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What this Netflix-famous chef can teach us about having a framework...

Last Updated:

May 1, 2024

Table of Contents

Welcome to Edition #49 of Did You Know? (DYK), the weekly newsletter by Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules, where we deconstruct the untold story of how someone (or something) became successful—and what you can do to follow in their footsteps.

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Did You Know? You should build your own frameworks!

(1) A story from the past

Did you know? Professional chef Samin Nosrat hypothesized that all good cooking could be boiled down to four elements: salt, fat, acid, and heat. Though it was a no-brainer to experienced chefs, Nosrat knew it wasn’t common knowledge to all. Her mission to share this framework with the world earned her Netflix-worthy accolade.

It’s 2000. Nosrat, an English major in her sophomore year at UC Berkeley, dreamed of being an author. The issue? “[She] just didn’t know how to enact that plan.”

Nosrat’s life changed when she ate at Chez Panisse, a nearby Michelin Star restaurant in Berkeley. Struck by what seemed like an "incredible place with extraordinary people" coupled with her uncertain career as a writer, Nosrat applied to be a busser at Chez Panisse.

Self-described as “an immigrant kid, a perfectionist over-worker”, Nosrat found satisfaction in the restaurant’s fast-paced, high-expectation environment. Within four years, she was learning “how to cook professionally” with Chez Panisse owner and renowned chef Alice Waters.

Fast forward four more years and Nosrat found herself apprenticing in Italy, then returning to the United States to work as a sous-chef. As an observer, learner, and experimenter in the kitchen, Nosrat realized that all great food is the product of 4 fundamental elements: salt, fat, acid, and heat.

But when Nosrat shared her learning with her colleagues, they “looked at her like she had just declared water to be wet. Still, she knew it wasn’t obvious to people outside of a professional kitchen. So she set out to tell them.”

So, while Nosrat moved into teaching private cooking classes, she also decided to revisit her love for writing. With the mentorship of food and science writer Michael Pollan, Nosrat began to use food “as a way to tell stories.” More specifically, Nosrat wanted to tell the story of salt, fat, acid, and heat.

Why? Nosrat “always felt like an outsider.” Her goal was for “everyone to feel included, and… everyone to get it so everyone feels like they can do anything.”

17 years after her formative experience as a diner in Chez Panisse, Nosrat published Salt Fat Acid Heat. Called “authoritative but not despotic, aspirational but still realistic, and endlessly witty” by the New York Times, Nosrat’s bestselling cookbook centered around the framework that salt, fat, acid, and heat have always guided her “on the path to good food.”

One year after publication, Nosrat’s book became a four-part Netflix mini-series. “Unlike any other food show on TV”, Salt Fat Acid Heat featured Nosrat’s framework at work around the world and highlighted history’s often unsung cooks—“women, people of color, and ‘grannies.’”

Today, Nosrat has won two James Beard Awards (2018, 2019) and was named one of Time Magazine’s top 100 influential people (2019). Her next book will be called What to Cook.

So, the next time you find yourself overwhelmed in the face of complicated data or variation, remember Nosrat—who introduced some structure to what seemed obvious to insiders, and as a result, made cooking simpler, easier, and more enjoyable for others.

Samin Nosrat as photographed by Alex Lau for Bon Appétit. Pictured (left) is Nosrat’s New York Times bestselling book, Salt Fat Acid Heat (2017).

(2) A strategy for your future

Did you know? Frameworks don’t just tame complexity. They also put you on the map.

It’s easy to feel discombobulated by too much of anything. Instructions, data, stories, and variations of all kinds can leave us feeling bewildered.

But what Nosrat teaches us is that the more you can introduce some structure, the more you’ll simplify what feels incomprehensible. Having a unique approach to seeing the world can also put you on the map as a thought leader.

Staring at a complicated situation, whether in the form of a big dataset or endless discussion? Ask yourself these questions:

(1) “What discrete categories could I form with this information?”

  • E.g., “Sure, we have 100 volunteers for our charity fundraiser, but, when I take a step back, we can see that there are really 2 big categories of people: parents with kids in the local school system (60% of the group), retirees looking to give back (20% of the group), and students (20% of the group).”

(2) “What graphic could I use to visualize this information?”

  • E.g., “Sure, we’re swimming at fundraising data, but we could make a bar chart to show our dollars raised per month and then a line chart on top to show the cumulative amount raised so far this year.”

No framework will come close to the specificity of knowing each of the 100 volunteers by name, but a framework can get you a simple, structured way of summarizing a situation in one breath or less. Often, that’s good enough!

I know it because I’ve experienced it: Samin Nosrat’s ​Salt Fat Acid Heat​ was my inspiration for my ​Three C’s​. I was particularly taken by the idea of translating the heaps of professional development tips and tricks into a digestible and hopefully memorable framework.

With only so much time on our hands but an infinite number of situations we could face in our careers, the Three C’s were my attempt at both giving a head nod to Nosrat’s work and giving others a lens through which one can analyze their career.

(And if you don’t have time to read a book, either, I get it. That’s why I condensed my frameworks into simple, practicable scripts for stressful scenarios at work. Like Nosrat, I have always considered myself an outsider—and this flashcard deck is just one of those ways I’m hoping to serve others like me.)

Free yourself with a framework!


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