Bourdain on Teams

Anthony Bourdain explains why a kitchen is a true meritocracy, and why there's no room for "cultural baggage."

Chef Anthony Bourdain, Black & White portrait, 2002

“You have a tremendous amount of personal freedom in the kitchen. But there’s a trade-off. You give up other freedoms when you go into a kitchen because you’re becoming part of a very old, rigid, traditional society—it’s a secret society, a cult of pain. Absolute rules govern some aspects of your working life: obedience, focus, the way you maintain your work area, the pecking order, the consistency of the end product, arrival time.

If people in any work situation understand that it truly is a meritocracy, that doing a good job is all that matters …

One of the wonderful things, traditionally, about the restaurant business is that it attracts people from wildly diverse backgrounds and forces them—by working together in hot, confined spaces for long hours—to get along, to cooperate, to come to understand one another. The pressure is so intense that any cultural baggage they bring along has to be jettisoned.

I think the mix of informality and order can be useful in team building. When people feel comfortable being themselves, they can focus on their work, whatever the pressures. It’s very comfortable. It’s one of the things I hear most from people who are no longer in the business. They miss that camaraderie, the casualness, the sense of accomplishment at the end of a hard shift, sitting at the bar enjoying a free drink and reviewing the evening’s events. It’s golden. I’ve heard that a thousand times.”

– Anthonly Bourdain

Harvard Business Review, 2002