How Passion Eats Mediocrity - Chef Film Review

**Spoiler Alert
In the film Chef, Jon Favreau shines as Carl Casper, a famous Miami Chef, who after receiving a bad review from a food blogger reconciles his passion for food with his passion for life. It is a feel good film that tingles the taste buds while warming the heart. In a country where 55% of the workforce is dissatisfied with their current job (Forbes), Chef provides the secret to transforming worker engagement; believe you can touch people's lives with what you do. 

I am a believer in working hard. Hard work is not just good for your employer, but it is the foundation of your very character. There are so many people who work with mediocrity. I remember being a mediocre employee, working the bare minimum because I felt I wasn't paid enough to go the extra mile. Habitual mediocrity will lead you to a mediocre character. The expectations you place on yourself will soon become mediocre and any energy you expel towards your bigger goals in life will become mediocre as well. The big problem with the "bare minimum" mentality is that it seeps into who you are and how you perform outside of work. What's the answer? Passion.

Carl Casper is a passionate Chef. He loves his craft and puts in the extra hours to prove it, so many hours that he loses his family in the process, his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony). Their divorce creates a father and son divergence and rather than invest in one-on-one time with Percy, Carl invests in "filler" time. He avoids any meaningful conversations with his son by taking him out to perform frivolous activities during their father/son bonding weekends. This is a result of Carl's dissatisfaction at work. The more disengaged he is at his job the more disengaged he is with his family. 

Even though Chef Carl loves cooking, he is one of the 55% of disengaged employees. Before his restaurant’s major food critique, his boss, played by Dustin Hoffman, refuses to allow Carl to express his culinary artistry. So, instead of creating a new menu for the critic (Oliver Platt), Hoffman actively disengages Chef Casper by telling him to stick to what they have been serving for the last five years. As a result of this decision, the food blogger bashes the restaurant and most particularly Chef Casper resulting in a Twitter war that ultimately defame’s his reputation.

With his life falling apart, his ex-wife Inez gives Carl the most practical advise he ever receives. She tells him to stop focusing on the fame awarded by the life a celebrity Chef and go back to doing what he is most passionate about, cooking. So Chef Carl Casper buys a food truck and starts making food his way on his terms. He brings along his good friend and partner Martin (John Leguizamo) and his son to travel across the nation for the summer in a cultural culinary adventure. All of a sudden Chef Casper’s passion for food starts to positively affect everyone around him. He begins to bond with his son in a way he never had before. Percy becomes his marketing manager by posting their food truck locations on social media ahead of time and generating buzz. Carl reconnects with his ex-wife and even inspires the food critic who destroys his reputation to invest in his new company. 

Chef shows us that if we are not satisfied with our work, it is in our control to fill our lives with Passion. You visually see Carl's energy change in the film from a stressed out laborer, working for a manipulative restaurant owner to a passionate human being who is fully alive. You don't have to be living out your dream to work with passion. In fact, the more passion you infuse into your current work, the better character you will develop to equip you for your dream job. Perform your current job responsibilities with the same passion of what you really love to do. Incorporate your talents into your job and you will leave your shift with more energy than what you invested in that day. I love public speaking, especially when I get to motivate others. You can ask my wife, when I come home from a training program after I have spoken all day, I'll have a more positive energy than the days I come home after working in front of a computer. 

You have passion and you can incorporate it into your work no matter how boring it may be. Never settle for mediocrity. You are unique and unrepeatable. Your ideas matter. Add music to your office, come up with new initiatives, request to redecorate the employee lounge, offer to take new staff pictures, or pitch your idea for a manager retreat. Whatever you are Passionate about, think of how you can infuse it into your daily tasks.

Chef will not only place in you a hunger for delicious food, but will offer spiritual satiety for a passionate soul.

Further Reading: Why Chef is Evil
"Black Tap and the Experience Illusion"

So aside from the film industry, I am in the business of creating positive guest experiences through hospitable Storytelling. At the Biltmore Hotel in Miami, Florida, we create experiences that are so impactful, the guest is compelled to share their story with someone else via word of mouth or social media. Retrieving these positive stories is only possible through our commitment to serve with deep empathy and passion. The Biltmore has an outstanding product that demands outstanding service, else that product would be devalued. The stories we create are only as good as our service. If a guest reads a great story about our Fontana restaurant, decides to try it out, but receives terrible service, the experience is disparaged. Experts say we are living in an "Experience Economy", where experiences outweigh mere services and goods; but after what I witnessed last weekend, I believe we are moving towards a "Social-Experience Economy", where the digital experience is more profound than the live one. However, does this make the experience worth paying for?

Black Tap
Last weekend I was in New York City with my family. My sister had been psyched to try this place called Black Tap Craft Burgers and Shakes (+Black Tapever since she started following them on Instagram and saw them on Buzzfeed. They had been posting pictures of their food for a while and have become known for their gourmet burgers and decorative milk shakes. Even the Weeknd showed up... but not during our weekend. Sorry. His name... I had to.

The Weeknd enjoying his Cookie Shake +Black Tap 
Their social marketing campaign proved successful the moment we arrived. If we wanted a much-desired seat in this SOHO sweet spot, we'd have to wait in a two-and-a-half hour line just to get in. Two-and-a-half-hours, folks. As my wife's students would ask #isthisreallife?

Five of us, plus my two-year-old daughter, committed to this line. Anyone who attempts this with a two-year-old should check themselves into a mental hospital. Luckily, we have the coolest daughter on the planet and she held up for that long. So many times we contemplated just skipping the line, but something about the experience compelled us to stay (blame those Instagram filters). We wanted to try those decorative milkshakes, we stared at and discussed Black Tap's social media pages) and the closer we were the more the anticipation grew. (My wife would like me to point out that she was highly-absolutely-positively against this line from the beginning and even suggested other restaurants.) But the rest of us knew that the great reviews, the amazing pictures, and the long lines couldn't be wrong about this place.

Finally our time came, just under the two hour mark (how cool were we)! We were escorted into the pub and seated at the bar. They had hooks for our bags and outlets to charge our phones. There was a full bar with local craft beers. Amazing right? With our stomachs grumbling, our two-year-old breathing a sigh of relief to finally get to color, and our phones plugged in to ensure enough battery life to socially document every detail, we perused the menu and prepared to order. With all of the hype about this place we assumed the service was going to be top notch, but to our surprise, the service was mediocre and disorganized. It took us another 15 minutes just to order after waiting so long. My wife asked the waitress if she liked a certain burger and she just shook her head and said in a non-caring voice, "I don't know, I haven't had it." It was clear that, in order to keep up with the high demand, the company sacrificed service, the most important part of the experience. 

All the food needed to be ordered at the same time (drink, apps, meal, and shake) so the server would only need to touch the table once in order to move on to the next batch of suckers-- I mean customers. In my case this meant that they brought out my beer, appetizer, entree, and gourmet shake all at the same time. You had guests having to choose to enjoy their delicious craft beer or eat their meal, or dive into their milkshake before it all melted away because of the restaurant's lack of organization. I mean, it was all over the place. When my wife caught sight of the on-coming milkshake (which was making its way to us before our burger salads), she quickly asked our waitress if the milkshake could wait. After all, if a toddler catches sight of a gigantic ice-cream sculpture oozing with chocolate chips, how much of her dinner do you think she'll have? That's right: none. Plus add that to the tantrum thrown when said mountain of ice-cream is placed before her and we enforce that she should finish her meat patty. Yeah, as my wife would say, "hell no." Luckily, the young woman making the shakes caught sight of our anxious faces and held off on the shake (she later confided in us that she did this because she, too, is a parent).  

Finally, the big moment came: Black Tap Shake Time. After the ooh's and aah's of our dessert's entrance, I quickly realized the shake was mostly whipped cream and chocolate syrup. The straw was too short to start drinking it because the whipped cream was overflowing. I tried taking a sip at first and got smothered by the white foam. I started digging through this sugary mountain just so I could taste the shake. It had an ice cream sandwich stuck on the glass which was nice to toss in the shake, but then I lost all of the whipped cream in the after splash. The chocolate chip cookie was good... my daughter certainly liked it... but was it worth the two-hour wait and bad service? Besides, trying to drink this thing was ridiculous and we could have saved two hours by just ordering the shake to go and avoiding the $15 worth of  decorative glass.

The burgers were good, but not worth the wait. The space was poorly utilized as most of their downstairs tables were open (possible hype-tactic?). The company clearly did not know how to function with large volumes. The experience was downgraded to meet the high demand rather than upgraded to keep customers coming back.

So many people were snapping photos of their food and posting them online, including my party. I asked my brother about his experience and he said that his burger was delicious, but he would never come back. This was a one time thing. He tried to justify the bad service however, saying that my expectations were too high for just a bar. Maybe he is right but in my experience, it's the service that changes the game from "one-time-thing" to loyal customer. 

It's amazing how much money people spend on the illusion of an experience. They see others post photos of these shakes and make the decision that they are worth standing in line for because participating in the online experience with others is attractive. To my disappointment, they were just shakes. In the experience economy, the consumer's experience is all that matters. Within the social-experience economy, however, it is about the illusion, something that acts as a social media status changer. The illusion experience makes the food taste better because your mind believes it has to be this good. The experience of posting it online and sharing it with celebrities like the Weeknd is what satisfies the consumer more than the actual product and service does. And to contribute to the social-experience economy, I've had more satisfaction writing this blog than actually eating at Black Tap. They got me. The big question is what will happen to the service industry if consumers only care about the illusion more than the live experience? Will the stories about the illusion become more impactful than the stories of genuine service? Instagram and Snapchat may have proven they have.

In case I wasn't clear, Black Tap is not worth the wait... but if you wanna chance it and participate in the social-experience it provides then be sure to grab a slice of pizza while you are in line and remember to not bring a toddler!

P.S. Miami Locals will enjoy Spring Chicken much more than Black Tap with no wait, tastier food, and decent shakes! 
If you are a carnivore and are looking for a good burger joint, check out my buddies blog!

How the Film "Inside Out" Increases Emotional Intelligence

I started writing this review last summer and never finished it because I didn't feel like I was on the right track. Initially I wanted it to be about how the film portrayed a false message; emotions control you. I wasn't satisfied with what I was writing, so instead of analyzing my work, I pushed it aside and tried not to think about it. When it came out on iTunes last November, I thought about writing it again, but still pushed it aside. When it won the Oscar for best animated feature this year, I again thought about getting back into this review. It kept coming to my mind, but nothing came of it.

I lost my connection to the film...until last week. During a training program I was leading I had my group take an emotional intelligence test. Emotional Intelligence is defined simply as the ability to perceive, understand, manage, and use emotions. I forgot I had a clip from "Inside Out" in my presentation under the heading "Emotions Work Together". I added it to the slideshow immediately after I saw the film last summer, but never played it for a group because we would usually run out of time. This particularly class was ahead of schedule though, so I played it. It was the concluding scene of the film where Riley,12, comes back home from running away and reveals to her parents how much she missed her old life in Minnesota. She embraces her sadness fully for the first time in her life and breaks down.

As I was watching this clip, I started to remember the films's impact on me a year ago...and started to cry! In front of the entire training group here I was, their leader, crying my eyes out. It was my "Puppy in a Cup" moment. Luckily, some of the women were crying too.

But as my lip quivered for the fourth time, it came to me. I repressed writing this blog just as Riley repressed the emotion of sadness. The movie is about repression not about how your emotions control you. Repressing an emotion is just as bad as allowing your emotions to govern your actions, which is why I always cry at the end of the film "Warrior".

Emotional Intelligence
Emotions can get the best of us, not only at a young age as they are developing. Adults repress emotions all the time allowing them to build up and explode over the most innocent of victims, like a sweet old lady or your two year old daughter after she asks you to play "Let it Go" for the one millionth time. We will give into these repressed emotions at one point because the load to is too heavy. This is where emotional intelligence comes in.

Emotional Intelligence is something you can begin practicing now and "Inside Out" provides a visual guide to help you achieve it. There are five stages to developing EI (Emotional Intelligence); Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Self-Motivation, Interpersonal Communication, and Emotional Mentoring. I want to focus on just the first two, SelfAwareness and Self-Management, to make my point in this review, but encourage you to read Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to help you achieve a higher emotional quotient for your own personal development.

Self-Awareness is the most important step. It involves simply becoming aware of what you are feeling and allowing yourself to feel an emotion physically. You cannot repress the emotion, which is what Riley was doing for the first two acts of the film. She repressed Sadness, I use a capital "S" because emotions are characters in this film. Sadness was being repressed by Joy the entire movie. Joy did not allow Sadness to help Riley through her daily life. Sadness became a repressed emotion for her. On her first day at a new school though, that emotion exploded.

While Riley was introducing herself in class, she had a "sadness spurt". Overwhelmed by Joy's  pressure to constantly fill Riley with happiness, a wave of sadness came flooding in. She started to cry in front of her class mates about how much she missed her old life (Puppy in a Cup Again). Even Sadness, the character, said she had no control over what she was doing when she started turning all of Riley's bright yellow joyful memories into soft blue sad ones.

It sounds childish, but is actually very accurate to what happens internally when we repress an emotion. I am a very patient person, but my patience comes with emotional repression. I grew up repressing my thoughts and feelings because I was never taught otherwise. I've seen my brother repress his anger for years at some of our family members because he was never taught how to handle emotional crises.

Several months ago I saw a father scald his 8 month old son for crying at the zoo. He lifted his son off the floor and said, "Stop crying! Men don't cry!" Sadly, this parenting mentality still exists and teaches children to repress their feelings at an early age. No wonder men have so many commitment issues!

Self-Awareness is all about feeling. There is nothing wrong with feeling an emotion, even if that emotion is fear or anger. The whole point of feeling the emotion is so you can decide the appropriate response to it. If you cannot feel an emotion you cannot react to it properly. Think of a glove and a needle. Have you ever tried to sew with a glove on? It makes it very difficult to thread the needle because you cannot feel it. We tend to wear emotional gloves over our hearts that make it difficult for us to thread the needle of our emotional responses. Consistent repression leads to emotional numbness and this is what happens to Riley when her emotions go out the tube... literally they go out a tube and into another facet of her brain.

As Riley's emotional numbness sinks in, she starts making poor decisions and acts out of character. She talks back to her parents, she steals her mother's credit card, and ultimately tries to run away. She begins to lack Self-Management. Plainly stated, Self-Management is the ability to manage your emotions, control impulses, and shake off bad moods. If Self-Awareness is the  needle, then Self-Management is the hand croqueting your emotional decisions. Without this technique, it is very difficult to act decisively.

I always see a pattern when I give others their emotional intelligence test. Many have high self-awareness scores, but low self-management scores. There is a connection between the two because the more you allow yourself to feel the more emotions you will have to manage appropriately with increasing difficulties. If we are an open door to emotions then we must learn to sleep on big emotional decisions before making them. Riley is an emotional door because she is a child. Children are still learning how to respond to emotions and that is why they take over her so often. Joy tries to become the ultimate emotional manager for Riley, but ends up repressing other emotions that don't make Riley happy rather then manage each individual crises.

Emotional Dictators

Why does it seem like the emotions are controlling the characters? Because there exists a lack of self management here especially within the adults. Riley's dad showcases this when he loses his temper with her over dinner. Without much conflict he allows his anger to control his decisions when Riley talks back. The emotionally intelligent thing to do would have been for him to ask why she was acting out of character rather than allowing his anger to fuel hers. The film can be read that our emotions control us and there is nothing we can do about it.

However, we are not our emotions. We are so much more than that. Emotions can be great enablers for our lives, but they are not the final decision maker in our lives. There is something higher that allows us to freely choose to act on an emotion or surpass it, just like desires. If we ate overtime we felt a little hungry then we would be eating all the time. If we had sex overtime we felt the urge, we would be in a lot of trouble. We have to learn how to control desires and most of us can do that.

Emotions are no different than those desires. We first must ask ourselves where is the emotion coming from, what am I feeling, and most importantly,  why am I feeling it? Emotions are not the dictators in your brain, if that were the case you would be enslaved by them. You know people in your lives who are enslaved by emotions.

I really enjoyed this film from the inside out. I even liked how the emotions themselves had emotions. It showcases a world of intrinsic beauty inside each human person. I believe watching this film with your child and explaining it to them opens up the door for a natural and authentic relationship about emotions and the things they are feeling. A child may use this film as an excuse whenever they act out of anger though. So, they must be taught that feeling anger is okay, but they have the choice to manage it rather than repress it. And you must provide them with the tools to do so.

Further reading on Inside Out and Emotional Intelligence
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