When the Chef Goes and Sees (Well, Tastes) the Problem


A few years ago, my wife and I went to a highly-regarded (and oft-recommended) restaurant in the Orlando area (our now former home).

I ordered a brined, bone-in pork chop. When it came out, looking somewhat like the photo below, I was excited to cut in and take a bite.

“Wow, that's really salty,” was my first reaction.


There's “brined” — a process meant to keep the pork moist and to add some flavor — and then there's “too salty to eat.”

I don't often send food back, but when the server asked how everything was, I told him that the pork chop, upon trying a second small bite, was too salty to enjoy.

The server went back to the kitchen. On his return, he said,

“The chef says that's how it's supposed to taste.”

How did the chef know? It's often said you should “taste as you cook” because even if you're following a recipe, the natural variation in some ingredients might mean that you need to adjust by adding more or less of something. Instead of Plan Do Study Adjust, it's Plan Cook Taste Adjust.

I pushed back and said something to the effect of, “Well, even if that's how it's supposed to taste, it's the saltiest thing I've eaten in a long time.”

I wasn't happy.

The server took my plate back to the kitchen.

Then, the chef came out to our table.

He said:

“I'm really sorry. I just tasted what you sent back and you're right. Clearly, something went wrong with the brining. It's not supposed to be that salty.”

Wow. Thanks!

I got something else and was very happy with it (although it threw off the timing of our meal, as I watched my wife eat and then she watched me eat).

Look at the difference in approach here:

  1. Chef was dismissive, there can't be a problem, I'm assuming the customer is wrong
  2. Chef actually dove into the real reality (with a fork) and discovered there actually was a problem

What are the parallels for leaders in an organization?

If a plant manager is sitting in their corner office and gets told about a safety problem in the factory, we wouldn't want them to be dismissive.

If a hospital CEO is in a conference room and gets told about a surgeon's bad behavior in the operating room, they shouldn't be dismissive.

I think the same is true when it comes to societal issues (racism and discrimination, sexual harassment or abuse) — we shouldn't be dismissive just because we aren't experiencing the problem ourselves.

Go and investigate. Go and see. Go and listen. Go and learn.

Acknowledging the real reality is the first step for an effective leader.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Hello Mark, I enjoyed reading your post regarding this issue. This cook was dismissive but also understood his wrong doing and came out to apologize to you which makes a good leader in my eyes. A leader who is dismissive is not a good leader but a leader who can understand his wrong doing and take ownership of the issue is a great leader. Even though this is a smaller issue then most workplaces I think this is a great post to think about in all work places. If its a factory or a warehouse a leader should not be dismissive and should understand the issues on hand to keep the operations running as smoothly as possible.

  2. Chris – Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. I’m glad you agree that leaders shouldn’t be dismissive and I hope that lesson stays with you beyond school and into your career. Take care…

  3. Hello Mark-

    This was a very interesting read. It makes us realize that we need to acknowledge what we did wrong rather than dismiss it and make the process longer than needed. My professor for my green belt certification, Karl Wadensten, treats the students as if they were his customers, and his goal is to satisfy our needs. He wants us to state what he should be doing better, what we want to get out of this class, and our observations, rather than being dismissive and us not enjoying the class, or getting what we want out of the class. If we find an issue and vocalize the issue, he will listen and fix it. A true leader will admit to his mistakes and take accountability. This is a great lesson for all of us.

  4. Hi Mark,

    Really interesting blog post ! I enjoyed the lesson that lies within “Plan Do Study Adjust” . This is a crucial aspect of process improvement within any company- steakhouse or manufacturing plant. A leader is responsible for recognizing mistakes and take action accordingly. I liked your point about being a dismissive leader is counterproductive. To be a successful leader means to step up and solve problems with integrity and create process improvements that benefit the operations of the company.

  5. This was a great quick read on how easy it can be to improve something if you take the time to listen to the problem. So many times, higher-ups will dismiss a problem they feel would be unlikely to occur. There’s almost always easy ways to solve these problems too, if you take a moment to assess the process.


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