Diapers, Chickens and Smart- Hard Design Thinking

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Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, writes in Blood, Bones and Butter of how running a restaurant prepared her for parenthood,

“I thought of telling them how changing a diaper reminds me, every time, of trussing a chicken. How sleepless nights and long grueling hours under intense physical discomfort were already part of my daily routine long before I had children. How labeling every school lunch bag, granola bar, juice box, extra sweater, and nap blanket with permanent Sharpie is like what we’ve been doing every day for thirty years, labeling the foods in our walk-ins. How being the chef and owner of a restaurant means you already by definition, mastered the idea of “systems,” “routines,” and “protocols” so that everyone who works for you can work smart-hard rather than work stupid-hard. So that by the time you are setting up your household and preparing yourself for adding children, you have a tendency toward this kind of order, logic and efficiency.”

This is a good description of design thinking across seemingly unrelated activities: parenting and running a restaurant. It also describes how working prepares us to parent rather than the other way around. I so enjoy her vivid imagery and hyphenated characterizations like, long herbal-tea-soaked conversations of “spirituality.” It is worth reading as a full course or in small bites of sentence fragments to be washed down with our own food memories. She describes such a rushed and gritty culinary education coupled with an equally elegant and comforting childhood. She lives in at least two worlds simultaneously: the spinning world of the ferociously hungry traveler and the opulent world of the aesthete. I’d like to eat at her restaurant, Prune and taste both worlds. Here are a few sentences from the chapter describing her restaurant philosophy,

“To be picked up and fed, often by strangers, when you are in that state of fear and hunger, became the single most important and convincing food experience I came back to over and over, that sunny afternoon humming around my apartment, wondering how I might translate such an experience into the restaurant I was now sure I was about to open down the block.”

further on she describes the table atmosphere in detail that would make her stage designer father beam with pride,

“There would be no foam and no “conceptual” or “intellectual” food; just the salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry. There would be nothing tall on the plate, the portions would be generous, there would be no emulsions, no crab cocktail served in a martini glass with its claw hanging over the rim. In ecstatic farewell to my years of corporate catering, we would never serve anything but a martini in a martini glass. Preferably gin.”

I clap with glee at the irony of her profoundly intellectual, anti-intellectualism. What a designer!

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