Thinking On Your Feet
As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or, if you're chef Homaro Cantu Jr. of Chicago's Moto ("Weird Science") and you run out of liquid nitrogen, make fried frozen eggs instead.
Let me back up a moment. In the fast-paced, often manic restaurant business, you have to think on your feet—literally. But at Cantu's hot spot, increasingly famous for its sci-fi approach to food, an error is just another excuse to invent something new. "It's pure creative here," says Cantu. "No rules." One night, the restaurant's liquid-nitrogen tank had run dry. This prevented the chefs from making their original version of egg-drop soup—and "original" is the operative term here—that calls for a zap of the industrial-use chemical. The liquid nitrogen transforms egg puree into frozen egg pellets, which are then suspended in a bowl. The team spontaneously decided to freeze sheet pans and crack quail eggs on top of them. The eggs, which looked fried but were actually frozen, were "dropped" into a bowl of sweet-and-sour soup broth. And there you go: not egg-drop soup, but egg-drop soup. "I love things like that," says Ben Roche, Moto's pastry chef. "You just take a mistake and use it to your benefit." The dish, I can assure you, was delicious.
Prep Talk XL
"Gentlemen, this is what it's all about," Ron Krivosik told his team the night before the big game. "Thirty or forty years from now, when you're sitting with your grandkids on your knee, you can tell them what you did in Super Bowl XL. This is our time to shine." Krivosik's stirring pep talk wasn't for the Pittsburgh defense, but for his chefs at Levy Restaurants, charged with the Herculean challenge of feeding nearly 70,000 people ("Catering to the Masses").
The chefs and operations managers working behind the scenes are a lot like the athletes. They get pregame jitters. They practice over and over, which in Levy's case meant tasting and fine-tuning paninis (the corned beef needed more marinade) and pizzas (the crust needed to be crispier) up until game time. The only missing ingredient is football. Everybody's too busy to watch the game. More than once, a passing chef asked me the score. I had no idea either. I attended my first Super Bowl and caught maybe five minutes. Not that there weren't highlights. Just before halftime, I saw the sushi cart prepared for the Rolling Stones after their performance. Touchdown.
A Novel Approach
Sorry, Dad. I'm outing you. My inspiration for writing "Join the Corporate Literati" was a fiftysomething, globe-trotting, workaholic executive at a call-center outsourcing company, aka my father. A few years ago, he revealed that he had always wanted to write a thriller. Dad had always been "the suit" in the family, but after years of hanging out in airports, devouring every thriller from Grisham to Koontz, he let his creative side emerge. One day last year, "Untitled: Chapter 1" landed in my inbox. I opened it with excitement and trepidation only to find he undoubtedly had raw talent. Chapters two and three eventually arrived—but he has now hit that roadblock where work, meetings, and time are his reasons for not writing. But he knows, as do I—as do all the corporate literati—that if you want to write, you must create the time to do it. So, Dad: Read my article, get inspired, and get back to writing.
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A version of this article appeared in the May 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.