How ‘Gourmet Makes’ Host Claire Saffitz Teaches The Valuable Lessons of Failing by Monica Torres
….This is the drama of the popular Bon Appétit video series “Gourmet Makes.” Whenever a new episode pops up in my YouTube feed, I first look at the runtime. My excitement over each show is directly correlated to how long we get to watch Saffitz attempt a homemade version of the commercial snack foods of our youth with little to go on but a food wrapper and memories.
Recent challenges include Starburst (40 minutes), Twix (39 minutes) and those pesky Doritos (46 minutes).
“Gourmet Makes” stands out for showing how a recipe is actually tested in a professional kitchen through trial and error. Saffitz is a professional chef figuring out how to engineer a recipe in real time during the show, and we’re privy to her failures and frustrations along the way….
Saffitz’s bold attempts at recreating processed snacks also model what leadership and management professor Amy Edmondson called “intelligent failure” in the Harvard Business Review.
These are opportunities “when experimentation is necessary: When answers are not knowable in advance because this exact situation hasn’t been encountered before and perhaps never will be again,” Edmondson wrote. In other words, they’re the kind of productive failures you grow from.
Saffitz spoke with HuffPost about how the show has changed her perfectionist tendencies and her approach to cooking, and what we can apply about learning from failure to the kitchen or our careers.
The basic formula of the show, which launched in 2017, follows the scientific method of making informed hypotheses and then testing them. We see Saffitz first break down the ingredients on a particular snack’s label, we watch as she researches what has been written about how it’s made, and then we follow as she starts to experiment with the best method for replicating the snack at home.
Sometimes chocolate doesn’t temper or Doritos come out too toasted — it’s not always a smooth process in which Saffitz gets it right on the first try or second day.
…Claire’s personal favorite makes
A common anxiety around cooking failure is the sunken cost, Saffitz said: “If it’s not going to turn out, then you’ve wasted time, money and energy.” And a fear of failure is common in general. One survey found more of us are scared of failure than of ghosts or being home alone. But getting comfortable with the idea that you may not get it all right is necessary to grow. Embracing what you’ve ended up with — mistakes and all — is valuable.
The life lessons behind a bad attempt at Starburst
…When the final result is less than satisfactory, you have to take your wins from the process.
“It took me a long time to recognize the worth personally in doing ‘Gourmet Makes’ outside of just creating a video, because it sort of felt like it was pointless to take four days to make Gushers, or make a Twinkie,” she said. “But it is certainly the case that I always walk away from the process having learned something important about a technique or an ingredient or a process. In a way that I never anticipated, ‘Gourmet Makes’ has made me a much better baker and much more open toward failure.”
By showing these failures on camera as a lesson you can learn and excel from, the show is successful at reframing what failure can mean.
On taking a break when you hit a roadblock
The problem-solving within the show follows the rhythms of a real work day, with Saffitz sometimes leaving for the weekend with questions she still needs to answer and coming back on Monday with tips from research she’s read up on.
In this way, the show normalizes how work can be a series of stops and starts, and that’s OK. You don’t have to force yourself to push through in one day to make a breakthrough.
…How testing a recipe can teach you to move on
…Recognizing your core challenge to overcome is necessary to not get off track under a tight deadline. To do it successfully means knowing when to move on. “Four days is our cutoff, says me,” Saffitz declared at the end of the Twizzlers episode.
“You have to trust yourself and your own instincts to say this thing is good enough. And sometimes good enough is great. And it’s a really positive thing to be able to understand your own standards,” Saffitz said. “You can endlessly test a recipe and tweak it and never feel like it’s done.”