Writing about life, leadership, faith, and anything else I find interesting.

Leadership Lessons from Chef Grant Achatz


This past week I hosted our 3rd installment of the DLG - Digerati Leadership Gathering. The DLG is a time where all the leaders in my greater digerati group gather around a core leadership topic. This time we had about 25 people representing 4 digerati teams, and two special guests from a campus team, as well as the finance team. I have tried to keep every event a little different and unique, and this one was no different. A few weeks ago, Robin and I were searching around Netflix looking for something interesting to watch and we stumbled on the new season of Chef's Table. We are suckers for cooking shows - and we also love documentaries...so this sucked us in. Episode 1 of Season 2 is about Chef Grant Achatz; founder and Chef of Alinea in Chicago, and let me say this - Grant is freaking awesome. About 5 min into the film I was logging mental notes...about every few minutes I had something mentally jotted down - it's that good. When the film was over, I told Robin, I had to teach a leadership lesson around this film...and so it began. I quickly broke the film down into 3 core lessons - and shared the film and idea with my management team. Ideas were flowing, and here is the outline we landed on for the DLG. Hope you enjoy! Feel free to use this, or create your own! If you do create your own, I would love to see what you come up with.


Chefs Table


Why Not

(by Brian Russell)

Principle - Innovative leaders and leading Innovative teams see things others don’t.

Willing to think “outside the plate” - the limitations that we’ve just come to accept as normal. They look at potential new directions and new ways of doing things and and ask themselves, "Why not?"

I really loved the questioning of basic norms (at least norms in restaurants here in America) Why a plate or bowl? A spoon & fork? Why not a tablecloth to eat off of? There are no rules - you can do whatever you want. Do things never done. Look at what others are doing & intentionally change it. Unique - maybe unable to even label it.

“We start with something beautiful and uphold its integrity but make it look like something nobody’s seen before.”

How do you apply that statement to your work as leaders on a team?

It is what we strive to do with the Bible App -  Uphold its beauty and integrity but surprise people, inspire and compel them.

We see this characteristic of God from the very beginning of Scripture.

Genesis 1 is Alinea, the restaurant highlighted in this Chef’s Table episode, multiplied by 1 trillion.

"The earth was formless and empty” - Gen 1:2  

Then Jesus comes and does a new thing, shaking up centuries of thinking and acting a certain way:

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it. For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. - Romans 2:25‭-‬29

This upset the apple cart. In other words, it pissed off a lot of people - but Why Not? And thank God for this :)

And then again at the very end of scripture in Revelations 21:5, describing the new heavens and new earth, John said, "He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

For Discussion:

  1. What are the best examples of this “Why Not” type of spirit you’ve seen? Either in the church space or outside.
  2. Do you have any other evidences/examples from Scripture that God is a God of “Why Not”?
  3. Are there any “Why Not” ideas you’ve had that having seen this you now think might be worth pursuing, even if it means failing?
  4. When or why is it perhaps NOT a good idea to do something new or innovate?

Set Backs can be Set Ups 

(by Chad Marsh)

Principal - The phases of facing adversity

Acts 16 - We find Paul following the Spirit to reach new lands. Paul had a vision of a man asking them to come to Macedonia. Following the vision, they started preaching in Macedonia. After casting out a spirit in a woman who could tell the future. Her owners made money off of her fortune telling so they had Paul and Silas arrested. After obeying God’s vision, preaching His word, and casting out a spirit, they were severely beaten and thrown in prison

Key points:

  • Denying there’s a problem - He ignored the pain on his tongue. He went to great lengths to work around the pain
  • Where do we draw our value? - He didn’t want to exist with his view of his identity.
  • Turning to others for help - Publishing the announcement led to someone who could help - Paul had Silas in his jail cell to sing hymns and worship God. The other prisoners were listening
  • Looking for innovation
    • Determination kicked in
    • Forced him to pull apart the traditional model of dining and think differently
    • Found other ways to communicate flavors and recipes. He drew pictures and compared known flavors to new flavor profiles
    • Paul and SIlas stayed when the earthquake came, broke their chains and opened the doors. They saw the opportunity to witness to the jailer and his entire family. They were able to reach people who might’ve never had a chance to hear about Jesus had they not been imprisoned
  • Result - He’s now creating at a level that doesn’t even require him to touch the products
  • Closing thoughts
    • To create a world class restaurant, you can’t do it yourself
    • On fire because he didn’t want to waste a second chance


  • What determines if a setback turns into a setup or a failure?
  • When you face a setback, are you willing to ask for help? Why/Why not?
  • What setbacks have you faced that you turned into a setup?
  • What setback are you facing that might be a setup?

Don't Get Stuck 

(by Alan George)

Point One:

  • Main thought:
    • Chef Grant Achatz received his taste back at the age of 33 and was given a second chance. “I was on fire with an amount of energy that I think I’ve never had before because I had a second chance and I didn’t want to screw it up"
  • Reminds me of the life of Paul and how he pursued Christ and the calling that God had for his life with everything he had.
  • Question:
    • How would you describe your first encounter with Christ and your zeal for Him? How does that compare to where you are at today?

Point Two:

  • Main thoughts:
    • He was labelled the Chef that couldn’t taste. But now he has the opportunity to make a very sold break and start again.
    • "New is a way of feeling like he is propelling himself forward” Nick Kokonas, Co-Owner Alinea.
    • Creativity and innovation is at the core of what Grant does but you can’t be innovative and creative without being risky. That’s what is so interesting and dangerous.
    • And will you destroy yourself or your reputation or your business in the pursuit of doing something new? How will you know if it’s going to work?
  • The Parable of the talents - Matthew 25:14-30
  • Question:
    • Which servant in the parable best describes you - Servant 1 and 2 were willing to risk it all. Servant 3 played it safe?
    • If you relate to the one who played it safe, what’s holding you back?