Never Serve a Burnt Sandwich

I saw the Jon Favreau movie Chef the other night. Jon Favreau plays a celebrated chef called Carl Casper, who after receiving a particularly nasty review from a food critic suffers a spectacular meltdown in his restaurant that is captured for posterity on social media. He quits/ is fired from his job and goes on a journey (physical and metaphorical – as in all good stories) with his young son to rediscover his love of food.

Carl decides to buy a food truck and get back to the basics of why he became a chef in the first place. The following scene between Carl (the chef) and his son Percy especially resonated with me:

[Carl and Percy are making sandwiches for workers who helped them install a massive stove inside their food truck. The Cuban sandwiches are Carl’s speciality – and he seems to have re-discovered the joy of cooking!]

[Percy is about to serve a burnt sandwich.]

Carl: Whoa whoa whoa! That’s burnt.

Percy: So? They are not paying for it.

[Pause – Carl steps out of the food truck with Percy]

Carl: Slow down for a second. Is this boring to you?

Percy: No I like it.

Carl: Yeah – well I love it. Everything good that has ever happened to me in my life came because of that (pointing to the food). I might not do everything great in my life. Hey, I am not perfect … not the best husband and I’m sorry if I wasn’t the best father. But I’m good at this. And I want to share this with you. I want to teach you what I learnt. I get to touch people’s life with what I do. And it keeps me going and I love it. And I think if you gave it a shot, you might love it too.

Percy: Yes chef.

Carl: Now should we serve that sandwich?

Percy: No chef.

Carl: That’s my son.

Carl’s depth-first approach in the movie (“… there are very few things I am good at – food is one of them – so I’m going to be the best at it”) is something all of us involved in product development can learn from.

If you are working on a new product or a new feature in an existing product, you are most likely following the minimum viable product methodology. You intend to ship fast and ship something that helps you validate your assumptions as a live product in the market. The approach is experimental and iterative. But it is critical to set up the experiment correctly.

You begin by paring the scope of the project/ feature down to its most essential components. Then you reduce the number of flows. Cut down on the clutter. Bring intense focus to the development process.

But make sure you double down on user experience – make it sparkle.

You have narrowed down the scope – so the product that is shipped is standing on its most essential pillars. These pillars need to be sturdy. They need to be ornate. Hence, a depth-first approach always when following the MVP method. Do a few things, but do them really well. Setup an experiment properly and you will get valid results.

Never serve a burnt sandwich.

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