Stories, moments, people and ideas of interest from within the worlds of innovation and design, spotted and written about by Helen Walters, design writer, editor, and ideas editor at TED. Attitude, errors and opinions obviously all the writer's own.
Ask me anything
October 1, 2012
"You lose money every month, eventually there’s no restaurant, right?… It is so important that we, as chefs, understand how to manage in a way that we are not losing money. Because otherwise there is no point."
In Check, Please, John Colapinto peeks into the kitchen of Eleven Madison Park, the upscale NYC restaurant that charges $195 for its tasting menu. The co-owners, Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm, are striking in their practical approach to running their business, while the piece is full of fascinating insights into the management of food. Some of the other tidbits that stood out:
Grant Achatz of Alinea got rid of tablecloths from his Chicago restaurant, saving himself $42,000 a year.
Staff at the restaurant Daniel monitor diners via cameras to ensure that service is as fast as humanly possible. Not for the benefit of said diners, it should be added, but so that the restaurant can maximize the number of people who eat there each night.
Says Guidara: “If you ever make a decision first and foremost to make money, it will end as well… Every decision needs to start with it making you better. And then you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this also a good financial decision?’ “
Edible Geography blog writer and Foodprint Project co-founder, Nicola Twilley also spoke at Design at Scale. She talked of her interpretation of food as a design tool, and showed some wonderful projects of people thinking about or using food in interesting or unexpected ways. For instance: Matthew Moore is a fourth generation farmer “whose land and life are quickly being overcome by suburbia.” He has made a series of “Lifecycles” time-lapse films in which he charts the growth of various vegetables he grows on his farm, from seed to supermarket shelf. The above film shows the 55-day cycle of a squash, while you can also watch similarly mesmerizing films on kale, broccoli and radishes. Monitors showing the films were installed at the Fresh Market Grocery Store in Park City, Utah, during the Sundance Film Festival.
Another project of note: Landgrab City, an installation for the 2009 Shenzhen/Hong Kong Biennale of Architecture/Urbanism for which three architects converted a busy area of Shenzhen into small food lots, raising all sorts of interesting questions about the future of agriculture, food production and, well, humanity. Read her insightful write up of the exhibit, Landgrab!.
"The idea that drama resides only in conflict is a superficial truth."
Dinner Theater, Starring the Kitchen is a delightful New York Times piece about the theater of dining, written by the theater critic Christopher Isherwood. He lyrically describes the experience of eating a chef George Mendes’ Portugese-inspired restaurant, Aldea, where there is no barrier between dining room and kitchen.
In watching the drama of a top-tier meal being prepared, you are witnessing the creative process as it takes place, all the grind that the artists put in to the preparation of the finished product. It’s not possible — or advisable — for a theater critic to hang around the rehearsal room as a new stage production takes shape. But watching Mr. Mendes and his staff at work was a moving reminder of how much finely focused collaboration is involved in the creation of all kinds of aesthetically pleasurable experiences.
"Extraordinary food alone does not an extraordinary restaurant make. The experience of eating at Masa can clash, sometimes greatly, with the grace, simplicity and excellence of the cuisine on display."
— Sam Sifton’s New York Times review of Masa tunes into the fact that being strong in one discipline is no longer enough. In this case, exquisite food isn’t enough to make up for awkward service, even at Masayoshi Takayama’s legendary Japanese restaurant in New York’s Time Warner Center. This is a regular topic of conversation at Doblin, particularly in relation to the theory of the Ten Types of Innovation, which says that one type of innovation is all well and good, but it won’t be anywhere near enough to build a lasting business.
“In a sense we need to view the supermarket as an intervention. If you want to influence behavior and health on a population level, what would that experience need to be?” So asks public health expert Rupal Sanghvi in A Better Way to Fight Obesity: New, Smarter Supermarkets, which contains some fascinating, depressing stats about the current design of many U.S-based food emporia.
Sanghvi founded the innovation initiative HealthxDesign after she saw data charting the direct correlation between diet-related disease and the location of grocery stores. Her thought is to harness design processes to try out a range of new ideas. And while the concept of “gamification” in a supermarket context might make more jaded observers sigh, she’s asking some interesting questions and this is certainly an area in which smart design might make a real difference.