I never really liked much of Netflix’s original content. Okay fine, I loved the new Gilmore Girls — Who is Rory’s baby daddy?!
But then a friend recommended I watch Chef’s Table. I put it on the back burner for a while because one episode was in another language, because I like to listen and watch my TV shows while doing something productive, which is impossible to do if the show is in another language.
I came back to Chef’s Table after marathoning Neflix’s Ugly Delicious twice. Ugly Delicious is a delightful tale of “Food x Politics”, with David Chang as the host. Perhaps he resonated with me because he was Asian and his parents immigrated to this country as well.
Whomever produces Netflix’s food-related shows deserves an Emmy. The classical music, videographic perfection, and graphics are simply perfection. The stories tug on your heartstrings and inspire you.
Here are a few lessons I learned from watching Chef’s Table — they’re nothing to do with food and everything to do with life and investing.
Stop Using Privilege Or Background As Your Excuse
I do think it’s important to talk about privilege, so that the world can be a true meritocracy one day when we eliminate systemic biases and historic prejudices. However, there are some people who use their lack of whatever privilege they can think of as an excuse to not do better. We’re not all going to be born with the same circumstances, and we’re definitely going to all make mistakes, but being thankful and grateful your circumstances are better than the majority of people in the world is going to get you further in life. Gratitude is everything sometimes. If you live in a developed country, you’ve already got a head start miles ahead of most of the world.
If you’re scoffing and saying “only someone who has had every advantage in life would think that way”, you’d be mistaken about my upbringing. I document my disadvantages in my article about how I went to college for free. Short version: I grew up with parents that didn’t speak english, had the penalty of being Asian when it came time for college admissions, and many other super fun disadvantages. I’m not saying everyone could do what I did, but I’m saying the harder you work, prepare, and better yourself, the “luckier” you’ll get. Also that life is a numbers game and you should try as many things as possible even if you get rejected from a ton of them.
The majority of people in the world don’t have high-speed internet access. The developed world leapfrogs those people in terms of education and learning.
60 percent of the world does not have democracy (this is not a political blog, so I’m not going to debate current circumstances). Hard to move forward in life if there is no organized non-corrupt government policy.
I’m sure whomever you are, there is someone who has had the same circumstances but was more successful than you. Knowing that, why not stop focusing on the disadvantages and concentrate on the advantages you hold?
Crappy things happen in life. That’s not going to change — it’s why you need to create your own basic income before it’s too late.
Two Chefs Who Changed The Norms – Both From Disadvantaged Worlds
One episode of Chef’s Table features Gaggan, who is an Indian chef — the only Indian chef who has ever entered the list of 50 top restaurants in the world. What’s even more amazing is his circumstance. He tells the story of being so poor that his family lived on the streets at one point and how they couldn’t afford $4 worth of electricity. That kind of abject poverty is something you and I probably can’t even imagine.
He goes to culinary school and manages to graduate top of his class. Once at his new job, he quits because of the upper staff being incredibly cruel to the new trainees (kicking, slapping, etc for mistakes). In order to sustain himself, he starts delivering for a fast food company. He eventually makes it to Bangkok and one day starts his own restaurant so he can rid the world of the “hegemony of Eurocentric fine dining”. Instead of complaining how all top fine dining food seemed to be European, he sets out to quietly change that norm. Gaggan’s restaurant is the only one in the world’s top 50 restaurants that serves Indian food.
The other example in the series is Tim Raue, another Top 50 restaurenter who resides in Germany. His childhood comprises of enduring an abusive father and being the only German in a Turkish street gang. He drops out of high school and is essentially not hireable anywhere. He crawls his way to the top and along the way decides that he doesn’t want to serve Eurocentric fine dining as well and instead has a menu that can only be described as decidedly Asian. Still in the classical fine dining sense though, of course.
Just like Gaggan and Tim have reached the top from incredible disadvantages, you too can do that with your finances. It doesn’t matter if you have student loans, credit card debt, or any other liabilities. Start today, and get incrementally better. You don’t have to come from money or privilege in order to have your finances in order. Investing is not only for the rich. There are free (or very low cost) tools at every turn.
Blooom performs a free analysis of your 401k, 403b, or TSP accounts to make sure you’re getting the right mix of assets and minimizing expense fees, and other cool data. If you don’t want to manage your own brokerage account, there are robo-advsiors with free investment plans and a small management fee of 0.25 percent. Compare that with traditional advisors who are prone to human bias that charge you 1 percent, which is four times as much. Want free credit checks and monitoring? Check out Credit Sesame. There are so many great free tools out there. you don’t need to pay an arm and leg in order to invest and get your finances in order. All you need to do is start, and continuing trying to learn about money and investing along the way.
Learn from The Masters
I enjoy Googling the heck out of all these restauranters on the show. Nearly all of the top chefs interned at El Bulli, the #1 restaurant in the world for six years. El Bulli essentially pioneered the current popularity of modern gastronomy. The owners of Alinea, Osteria Francezana, and Noma all interned at El Bulli.
Why learn from the masters? There’s a limited amount of time you have on this earth. If you want to learn everything from scratch by yourself, it’s going to take so much longer. The experts have filtered out the important pieces of information you need to know. Sure, there may be things the masters have missed or considered unimportant, but you can always go back to those tidbits once you’ve learned from a master.
If you want to learn something, learn from the masters, then deviate from the norm and inject your own creativity into your craft. If you’re looking to learn about financial independence (FI) from a book, I recommend learning from FI master Vicki Robin’s book, Your Money or Your Life.
Here are 30 people who became financially independent (FI) before 40. Find one that resonates with you and see how they managed to become FI so early. Once you can understand their plan on a spreadsheet, make tweaks accordingly. Here’s the math to retire in under a decade if you start in your 20s.
Start With The Best Base – Cement A Good Habit
A few centuries ago, Thomas Malthus predicted we’d run out of food due to overpopulation. He didn’t consider the fact that our technology would get better. Mankind has also put in place a much better supply chain.
Unfortunately, due to that supply chain we have added so many chemical cheats to make food taste better. We’ve stripped out nutritions and eliminated that “fresh” component. Vegetables, meats, and fruits you see today at the supermarket are picked weeks in advance. Fruits and vegetables are timed to ripen while they are being shipped to the grocery store.
So many of the top restaurants in the world are growing their own ingredients. That’s where the “farm to table” popularity comes from. Redzepi from Noma even took it to the extreme, foraging from the wild instead of just cultivating the land.
Perhaps in the future we will revert to farms being near major metropolitan cities. Maybe “vine-ripened produce” in the future will garner the same interest as the label “organic” does currently. If you know of companies trying to make that happen, let me know. I have a small slot left for a risky stock in my portfolio :).
In order to create the best dishes, you need to start from the best ingredients. You need to start from a great base. If you don’t, it’ll never be the optimal solution.
But in life and your finances, building your base is more difficult than just saying you’ll do so. Your bad habits are ingrained in your mind due to the fact that you’re so used to them. You need to build better money habits. I recommend reading The Power of Habit in order to learn how to trick yourself into better habits.
Prestige Doesn’t Make You Happy
In one episode, James Beard nominated Will Goldfarb moves from Manhattan to Bali. He rests and mentally cleanses his mind in Ubud, Bali. A few years down the line, he starts to work again. Goldfarb ends up creating an incredible $40 10-course dessert tasting menu in Bali. I’m still upset I didn’t watch Chef’s Table before our trip there last year. Room For Dessert sounds like an awesome restaurant experience.
Prestige is the reason why so many professionals who want to be FI are unwilling to take on jobs that require manual labor. Plumbers make $100+ an hour. Long-range semi-truck drivers make 6 figures if they’re good. But if you’re ever at a dinner party and asked “What do you do?”, a lower wage job is more prestigious just because you sit in an office. Not saying you should switch jobs, just thought it was an amusing oddness of how social class is constructed in a manual labor vs. intellectual/computer labor way instead of just defined by money.
So, if you’re willing to get your side hustle on, here’s a list of 150 of them. May no side hustle be too unprestigious for you.
The fact that Goldfarb moves to Bali reminded me of a parable that has been around for a while. This isn’t mine and I found a copy of it on the internet. This is the story of the Mexican fisherman and the investment banker.
An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.
The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”
Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”
“Millions, señor? Then what?”
To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
Oh, the irony. You might not want to catch and grow all your own food, but becoming FI with a little less money and more happiness or work longer for a McMansion? I’m not sure yet, myself, but Geographic arbitrage allows you to retire with less than if you lived in the US, so you can go to that little fishing village before you’ve spent extra years creating a giant empire.
People often tell me they want to reach FIRE so they can finally retire, take back the hours in their life, and become happy. But prolonged periods of unhappiness aren’t sustainable in the long run. Make a decision and a financial plan, and stick to it.
Best Episodes From The Series
If you get bored this weekend and want to binge something on Netflix this weekend, here are a few of my favorite episodes of Chef’s Table:
- Season 1: Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francesca), Dan Barber (Blue Hill)
- 2: Grant Achatz (Alinea), Gaggan Anand (Gaggan), Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn)
- 3: Tim Raue (Tim Raue)
- 4: Christian Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar), Jordi Roca (El Celler de Can Roca), Will GoldFarb (Room For Dessert)
I should note that I’m sure the other episodes are awesome as well, but I watched mostly english-spoken ones…
What are some of your favorite documentaries that are inspiring or educational (hopefully on Netflix)?
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