How Top Chef Made Me Better

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I’ve been watching Top Chef for a few years now–unfortunately I still can’t cook my wife an egg that meets her satisfaction.

For those who don’t watch–every show begins with a short preliminary challenge that has no bearing on elimination. Typically the winner of the ‘quickfire’ challenge receives immunity for the main challenge or otherwise some type of monetary prize like cash or a trip.

The host delivers the topic and the chefs have a short period of time to produce a dish based around that topic before facing judgment. The main challenge is formatted the same but whoever is chosen to have the weakest dish is asked to “pack their knives and go.”

I’ve found over time that there are quite a few parallels between the design and culinary worlds. Here are five requirements of Top Chefs that can also lead to being a better designer:

1- Decisiveness
As a Top Chef contestant, laboring over a decision leads to insufficient time to execute and results in being sent home. As a designer, being indecisive leads to wasted hours on projects, too many revision cycles and an unclear visual solution.

2- Conceptual ability
Good design is idea based. A pretty picture only goes so far without underlying meaning. A fancy plate that lacks complimentary flavors and components will ultimately fail. Idea comes first.

3- Deadline Awareness
The design and restaurant worlds are time-sensitive industries that require consistent creativity. When a patron orders a meal they expect it to arrive in a timely fashion. Likewise, a designer doesn’t have much time to create a masterpiece – time is of the essence and we must deliver our best on a daily basis.

4- Editorial eye
Editing goes hand in hand with concept creation. Some ideas grow legs and arms and become convoluted by creativity. As a designer we sketch out the madness and determine which legs stay and which limbs are candidates for amputation. I can’t count the number of times a chef has been sent home on TC for having too much going on with their dish. Edit, edit, edit.

A great chef is a great chef until the pastry challenge–where the specialist is separated from the well-rounded cook. Similarly, a designer should work to round out their skills. One could make a career as a typographer, or front-end web developer, but strengthening your weaknesses will prove advantageous.

I watch a couple other Bravo reality shows (Project Runway/Top Design) and many of these same principles apply. Anything I’m missing? Chime in on the comments.

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