Sustaining creativity – 2

Image credit: BIG, via

At the end of last year, René Redzepi wowed us with the announcement that Noma would offer three-month sabbaticals to team members following a certain number of years of service. Few organisations might be able (or willing) to emulate that level of investment in staff wellbeing, but we can all take something away from the principle: that “leaning” and “cleaning” are equally essential for success.

It might be tempting to take the view that Noma can afford to do it. My invitation to you is to look at it this way: at that level of creativity, can they afford not to?

Over the next few weeks, we will explore how spaciousness – even stepping away from your work for a brief moment – impacts the creative process.

Sustaining creativity – 1

Image sourced from the Financial Times

What many of us infer from our culture is the either-or choice we have to make around working and “living”: focus on either one but expect to compromise on the other. Maybe approaching it any other way is still a bit of a stretch for us; maybe our circumstances simply do not allow for anything other than an intense focus on our work. But some of the most creative minds in our industry hold a different perspective:

Fergus Henderson shared in a 2014 Financial Times interview, “There is a common misconception that chefs need to sleep under the restaurant tables with their apron rolled up as a pillow. This is not the case. You need to breathe fresh air, read books, see your loved ones. Eat other people’s food, drink well, and keep an open mouth as well as an open mind.”

Back in service

It feels good to be back in service after a long, much-needed disconnect. Behind the scenes however, Love Letters to Chefs has been slowly shape-shifting into an educational platform. This evolution would not have been initiated without invaluable feedback from a few chefs in this Community (you know who you are – thank you!). I hope what emerges here will be beneficial to many more.

In the next few days, you will receive a personal invitation to join the Community to access resources with more depth than can be offered on social media: it will allow me to go from saying that work-life balance is accessible to actually showing you how.

As always, I am immensely grateful for your presence here and I hope that you will join me on this new chapter.


Walking the tightrope

Wisdom from the productivity classic Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy: “Sometimes people come up to me and ask, “How do I achieve balance between my work and my home life?””

“I ask them in return, “How often does a tightrope walker balance when on the high wire?””

“That is the same situation with balance between work and home life. You have to do it all the time. You never reach a point where you have attained it perfectly. You have to work at it.”

On our shoulders

From the outside it might look as if a team hold collective responsibility for their success, but on the inside, we alone shoulder the stress around our workload. You can compare it to feeling alone in a crowd, although the reality is that everyone is going through something similar.

When we work so closely together as chefs, we can take advantage of the camaraderie that bonds us together. We can make space to acknowledge what’s causing all the stress, so no one is forced to deal with it in their life outside the kitchen. As the old adage says, “a burden shared is a burden divided.”

All that’s required is a team culture that allows everyone to show up as they are: to simply be human.


What kind of ritual does your team close each shift with? Even a two-minute huddle to objectively reflect on service can bring closure to what is usually a long day for most of us. Cleaning the kitchen together doesn’t really count. And it doesn’t have to be a drawn-out affair, accompanied by alcohol, chef.


How scattered we can be during a regular day in the kitchen. And it’s not always the nature of our work that’s to blame. We react unfavourably when something goes wrong. Some of us carry things we haven’t fully processed or dealt with in our lives. Others engage in the power plays that are inevitable when people gather together.

But how much energy does it then take for the team to realign themselves for service? But a strong culture keeps people aligned towards their common purpose. When it’s not ‘leaking’ energy, the team exerts a positive impact on an employee’s work-life balance.


What boundaries does your culture enforce between work and life outside it, chef? Are they fluid, permeable, or non-existent even? It might be that you trespass boundaries only in the event of a contingency. But even then, you can establish a set of ground rules as an organisation to help your team honour the separation essential to a healthy work-life balance.

And it has to work both ways. When you lead a kitchen, within those ground rules should be structures that help you find balance too, chef.


There are two sides to our tribal kitchen culture. One the one hand it shapes what you do and how you behave. It produces an almost infantile behaviour in employees. “Tell me what I should do to fit in, to be part of the team, and I’ll do it.” We battle the symptoms in our kitchens everyday: people not showing up for their shift, calling in sick at the last minute, etc.

But if you instill a sense of sovereignty and treat them as professionals, wouldn’t your chefs take ownership of how they show up for work and take responsibility for their work-life balance?


This fortnight, Love Letters to Chefs asks you to look at your team culture and how it impacts work-life balance.

Does your kitchen feed the myth of ‘busy’ness, chef? That unless you’re seen to be producing work – seen being the operative word here – you hold no value? Do you expect your chefs to justify every moment of their existence, without giving them a moment to pause for breath?

This is what you have to see: that the opportunities to recover your balance lie first and foremost in those moments.