s team cooking a fantastic meal? What are the most important HR ingredients and who is the chef making a meal out of the ingredients? Where is the for HR ingredients?

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