Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with obsessive tinkerer, inventor, and innovator Chris Young. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
Listen to the interview here or by selecting any of the options below.
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO:
You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED:
No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
Tim Ferriss: Waka, waka, waka, you sultry savages. This is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job to deconstruct world-class performers, whether they are from the worlds of chess, entertainment, military, politics, athletics, business, or otherwise. This episode is a fun one. It took place in my home on a couch with tea, and it involves lessons from tinkers, geniuses and billionaires. The interviewee is Chris Young. We talk about quite a few things: what he’s learned from people like Bill Gates, Nathan Myhrvold, and perhaps a name you don’t recognize, but in many ways the most impressive to me, self-made billionaire, Gabe Newell.
If you don’t know who he is, you should learn all about him and we will get into it. Neal Stephenson, the science fiction author, although saying it that way doesn’t do justice to the work that he puts out, which is incredible. “Snow Crash” and so on. We’ll touch on that. And questions, above all, we focus on good questions.
We focus on better thinking, and we focus on, for instance, how geniuses and the people who run, for instance, the No. 1 ranked restaurant in the world express disappointment. How do they express disappointment and ensure that you correct yourself? How has Chris managed to get jobs working for some of these people, who are the best in the world, despite no credentials at the time that he got the jobs? How do you, of course, create apocalyptic barbecues? A very important question. We’ll get into that and risk having the entire neighborhood burn down. I don’t recommend you do that, of course. I would never suggest such a thing.
But the story makes for a good time. We’re going to get into it. So please enjoy this wide-ranging conversation with Chris Young. We’ll take you from extreme aviation and world record goals to mathematics, biochemistry and everything in between. So, fuck it. I left myself with no out on this one. Enjoy!
Christopher, welcome to the show.
Chris Young: Thanks, Tim. Excited to be here. Very cool.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, man. It’s been not too, too long since we’ve hung out. We saw each other in Seattle and that was sans Matt Mullenweg.
Chris Young: Yes, I’m actually impressed you remember any of that. There was a bit of drinking.
Tim Ferriss: Well, not to point fingers, but I’d say whenever we hang out, there’s always some form of drinking that seems to sneak in.
Chris Young: It might be a chef thing.
Tim Ferriss: It might be a chef thing. But before we get to the chef thing, and I suppose this is related, but you have a myriad of obsessions that strike me as interesting. We’re going to get to those, but since we were talking about the drinking and Seattle, one particular incident that I thought was very telling of your personality and kind of hilarious was this dinner that we had for a few people who had won prizes to be brought to Seattle to have this incredible dinner. There was a family with a bunch of kids, and the mom was talking about making smoothies.
Just as before we started recording, I said “You don’t need to feel that you have to censor yourself, not that that’s what you do anyway.” And I just remember after she had finished this heartfelt description of her vegetable smoothies, you said, “Well, you know, vegetables are trying to kill you.” And you went into this diatribe about vegetables. Can you elaborate on why that is the case?
Chris Young: Sure. I think I probably said something to the effect of, “Salad is a silent killer.”
Tim Ferriss: Salads, right.
Chris Young: Which is actually not originally my idea. The great food writer, Jeffrey Steingarten, had a brilliant article about this. But to anybody who has sort of a biology background, this makes some intuitive sense. It’s just one of these things we don’t stop to think about. If you’re a plant, you’re not looking to get eaten. That’s not a good outcome for you. You can’t run, so you do all sorts of things to evolve some protection against all these predators running around trying to eat you.
So it turns out if you’re stuck in the ground and you can’t run, you’re going to evolve this really elaborate chemical weapon system that when a pest or a disease or a critter starts to gnaw on your roots, or gnaw on your stalks, or gnaw on your leaves, none of which are the part that you want to have eaten, you’re going to try to poison them. So a whole bunch of things like fava beans, if you eat them raw, people die every year from eating too many raw fava beans. Apple seeds have trace amounts of cyanide; not enough to be an issue for a human, but for pests? Sure.
Even when a fruit bruises and it turns that unsightly brown, that’s a cascading enzymatic chemical reaction designed to create a bunch of molecular compounds that prevent spoilage. So there’s all these people that think eating raw vegetables is this inherently, somehow more pure act of eating. It’s like, no, you’re eating mostly a bunch of toxins and poisons and things that may not affect you because you’re a pretty large mammal, but mostly they’re not that great for you.
Spinach, I think, was the example I used. People think of Popeye and that you get all this iron from spinach. It’s part myth. There’s just not that much iron in spinach compared to many other plant foods, but also raw spinach contains a ton of oxalic acid, which actually binds iron. So people who eat a lot of raw spinach, they end up with an iron deficiency.
Tim Ferriss: And that’s what produces that, not cottonmouth feel, but that mouth feel.
Chris Young: Spinach is very mild in this, but sorrel, which is a relative, has this prickly – if you’ve ever eaten rhubarb. Rhubarb is very high in it and if you eat raw rhubarb that hasn’t been cooked down in a bunch of sugar with a bunch of jammy strawberries, it’s a pleasant vegetable, but it’s not as amazing as people think it is. And it also can leave you with this cottony mouth, especially if you eat it raw, which I remember doing as a kid. It wasn’t that great.
Tim Ferriss: I would imagine in the same bucket, you have – now, some of these might be from legumes or otherwise, but phytic acid and saponins and all these various anti-nutrients.
Chris Young: Kidney beans are another thing where you really need to cook them and actually you’re best throwing out the water you cook them in. One, you’re going to fart a bunch less because you’re basically diluting down a bunch of the oligosaccharides that you can’t digest. But also you’re tending to dispense with some of the more water-soluble compounds that aren’t very good for us.
Tim Ferriss: So – the science. You bring a lot of science to the table. Take me through getting to math and biochemistry. Did that come before or after food and cooking?
Chris Young: It certainly came well before professionally doing it. The cooking thing was something I always did as a kid. It was just not the kind of thing that somebody growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s was like, “Oh, that’s a good career choice.”
Like no. Growing up in the aspirational middle, middle class, becoming a chef was not a good career choice. You were not encouraged in that direction in late 1980s heartland America. Science I think was always interesting to me. It was stuff that I gravitated towards but it wasn’t the kind of thing that I had a natural aptitude. To be quite honest, taking math, for example, the highest grade I think I got in a mathematics class, all the way up through high school, was a C-.
I think partly because I had a chip on my shoulder about it and partly because mathematics as it existed at the university level, once you got beyond the weed-out classes, bore no resemblance to what I had seen throughout high school and junior high and elementary school. I think I partly got that degree to be able to say “See? It really was the teachers, not me.”
And partly because I actually discovered it was actually really elegant and fun and interesting because you were sort of playing these mental games of like what would the world be like if volume no longer has a physical meaning? And stuff like that. So I sort of took university in a very indirect approach, where I just took things that were interesting to me or I took them because a particular professor was teaching them and that person was always interesting and doing cool-ass shit.
It happened to be that after seven years and I looked around and said, “What do I have enough to have a degree in? Oh, well, I kind of have enough to have a degree in pure mathematics. And I kind of have enough to have a degree in biochemistry. And I kind of have enough to sort of have a degree in history. So maybe I should apply for those.”
Tim Ferriss: Historical mathematical biochemistry?
Chris Young: Something like that.
Tim Ferriss: And what was your first gig out of college? It always strikes me when I’m having these conversations with friends, it gives me an excuse to ask the 20 questions that would seem utterly weird and creepy if I did it in like a normal conversation over wine But I have no idea. What was your first job out of college?
Chris Young: Cook.
Tim Ferriss: How’s that happen?
Chris Young: How’s that happen? So this goes back to the year 2000. I was starting to pursue a Ph.D., or what I hoped would turn into a Ph.D., in an area called biomolecular structure and design. So specifically, it sort of tied together mathematics and physical chemistry, and cancer research, and computers, and a whole bunch of stuff I was kind of/sort of interested in. But I also had a whole bunch of chaos going on in my life with crazy girlfriends. One, in particular. So academically, I was getting burned out and in the meantime, my personal life was cratering in a super awkward and painful kind of way. I remember somewhere around September, actually, October 2001; so after September 11.
I just remember my life totally imploded. Like in the course of about a week, where things were going really poorly for my research, the principal investigator on the project I was at was really displeased with my work. Part of that was I’d made some bad choices about the project. And part of it was I completely distracted about what was imploding in my personal life. So it was just sort of one of these, “Fuck it, I’m going to walk away from it.” With no clear idea of what the hell I’m going to do.
I’d always cooked. I enjoyed cooking. I was reading a bunch of – I was cooking my way through The French Laundry Cookbook. I was diving into Harold McGee, both of which I discovered around that time.
Tim Ferriss: It’s been a while. That’s The Science of Cooking, no?
Chris Young: Yeah, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.
Tim Ferriss: Dammit. That’s it. On Food and Cooking.
Chris Young: So that book was fascinating to me. It was just like, this stuff is so awesome. And it was one of those books I just discovered randomly browsing at Barnes and Noble.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a lucky find.
Chris Young: Yeah, just like, “This thing’s cool.”
Tim Ferriss: Just as a quick pause, for people who’ve seen the 4-Hour Chef video, the book trailer, the movie trailer, we shot it at ChefSteps, which is in Seattle, which is Chris is certainly heavily involved with, to say the least. We’ll get into it. But the placeholder that we used for The 4-Hour Chef book because we put it in post-production was –
Chris Young: Harold’s book.
Tim Ferriss: Harold’s book.
Chris Young: Yeah. It was about the right size.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it was the perfect size.
Chris Young: So all of this stuff was going on and I was like, I have no idea what I’m going to do. I’m basically walking away from my grant funding. I’ve got to get my head back together because of a bad relationship. So I just decided I enjoy cooking, so I’m going to get a job as a chef while I figure out what the hell I’m going to do with my life. That was as far as the master plan went at that point.
I wrote up letters to all of these chefs that as far as I could tell were kind of important restaurants in Seattle with my academic CV being like, “I am looking for a job.” And remarkably, some of them actually called me back. I think mostly to see if I was having a laugh.
Tim Ferriss: Which of my friends is pranking me?
Chris Young: Basically. It was like, this ought to be good for a laugh. There was a chef named Tim Kelley at The Painted Table, who called me up on a Friday and he was like, “I got your letter.” And “Now is not really a good time for you to come work for me at The Painted Table.” Like he quit the next day. “But I have this friend, Bill Belickis, he cooked for David Bouley, and with your science background, you and him would probably get on great. You should call him up and tell him that I sent you and don’t take no for a fucking answer. Just show up with your knives and start cooking for him.” So I called William Belickis up. I’m like, “Tim Kelley said I should call you and definitely come work with you.”
This was a Friday. He’s like, “Great. When can you be here?” This is when I realized he just needed anyone who was willing to work for free. So I showed up at 3:00 with – I’d gotten a knife bag, I had a couple knives at that point. They were reasonably sharp. They immediately put me to work doing some really menial – like pick a bunch of thyme, cut down some chard. I apparently did it mostly right. I was just incredibly slow.
At the end of service, William was really gracious. He sat down with me in the dining room, and he had a glass of wine. He offered me a glass of wine. He’s like, “You know, now’s probably not really a great time. I’m not sure I have the work for you.” Being very earnest. I was, “I totally understand. Is there anybody in town you’d recommend would be a good place for me to work? I’m really committed to doing this. I really want to see what it’s about.”
And what I didn’t realize at the time was that was probably the perfect thing to have said to William, because William had an enormous ego and he was just not going to be capable of bringing himself to say anybody else in town was any good at all. So you could just see him sort of sputtering. “Well, really there’s no one. I think I’m probably the right person to teach you. So why don’t you come back on Tuesday?” [Inaudible].
Tim Ferriss: Kind of an accidental Jedi mind trick.
Chris Young: Yeah. That was the accidental Jedi mind trick. And then it was just like I showed up, and I kept showing up. I didn’t get paid for it. Also, my credit card was getting obliterated. But that’s how I got into it. I discovered that professional cooking is really a mental illness. You either have it or you don’t. Within months, I was like, I have to do this. There isn’t really a choice. And we’re off to the races.
Tim Ferriss: That was your therapy? That’s like the coping mechanism?
Chris Young: That was totally my coping mechanism. It played into all of my introverted, anti-social behaviors.
To basically lock myself up on a Friday and a Saturday in a kitchen. Because I could feel like I was out and socializing, but I didn’t actually have to be out and socializing. So it was great. The next eight years were a cultural black hole for me.
Tim Ferriss: So we’re going to jump around, as is my wont to sort of create a podcast that’s as hard to follow as Memento. I want to paint a visual picture for people. So we flash-forward quite a long ways. Talk to me about the massive pigs rotating around a fire. No, it’s fire rotating around a pig. Can you explain this spectacle to people, please? And provide how that came to be?
Chris Young: So I’ll try to explain the spectacle and then I’ll try to give the “why do we do these shenanigans?” Essentially, there’s the concept of rotissing meat. Usually you rotate the animal in front of the fire. What you’re doing is actually solving a very pragmatic problem, which is you have this big, giant, pig-shaped object.
And the fire can bring heat to the surface much faster than that heat can diffuse and percolate through the meat itself. Every sort of weekend warrior bad cook has experienced this problem at some point where you char the outside and the inside is still raw.
Tim Ferriss: Black and blue.
Chris Young: And if you do something the size of a large animal, that phenomena is exacerbated exponentially. So by rotating it, what you do it is you bring a bunch of fire to one side and it starts heating up. And then before it overcooks, you rotate it into the shadows where it rests and the heat diffuses through. And over of this dizzying number of cycles, you sort of time average out the temperature so you get a crispy surface and an edge-to-edge evenly cooked animal. We call this rotissing. It turns out the physics are totally symmetrical. You can rotate the animal in front of the fire, but you could also rotate the fire around the animal.
And aside from the idea that that’s appealing on its own merits, it actually solves some practical purposes that by forcing wood or coal around really rapidly, you’re forcing a bunch of air through it and air drives the combustion faster and so the coals get hotter. The hotter they get, the more intense they glow. Because you’re dealing with radiant heat and radiant heat sort of goes by the fourth power of the temperature, the hotter you can get it, the more intense the sear and the more radiant energy you’re dumping out and everybody gets a suntan and it’s just awesome.
You’re flinging coal everywhere and bits of fire and dogs are hiding and children are running around. It’s this post-apocalyptic wasteland, kind of like Mad Max just came through and charred some animals. So why wouldn’t you do this?
Tim Ferriss: Is there a name for this?
Chris Young: So this was the inverted rotisserie spit.
Tim Ferriss: How much space does this take up?
Chris Young: Well, the first one which I think is the one you’ve seen some of the photos of, had these two columns that were eight feet tall, stuffed with anthracitic coal that we – that’s a whole in itself of how you get anthracitic coal. They were spinning around at about 36 RPM on a cement mixer base around a pig that was sort of vertically suspended. It had been spatchcocked in half and was vertically suspended.
Tim Ferriss: Great word, that one.
Chris Young: The spatchcock? Yeah, it’s just flayed open on this sort of medieval torture device and we’re spinning this fire around it.
Tim Ferriss: It kind of looks like a dissected pig. Or not a pig. Well, it’s definitely a dissected pig, but a dissected frog. Sort of split open and laid flat.
Chris Young: Yes. And you’ve got the fire rotating around it really rapidly. That was actually at my friend, Neal Stephenson’s backyard and this is the annual tradition. I’ll come back because there’s the origin story part to this.
Tim Ferriss: So footnote – later reference – Neal Stephenson of …
Chris Young: Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Seveneves, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I haven’t read.
Tim Ferriss: Have I read more of his stuff that you have?
Chris Young: I’ve only read one of his books and it’s his most recent one because gliding features in it and I’m the reason [inaudible].
Tim Ferriss: Okay, we’ll come back to that.
Chris Young: Anyway, that’s also how I met Gabe Newell. Well, it’s the second time I met Gabe. I cooked a dinner for Gabe, but that was kind of it. Gabe was at that party, saw the spectacle and goes, “Well, that’s fucking awesome. So we totally need to do that at my house for our Christmas Solstice party, but can you make it bigger?” And so for Gabe’s house, we scaled it up two stories tall. We had a chain of hams and pineapples hanging off this giant I-beam and gantry crane and I think it was about 20-foot tall columns that were spinning around this thing. That was called the tornado of fire.
Tim Ferriss: All right. I’ve decided that this podcast is more like the movie Snatch than Memento. So the cast of characters?
So we have Boris the bullet dodger. So Gabe Newell – Gabe is a man of few words, a self-made billionaire. A collection of thousands of knives?
Chris Young: I believe it’s an enormous collection. I don’t know how many.
Tim Ferriss: All right, we’ll get back to Gabe later because I want to leave that as a teaser. So origin?
Chris Young: Yeah. So I met Neal Stephenson when I was working with Nathan Myhrvold at his invention lab, Intellectual Ventures. That’s where we were writing Modernist Cuisine. Nathan had just founded a lab that was supposed to invent cool shit. So this guy Neal Stephenson showed up who, apparently is really famous but I had no idea who he was. I would sit next to him and I remember coming by, being like – because this was the first book I was writing and I was trying to figure out how to be a writer. So I remember coming up to him and being like, “I understand you’re a writer or something.” And he’s like “I understand you’re a chef or something.” That was kind of the basis for our friendship.
Neither of us cared about our background. But we did enjoy drinking a bunch of English ale and we’d sit over at his house and just chat with him. He just had bought a new house. It was like this mock Tudor mansion that sits on Lake Washington. Every summer, the first weekend in August in Seattle, we have Seafair Weekend, where it’s Fleet Week and there’s a bunch of jet boat races and the Blue Angels come to town. This basically all happens right over Neal’s house.
Neal is this very quiet, introverted, likes things very mellow kind of guy and he’s like, “Well, since basically the entire neighborhood is going to be terrorized for a weekend, we might as well just make a party out of that.” So he coined the idea of having an annual loudness fest. That year he was redoing his backyard so his backyard sort of looked like Beirut after a surgical airstrike had just happened to his yard.
So it wasn’t a big deal that we dug a 6’ x 6’ x 6’ deep pit in his backyard and turned it into a Jacuzzi to sous vide cook a 300-pound pig. Each year after that for the next five years, each year had to be more over-the-top, more outlandish, more ludicrously dangerous. Dangerous in the sense of maybe the neighbors’ houses will burn down, maybe somebody will be killed by spalling concrete, maybe somebody will be burned to cinders because we’re cooking with magma, that kind of thing.
Tim Ferriss: Neal’s a surprisingly fit dude because you think writer, you think sedentary, but true or false? No, I’ll let you tell the story. I have to have him on the podcast at some point. But he does Victorian era exercises?
Chris Young: That is what I have – he does that and he does various forms of what he calls Western martial arts, involving sword fighting, where they really try to accurately recreate the way it would’ve been done, on what I understand is fairly limited information.
I think Neal takes physical fitness absurdly seriously. It’s one of the things that makes him just awesome and interesting as a person to hang around with. You would think of him as this overly nerdy sci-fi writer and that’s totally true; he’s a huge nerd. But he’s also fascinated by all of these physical activities.
Tim Ferriss: What did your path look like from the cooking job that you last described to Heston Blumenthal?
Chris Young: That was a very short hop and a very lucky one. What isn’t appreciated is when I started working for Heston, nobody had really heard of Heston.
Tim Ferriss: Can you paint a picture of Heston?
Chris Young: Today, Heston is a world-famous chef and rightly so. More famous outside of the US, I think, than inside the US, but he’s arguably the most famous chef except for maybe Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, but certainly at that same level in the United Kingdom, in Australia. There would be no Modernist Cuisine without Heston. There would be, frankly, no Noma without Heston.
Tim Ferriss: Noma considered the best restaurant in the world in Copenhagen.
Chris Young: Best restaurant in the world today. The Fat Duck was basically that restaurant between El Bulli in the early 2000s and Noma really starting in the last six or seven years. In fact, Rene went through the Fat Duck and the El Bulli kitchens. The path for me was actually pretty straightforward. I think after about nine months of cooking in Seattle, it was a very small, high-end restaurant, not terribly busy, but it was small in the sense of very few people on staff. There were probably four or five of us.
The good news was that you had to do everything, which is fantastic when you’re trying to learn to be a cook because I had no formal training. It was all on the job. In a bigger restaurant, you sort of compartmentalize down and you can spend a year just doing the same stuff over and over.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like any startup, right?
Chris Young: Right. By being a small restaurant that was just trying to stay afloat, you did everything and there wasn’t time for anyone to think about whether you should be doing that. But by the end of maybe nine or ten months, I realized I was really not going to learn anything more here. I’d sort of maxed out the learning curve. Around that time –
Tim Ferriss: How did you know you’d maxed out the learning curve? What were the symptoms of that?
Chris Young: Boredom, I think, on a certain level. I was finding myself repetitive. I’d set little tasks for myself at that time. If it was shallots and I had to get through a bunch of brunoise, and had to get a box of very fine dice – if I had to get that done, I would try to time it, you know, be able to do a shallot as flawlessly as I could in say 10 seconds shallot or a whole box in 15 minutes.
I realized those games weren’t really that interesting anymore because I wasn’t able to advance. I was about as fast as I was going to get or I was repeating them over and over and there weren’t new challenges. I also found myself struggling with William because I was wanting to push to do more or to try new things on the menu and he was really pushing back. In retrospect, I realize those were actually just the limits of that business. They couldn’t take more on. They couldn’t afford to do necessarily more ambitious things. His job was to keep the lights on and make sure he was balancing the bills and that’s a very hard challenge in any restaurant.
That was sort of, to me, the signal of I need to move on somewhere. There was a bunch of other stuff going on in the background. I’d gotten a book from Michel Bras called Essential Cuisine that came out that year in English.
Tim Ferriss: Essential Cuisine?
Chris Young: Essential Cuisine. Michel Bras was a three-star chef in Europe. I think if you talk to a lot of chefs that came up in the early 2000s, we’ll all point to that – especially at the high end – we’ll all point to that book as being like “Holy fuck, what was this?” Like nobody had seen food like this.
Tim Ferriss: Spell the last name?
Chris Young: B-R-A-S.
Tim Ferriss: B-R-A-S.
Chris Young: Bras. And I remember looking and being like, I don’t know anybody in Seattle doing food that looks anything like this. I don’t know anybody anywhere doing food that looks like this. I thought about wanting to go cook at that restaurant, but (a) I didn’t think I was remotely good enough, and (b) I didn’t speak any French, so that wasn’t going to make it any easier. But it had be thinking that I needed to move on; I needed to see more and I knew wasn’t seeing this kind of stuff here. So how did I know it was time to leave?
Realizing that I wasn’t really getting any better or learning new skills in the restaurant, but also because all of my disposable income was going into buying more cookbooks. I was realizing what I wasn’t seeing.
Tim Ferriss: Right, you were seeing the potential.
Chris Young: Give me the bigger context of the world. So about that time, for Christmas actually, my girlfriend’s mother gave me an anthology of food writing in 2002. There was an article in it called “The Gastronauts” and it was talking about this conference in Italy that chefs and scientists got together and were collaborating to try to invent the future of cooking. In particular, they had Harold McGee talking about this chef with a name that nobody had heard of called Heston Blumenthal, who was really trying to apply science in his kitchen to do better food; to do more delicious food; to understand the whys of cooking. I was like, that sounds perfect.
So I wrote a letter. As sort of antiquated as it sounds, I wrote a letter and I actually faxed it to them. I said, “I’ve heard about your restaurant. I’m a chef cooking in Seattle. I’d love to come over to eat and stage,” basically apprentice “for the weekend in your kitchen just to see.” And they said sure. So I flew myself over shortly after Valentine’s Day 2003.
Tim Ferriss: Is it typical that a restaurant just says sure to a request like that?
Chris Young: It’s actually surprisingly common if you ask in the right way. If you go to a restaurant that’s oversubscribed, like if you go to the hottest restaurant, there’s a line of people they can choose from. They’re going to choose the best because that’s their recruiting ground. In retrospect, I don’t even think it’s a good decision as a chef to go there unless you’re already established, because by the time a restaurant gets that famous where there’s a line of stagiaires out the door, it’s a machine. It has to be. Everybody’s coming there expecting to get the greatest hits, get the experience.
And so it’s very risky for a restaurant to basically allow a stagiaire much freedom at all. So what turned out to be perfect was The Fat Duck had just become – I actually thought it was a one-star when I applied, but it had just gotten its second star. I don’t know that I would have had the guts to apply if I’d known they were a two-star. They didn’t have that many customers. So I didn’t really feel like I was over reaching. And that was the bit of luck. As it turned out, this was about to become one of the best restaurants in the world. There was some dumb luck and timing here.
But to sort of finish the story, I flew myself over, by myself because that was all I could afford. I remember being very confused about the geography of England because The Fat Duck is actually west of London-Heathrow new a town called Maidenhead. It’s actually in a tiny, little town on the Thames River called Bray. So I booked myself in a hotel in West London, stupidly.
I’m jet lagged and I get to the hotel and I check in and by that time, I need to drive right out to the restaurant and this is like my first experience driving on the wrong side of the road. I think the statute of limitations are up because I also had to drive myself back that night after a lot of wine.
Tim Ferriss: Also inadvisable.
Chris Young: Inadvisable. The wheel did not look better for it. But I got out to the restaurant and they sat me at a table of one. The restaurant is this 600-year-old pub. The ceilings are about 7 feet tall. Very unassuming. Now what you expect for this [inaudible]. It was like you’re in someone’s living room. I think the best way I could describe the meal that night starts with the dish that it actually starts with today.
The first dish you get is the liquid nitrogen poached green tea sour. And so I’m sitting at this very minimalist white linen table, nothing else is sitting on it. Before they take your order, before anything else, the waiter wheels over a gueridon, one of those trolleys, up to your table and has a cauldron, technically a dewar bowl, of liquid nitrogen boiling away at -200°C.
He picks up a whipping siphon and dispenses what looks like a dollop of shaving mousse onto the end of a spoon and then knocks it into that cauldron of liquid nitrogen and turns it over and bastes it for exactly eight seconds and then strains it out and dusts it with some green tea matcha power and hands it over to you on a little chilled plate and asks you to pick it up and eat it all in one bite. It looks like this little meringue. When you bite into it, or at least for me, it was just fantastic.
The shell sort of shatters crisply like glass and then it gives way to this luscious mousse that’s racing with the acidity of lime juice and the astringency of a bit of green tea, but the coolest part is you get this puff of smoke out your nose, so you look like a smoking dragon.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a video of me experiencing that for the first time in your lab. If you search Tim Ferriss ChefSteps, I’m sure it will pop up somewhere.
Chris Young: And so like it sort of twists your mind like what is this? But the purpose was actually it turned out totally reasoned out. If you’ve ever had orange juice in the morning after brushing your teeth, it tastes awful. And it’s not because the orange juice changed, it’s because your mouth changed. Flavor is this idea that is actually constructed by your brain from all these sensory inputs. So if you take orange juice, which is acidic, and you drink it after you’ve had a mouthful of alkaline toothpaste, it neutralizes that acidity and it tastes awful.
If you’re trying to be the best restaurant in the world, you want a level playing field. So the lime juice in that green tea sour is designed to neutralize any toothpaste residue. The green tea provides these astringent polyphenols to cleanse all the soft tissue because maybe you had a cigarette, maybe you had a packet of chips or something before you came to the restaurant.
So it’s basically mouthwash that’s this surprising, entertaining delight. And the rest of the meal totally did my head in and just blew me away because not only was everything whimsical and fun and gorgeous to look at, but everything was delicious. So at the end of that night, I walked back in there. I was like, “I will work for free for as long as you will let me work here.” What I didn’t know is at the time they had no money, they were going bankrupt. And so they were like, “Sure.”
Tim Ferriss: You said the magic words.
Chris Young: Yes. So I got back to the hotel that night and I called my girlfriend back in Seattle.
Tim Ferriss: Courageous.
Chris Young: Exactly. I said, “Great news, Dawn. I’ve just accepted a job at The Fat Duck. I’m coming home in a couple days. I need to pack and I’m back here in a month.” All I got was, “I can’t talk about this right now.” Click. She’s my wife now so it didn’t work out that badly, but you can kind of imagine how that went.
Tim Ferriss: She has a high built-in tolerance for Chris Young traits, I guess.
Chris Young: It’s a job requirement.
Tim Ferriss: What did you learn at The Fat Duck or from Heston?
Chris Young: Everything. Heston really became my mentor as a chef. I worked for him for five years. I initially worked for him as an unpaid stagiaire and this was back in the day when some of the chefs were just out of prison and things like that. It was transitional. Definitely most of the chefs were way above that. But there were a few chefs that were still flaky. I remember a chef, they’d hired him and he didn’t show up for work. They’re like, “Somebody’s got to be on that station so congratulations, you’re running that section now.”
That was like getting promoted. For me, I was at that time at best sort of a farm team getting promoted to the majors. It was like, “Have fun!” I got my ass handed to me every day for the next three months.
I remember I was the first to arrive at the restaurant at 6:30 in the morning or 7:00, depending on the day. The chefs had all left the kitchen. The wait staff was having to throw me out at the end of the night because I was crying to get at my prep. Not because I was this really diligence guy, but because I needed every bit of extra time because I sucked compared to everyone else. I didn’t know how to be fast enough yet. I didn’t know how to organize my mise en place list.
Tim Ferriss: Mise en place, getting everything in the right place and prepped.
Chris Young: Right. You have this ginormous clipboard of all the things you have to get done that day. If you don’t put that puzzle in just the right order, you’re not going to get the job done in time and you’re going to go down bad and potentially pull everybody else down with you, and so you will be hated. I didn’t want to be that hated.
Tim Ferriss: You don’t want to be the private [inaudible].
Chris Young: Like I was already the American, so I was already at a total disadvantage.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you don’t want to be the Private Pile from Full Metal Jacket.
Chris Young: Totally that. So it was like put in the extra effort. But one of the things I really learned was people see that. If you’re busting your ass and if you’re not slacking and if you’re just not totally incompetent, people are going to build you up, at least if you’re in a good place. If you’re not in that kind of place, you should probably leave. But people built me up over time and by the end of those three months, Heston – I had not become anything close to the best line cook, not even at the same caliber, but I did have a knack for solving problems that nobody else could solve.
That’s when Heston was like, “I’ve always wanted to have a kitchen that works on the new ideas. I’ve always wanted to have a place that’s away from the pressures of service, where we develop the things, we experiment and where we can afford to fail without affecting the customers. With your science background, why don’t you move to England full-time, Chris and build that up?” That was my opportunity. So it was like, walk through that door, right? This wasn’t that hard.
Tim Ferriss: What types of problems were you able to solve that led him to think of you?
Chris Young: There were two things. So one was our stock. We made an unbelievable number of different stock. Heston was this no-holds-barred, we’re going to go for the last .1 percent of perfection on everything. Stocks come from meat and meat is really expensive. We were doing things like roasting down entire legs of animals, decanting off the juices as they accumulated to create these unbelievable, decadent, rich au jus to go with the various sauces. Not only was that time consuming and labor intensive, but it was ludicrously expensive, just totally insane. You could talk to most Michelin star chefs and they’d be like, “That’s crazy talk.” Nobody does that. We did. I remember being like –
Tim Ferriss: What would that, so just to try to put a fine point on it, when you say absurdly expensive, what would something like that look like?
Chris Young: Thousands of pounds a week. For a restaurant that really couldn’t afford to be doing that because we didn’t have enough customers.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Chris Young: And even if you did have enough customers, it’s still nuts because you don’t have that kind of margin to do that. But we did. Because it was better, we would do it. And I remember we would serve the pieces of meat for family meal. And guess what? The lamb still tasted like lamb, and the beef still tasted like beef, and the veal still tasted like veal. And my chemist’s brain kicks in and is like, we haven’t gotten everything out. As nice as it is to have the lamb stew for staff meal, which made the Irish contingent happy, that’s not a good thing for the restaurant. I was like, you know, I think we do a better job here by grinding the meat up to increase the surface area to volume and let’s use a pressure cooker because if we increase the temperature, we can extract more. So I did a bunch of experiments in between service and I was creating some of the stocks that Heston was like, “These rival anything we’re doing,” and I’m doing it with a fraction of the meat.
So as a restaurant, we ended up buying a $36,000.00 pressure bratt pan that was a giant-scale, commercial pressure cooker and hiring a chef that just did that full-time for all our stocks and sauces. We paid it back, I think within the first six months in terms of the savings and we shifted all of the production over. So that was one thing. That was a very process-oriented thing. It was very transparent to the customers. But about the same time, Heston was starting to spend time with Ferran Adriá and Albert Adriá from El Bulli and they were just starting to do something they would become famous for in about a year: these caviar, these little edible caviar that they were making from melon.
The way they were doing it, they were taking a seaweed-based hydrocolloid (technically alginate) and they were mixing that hydrocolloid into melon juice and dripping it into a calcium bath that caused it to set up and it was like little faux caviar that tasted like melon.
I think this went on the 2004 El Bulli menu and Heston had seen it. They were very secretive about it. They’re like, “Well, you take product X and you mix it with product Y and this is what you get.” So Heston came back and was like, how is that done? And I sort of reverse engineered it and figured it out. So those were the kinds of little things that I started getting a reputation for, even though I was in many other regards nowhere near the caliber of the other chefs in terms of raw cooking abilities. So that gave me my opening.
Tim Ferriss: Now you are one of only a few friends that I enjoy asking seemingly innocuous questions of because I get pretty much the same pattern. I see this with you; I see it with a number of friends like Matt Mullenweg, another mutual friend, and then we have Eric Cressey, who trains a lot of professional baseball players and whatnot.
If I ask him about deadlifts or any type of tear I might have on the inside of my leg. I’m not going to read the whole thing because it’s like a mini-novella. But this is usually how it works is I’ll send you a text and it will be something like, “Hey, if I wanted to cool down the water in my bathtub to 50°F or 45°, I’m looking at this, this and this option. What would you do?” And usually the response is along the lines of “Let me think about that. I might think about A or B.” And then I remember it went radio silent and then a day later, I got this email. “Ice baths and such” is the subject line. I’m just going to read part of it. “So I did a little bit of thinking about this and some quick math to confirm my intuition. TLDR buy a small ice maker. Heating and cooling water is a pain because the water has the highest specific heat amount of energy required to change the temperature of one gram by one degree Celsius of any common substance. Your bathtub holds something like 50 gallons.
Assuming your told tap water comes out at 50°F and you would like a bath at 40°F, then you need to pull about 4.4 million joules of heat energy out of the water to drop the temperature. Adding ice is by far the fastest and most efficient way to do the job without resorting to any kind of nonsense. Direct injection of liquid nitrogen would be fun. 29 pounds of ice should do the job nicely. Better yet, if the ice is cubed, it will melt quickly and chill your bath within ten minutes or so.” Kind of the similar surface area approach you would use for the jus. “You could go high-tech and get an immersion chiller of some kind.
They’ll do the job eventually, but it’s going to take a while.” And then this is the part that I like (and this goes on and on): “Your typical domestic electrical outlet is limited to 15 amps, which works out to about 1,800 watts of power, drawing any more, the fuse is going to blow. Physics being the bitch that it is, immersion chillers are only about 40 percent energy efficient at best. This means that even a $4,000.00, 1800-watt laboratory … it goes on and on and on and on. Have you always had this degree of –
Chris Young: OCD obnoxiousness?
Tim Ferriss: Not obnoxiousness. I like it because you’ve harnessed it for powers of good.
Chris Young: You know I’m not working on evil.
Tim Ferriss: That’s true. Not usually forces of evil. And I’m going to retrieve – I have a yak milk bone that my dog is chewing and making a lot of noise with. Molly, I’ll give you one of these later. So I’m going to retrieve that. But has this been a trait present since you were a little kid or when did that start?
Chris Young: I think on some level, yeah. I am terrible at things that I am not interested in. If I’m interested in it, it’s one of these things where I will devote almost all my time. I will completely obsess about it. I actually don’t have a very good off switch, which can make me pretty difficult to deal with sometimes. As I think back in elementary school, junior high, high school, things that I was interested about in like high school is a great example, I was super into desktop publishing and zines and reading Ray Gun and early issues of Wired and be like “I want to do stuff like that.”
I obsessed about it and learned everything about it and knew who was doing what. But math at the time, who gives a rat’s ass? And even though it was super bad for my college admissions process, that didn’t motivate me. So I think I’ve always had the – I like to obsess on stuff where I can just keep going deeper and deeper and on some level mastering, or at least understanding what mastery is about in that area. But it’s totally driven by whatever’s interesting me at that time.
Tim Ferriss: How did you get converted to being interested in math? Was it a particular teacher?
Chris Young: Yeah, I think it was a combination of that. So I was briefly at the University of Vermont. It’s not where I finished my degree, but I started there, mostly because it was very far from New Mexico, where high school was and I wanted to get the hell out.
Also because their admissions policy for an out-of-state, like “Do you have a pulse? Can you pay out-of-state tuition? Yes? Okay, welcome.” I took a whole bunch of classes but somehow I ended up signing up for Calculus I, which in retrospect was totally insane. There was no reason to believe that was a good choice at all. But there was a particularly good – it was actually a grad student teaching it. And somehow it made sense. A lot of it is thinking – calculus can often be thought of in terms of the math of motion and stuff.
I found I had this knack for being able to think things through and visualize stuff very well in terms of the movement or process or I can manipulate three-dimensional objects really well in my head. I don’t know that necessarily makes you well-qualified for calculus, but somehow that and my unique background made it work for me. I just remember being shocked, like I got an A, which was super weird. I was like, wow, I have no idea how I did that.
But it was enough that I kind of wanted to keep going. The further I got in it, the more interesting it got and the more I discovered there were really interesting, creative problems that I could solve with those kinds of tools. And now it started to make sense for me. It wasn’t for its own sake, it was the fact of these are tools that allow me to solve and do these other interesting things. And so it was okay, I want to learn this because I want to be able to do those kinds of things and this is the stuff you need to know to be able to go do that.
Tim Ferriss: What books, if any, have you gifted the most to other people?
Chris Young: I think a lot of them will probably be in the cooking space. Definitely On Food and Cooking. I’ve gifted that a lot. My career starts with that book in many ways. There wouldn’t be any of this modern cooking movement without Harold’s book, I don’t think. There certainly wouldn’t be modernist cuisine that played a big role in my career without that book.
So I’ve gifted that a lot because I think it’s relevant and I think for a certain type of individual, it’s the kind of book that every time you open it up, you see something. You’re like, “I didn’t even know that was there; that’s super cool.” And you read something and go, “The world is way more interesting than I thought.” I think I’ve gifted Michel Bras’s Essential Cuisine quite a bit, although it’s hard to do now because I think it’s out of print in English and quite expensive.
The other book I found myself gifting a lot lately is an out-of-print book on thermodynamics called The Second Law. It was written by an Oxford physical chemistry professor named P.W. Atkins. That book is just a phenomenal, casual, infographic-laden read on how the world works from an energy perspective. I found that so incredibly useful in trying to understand how to do something, how to make something work, whether something’s even possible. It’s frequently my bullshit detector.
When somebody’s trying to convince me some technology or some idea has merit, I very quickly come back to just sketching out the kind of thing I did for that email, where it’s like, let me just see – with knowing nothing about the subject, if I can just sketch out the basic ideas of how much energy is going to be involved or consumed or if I assume limitless capacities, does this make any sense ever?
So many things sound good, but just don’t pass muster as soon as you start looking at the world that way. You’re like, “Well, that’s clearly just a waste of everybody’s time and we should just stop and go do this thing over here,” which at least you’re not having to invent new physics or violate the laws of physics to go do it.
Tim Ferriss: How much mathematics background do you need or physics background do you need for that book to be readable?
Chris Young: None.
Tim Ferriss: None? Great.
Chris Young: You’ve got to be interested and curious in it, so some people’s eyes will glaze over, but it’s meant to be a popular science – like I did like the hardcore math-laden physical chemistry, but I have to go look up the math for some of that stuff now.
I’m very rarely doing math that’s much fancier than division. It’s the concepts and just basically saying okay, energy has to be conserved, or efficiency is – what is the maximum theoretical efficiency this could ever work at? So does like the idea of a 100-mile-per-gallon car even make sense on the face of it? No, that’s never going to happen unless we get rid of air. So those kind of things – you don’t actually need that much fancy math, but it’s useful just to have the concepts of thinking about this is how this weird thing we call energy actually works and what’s possible in this world and what’s not possible.
Tim Ferriss: Do you read any fiction?
Chris Young: I do, though it comes and goes in phases. I think most recently I read Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and mostly because I made a very minor contribution to a subtheme in that book. I found I actually enjoyed that a lot, but mostly because it was competence porn.
Tim Ferriss: What does that mean?
Chris Young: Neal likes to go on these big rants about how some aspect of technology works. If you know Neal, it’s usually because he fell into that hole and dug pretty deep and then came back – because he knew all these experts with this understanding. So he’ll go on for pages and pages and pages explaining how you would actually attach a nuclear reactor to a comet. You’re like, it’s basically engineering porn. Oh, this is how you would do it. So if I’m ever in that situation, now I know.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, he did that in Cryptonomicon with some of the tunneling passages.
Chris Young: Right.
Tim Ferriss: Which I loved, because I think you and I and a lot of our mutual friends are hard-wired to get a crack hit from that type of detail.
Chris Young: Yeah, we like knowing how to do something and get stuff done because I suppose what I liked about cooking and what I like about engineering and the types of stuff I do now, you’re changing the world. You’re making something happen. It’s not very abstract. It’s very concrete. For my brain, somehow, that’s just really satisfying. So books that tap into that, competence porn.
Tim Ferriss: I was looking at the Facebook feed of a guy named Alex Honnold. I interviewed him for the podcast. I’m not sure if will have been published yet when people hear this. Probably so. He’s the most famous free solo climber in the world and has many speed records. There was a post that he put up about stress and anxiety. The point he makes is one of the things I love about climbing and being in the mountains, it’s an immediate return environment. You make decisions, you have an impact, you reevaluate, you make more decisions, etc.
In other words, the sort of delayed return environment being tied to anxiety. So it strikes me that on a very human level, it would be fulfilling to have that type of immediate feedback and ability to iterate that you have in engineering or cooking.
Chris Young: I tend to gravitate towards things where – like it’s actually weird. The day to day provides very tangible feedback. The goals can actually take years to accomplish. But I find I don’t have the staying power for projects where there isn’t a fairly fast feedback loop running on some level that tells me if I’m even going in a good direction. If it’s just totally ambiguous or you just can’t know, I really struggle with that; that’s hard.
Tim Ferriss: You talked about writing the letter to Heston and then your Jedi mind trick on the gent earlier. You’ve also worked with Nathan Myhrvold, as we mentioned.
Later directly with Bill Gates. How do you end up working for those people? If you had to try to tie together some kind of pattern, is there one?
Chris Young: Food definitely ties it together. Quite explicitly. I met Nathan because he was a guest at The Fat Duck. Seattle was home for him and Seattle was kind of/sort of home for me before The Fat Duck. I ended up going to the University of Washington. That’s where I did my degrees. It was as home as anywhere. Nathan was fascinated by cooking. He was particularly fascinated by the science behind cooking and that was a shared passion and we struck up a friendship over that.
Tim Ferriss: Who is Nathan? For people who don’t know.
Chris Young: Nathan is many things, depending on who you ask. But the definitely I will give is Nathan was my co-author on “Modernist Cuisine.” There would be no “Modernist Cuisine” without Nathan. He’s most famous, I think, for being the first technology officer of Microsoft.
He’s more controversial today for being the founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures – an invention company to some, a giant patent troll to others. I think the truth is somewhere much more in the middle.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s look at the lessons learned. You can pick and choose from whether it’s Nathan, Bill Gates, Heston. Are there any lessons or expressions that really stuck with you that come to mind? And I’ll buy you some time just by giving a personal example. I had a professor at Princeton who had a huge impact on me. There were really only a few who did at the university, despite the abundance of riches that they have.
But Ed Zschau, who taught high-tech entrepreneurship. I believe he was the first or one of the first computer science professors ever at Stamford, partially just because like that cook didn’t show up, effectively the same thing happened. They’re like, “Can any of you guys teach – what is this? Computer science? We don’t know what that is. Who can teach this?”
And he’s like, “I’ll teach it, sure.” And that’s how he got the gig. He went on to take a number of companies public and become a congressman; he was a competitive figure skater, a fascinating guy. But at one point, I remember I was trying to get into his class and it was already full. It was over-subscribed. I said I’ll do anything. I sent kind of a similar letter, but it was a letter. I sent him a letter. I guess it was an email through some basic terminal that we had at the time. I said, “I’ll do anything. I’ll clean the erasers in between classes, whatever it takes. I’ll sit on the floor. I don’t even need a chair, etc. At one point, I actually did clean up afterwards and he said to him, “Tim, don’t get too good at the menial stuff or you’ll keep doing it.” I was like, “Ooh, that’s actually pretty profound.”
Chris Young: There are definitely some – so I’ve been really lucky. It’s more intentional now than it was then. But I have ended up with some profound mentors in my life.
My father was absolutely my first one. I grew up in a family business. Today, I am so glad for having had a lot of visibility into that at a young age because now I need to do that and everyone’s looking to me for that.
Tim Ferriss: What was the business?
Chris Young: His was advertising research. That also has proved fortuitous of having really thought about how advertising actually works, how brands are built, what’s good advertising, what’s bad advertising, how marketing is put together, these kinds of things. That’s enormously practical when you’re running a company because it’s a big part of your job. Even if you’re not doing the work, if you’re the CEO, you need to have some sense of what this is all about. There were many other aspects my Dad was a mentor, but certainly giving me visibility at a very young age into how he thinks about running his business was helpful.
Tim Ferriss: Were there any specifics that your Dad gave you or any particular thing that he showed you that stuck with you?
Chris Young: I think there’s two things. One, I remember something he said to me – I probably was a freshman or a sophomore in high school, I would’ve been in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I distinctly remember him saying not needing to worry about what I was going to do because the job I was going to do hadn’t even been invented yet.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great thing to say.
Chris Young: It’s totally true. My career – there was never a job description for what I did. I made it up and somebody agreed that was –
Tim Ferriss: A thing?
Chris Young: A thing. Which I remember for a long time I was super freaked out that people were going to realize like “No, wait. This isn’t a thing at all. Why are we paying you? We’re just going to stop.” The interesting jobs are the ones that you make up, I think. And that’s something I certainly hope to instill in my son is like don’t worry about what your job is going to be.
Do things that you’re interested in and if you do them really well, you’re going to find a way to temper them with some good business opportunity. And that was the other thing he taught me was, at some point, for as much value as you’re trying to create in the world, you need to capture some of that value too so that you can do more of that. I suppose today I’m just trying to strive for that. So he gave me a lot of freedom too.
He gave me the ability to take risks that seemed totally nuts. Like the fact that I gave up what, to most people, looked like giving up on nearly nine years of advanced education to go become a cook. To most people, I had gone insane. That made zero sense whatsoever. You’re going to throw away all your degrees, your Ph.D. track to go be a cook. Like what the hell is wrong with you? And he’s like, “Go do it.” Like totally reasonable thing to go do. There was never that judgment on those things.
Tim Ferriss: Did he also have an atypical career path?
Chris Young: Somewhat, yeah. Pretty atypical. There’s stories of my parents. My parents met when my Dad was in the Peace Corps and my Mom was teaching in a convent school in Grenada. She was no longer a nun, but jokes ensue here. She’d been a nun for seven years. And of course, being a nun in Grenada, not a bad gig. So that was formative for him. He came from – I’ve literally seen the house he was born in, which had a dirt floor. He was the alien in the family who had a perfect SAT, which got him into the University of Chicago on a free ride and I think he was always striving to make that pay off.
Interestingly, he never really took the traditional path, all the way to he founded his own business doing research for – he came out of the ad world and so he started doing research for Fortune 100 brands globally.
He founded his business in Albuquerque, New Mexico and made that work. It was only possible because by 1990, a fax machine and a million miles a year on American Airlines made such a thing possible. But it worked. That and my Mom working as a nurse paid the bills all the way through the ‘90s and gave us the opportunity to take a few more risks as I got into college and beyond.
Tim Ferriss: How did your Mom respond?
Chris Young: Also supportive. I think my parents had a pretty good sense of who I was: stubborn, obstinate. I think they knew that saying no –
Tim Ferriss: You? Stubborn?
Chris Young: Yeah. I’m going to do it either way, so they might as well be supportive of it because I’ve got to go do this. I think they thought it would’ve been a phase. I don’t think they were –
Tim Ferriss: Maybe it is; maybe it’s just a really long phase.
Chris Young: It could be. I’m nearly 40, I ought to grow up pretty soon. But they actually were reasonably encouraging. They’re like, “You’re going to learn a lot. This will be interesting.”
I think what was really good from their perspective was they couldn’t help me in that area. They could be supportive as parents. They helped pay the credit card bill sometimes when it was getting outlandish and I was totally burning a hole in the ground. But beyond that, they had no influence in whether I did well. There was no net there. My parents had no influence in that world and couldn’t pull any strings. It was all self-earned, which I think they felt was really good for me. I think it was. It was incredibly helpful to have those be your own achievements and not, well, did my parents make this possible for me?
Tim Ferriss: What are some of the lessons that you took from or things you learned from Heston? Any specific instances?
Chris Young: A few things, but the biggest thing by far was Heston taught me what the standard of excellence really is. He always was pushing for the last bit of effort; always was saying no, we can move the goal posts, we can do better.
He kept raising the bar on the team, on the recipes, on everything. By the time I’d got there, I’d heard in the early days, there was quite a bit of a temper about it, but by the time I got there, he didn’t yell. He signaled disappointment in other ways, but he really pushed you, the team, everyone else to strive for excellence all the time.
Tim Ferriss: How did he signal disappointment in other ways?
Chris Young: I can give you my one canonical example, which was I remember I was on garde manger, I was sending out one of the –
Tim Ferriss: Can you explain what that is?
Chris Young: It’s the cold section in traditional kitchen parlance. I was responsible for sending out several of the first courses that people got, so the red cabbage gazpacho, the famous quail jelly with truffle toast, I’m forgetting now some of the things that were on the section. I would send out the pre-desserts.
There were a few things on the á la carte menu that The Fat Duck had at the time. Because I had the deep fryer, I would have to do the pig’s head terrine. I would do the radish ravioli and some of these. Plus prepare the stocks and a whole bunch of other stuff. It wasn’t the most technically demanding section.
Tim Ferriss: It was like Grand Central Station.
Chris Young: It was Grand Central Station. And so it was a beast of a job in that regard. I remember, this would’ve been 2003, early when I was actually still staging. This was before I’d founded The Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen and had sort of earned a right to fuck up a little. It send out a quail jelly that was for a soigné, a VIP guest. I remembered I’d gotten the orders in early during the afternoon that we were going to have some VIPs in and I needed to prepare some of our VIP versions of the quail jelly. So I prepared them, but I didn’t get to it in time.
So I think I probably started doing it around 3:00 in the afternoon for a 7:30 seating. Well, it hadn’t set up. So essentially the dish has a pea purée, very smooth on the bottom that sets a little firm and then we set cubes of truffle and baby turnip into it. Then there was an intense quail stock that’s poured over it and allowed to set. And then we put a langoustine cream on top and we’d shave some truffles, and it’s served with a little, tiny bit of toast with truffle butter on it, black truffles and some radishes.
The order came on for it and I saw that they weren’t fully set up and I tried to float the langoustine cream on top anyway and I sent them out to the pass knowing that they weren’t perfect. Those things came back like a boomerang. Heston just came around the corner holding them in his hand and just goes, “Chris.” He’s looking at me and he’s looking at the dish, and he’s looking at me, and he’s looking at the dish and just not a chance. Puts it back. I just remember the withering look like if I ever did that again, don’t show up again.
I remember the lesson because he’s like, we can do something else. If it’s not ready, we’re not going to send it out and just hope they don’t notice that it’s not that good. We’ll fix it; we’ll do something else, but don’t try to slip by something that you know is below the standard. You only need that lesson once. That wasn’t the standard and you know what the standard is. Hold the standard. Ask for help. Fix it. Do whatever’s necessary, but don’t cheat.
Tim Ferriss: That should be your tee shirt – “Hold the standard.”
Chris Young: I don’t know that I need to be encouraged entirely in that behavior. Because there’s another side to it, where you just become a tyrant about it. You try to push a team too far. You try to raise the standards too fast and then you just turn into an asshole, basically, if you go too far.
Tim Ferriss: You’re managing people now and we’ll get to that. But just to give people maybe a foreshadowing or a taste of things to come, this is something I struggle with a lot.
How do you manage that fine line? Because I would like to think, and I do think, that I have very high standards. Sometimes I think they’re so exacting that they drive people insane. To the extent that in the publishing world, I am considered a “problem author,” as they would say. Just because if something comes to the version of my pass, like we’re going to put this on the cover or this on the back flap or this and this and it’s not to my standards, I cannot allow it. But when I’m managing people, some people can handle it, some people can’t, but I do think there’s a lot of onus on me also to decide how far is too far and how far is not enough. How do you think about managing that?
Chris Young: I think I’m still trying to think about it and figure it out. On my good days, I think I manage it okay. On my bad days, I sort of feel like I had a personal failure that I didn’t manage it all that well.
Especially when it’s in the context of you’re trying to do something really hard and you’ve got the whole company leveraged out on this working and you have, as CEO or as you, in the case of your personal brand, you have total visibility into everything. So the first thing is on a good day, I will try to step back and say, “What context does this person even have and have I provided appropriate context?” If I provided appropriate context and they knew that context and they made a bad decision, it’s an open question of whether you need to have a discussion of whether that was a bad decision or actually it’s a bad decision.
But given all the context they had, maybe I would’ve made the same decision or I could’ve imagined somebody else. So increasingly I try to find myself thinking about what context and visibility do I have and what do they have? Am I basically being unfair because I’m operating from a greater set of information?
That still means I screw up more often than not because I have a strong bias towards let’s fix the problem right now. That also usually can be quite ham-handed where all I’m really training them to do is read my mind and guess what I want. That’s not going to work very well in how we run the company or the types of products we need to do. I work with elite people. I work with people who are experienced and among the very best at what they do.
I will do a much better job and the team will do a much better job if we can take the time to set context and to basically, if there’s a problem, say let’s look at how we can solve that differently, rather than me just saying, “We’re going to do X.” That said, there are times where you need to take the scissors away because we’re all running really fast and we do not need to impale ourselves out of stupidity. It’s a dynamic thing and I’m still trying to figure that out, quite honestly.
Tim Ferriss: So holding the standard; holding oneself and others to a high standard – that’s one thing that you got from Heston. What else comes to mind?
Chris Young: Asking why. Asking questions. Challenging perceived or conventional wisdom. I’ve never seen somebody as curious about him who could talk to just about anyone else about whatever it was they did. Whether they were an expert, whether they were a psychologist or a sports trainer or an athlete or another chef or some food expert of some sort or a writer. He had this unbelievable ability to ask them incredible questions and then sort of process it through his brain to have ideas that I literally couldn’t imagine having ever had that idea. So I think that really put me on a path towards really being curious; wanting to understand what all these things were about and then using those as creative tools of how do I take those kind of ideas and apply them in my world?
Tim Ferriss: Do any specific examples come to mind of a question he used a lot? Or just a particular, commonly held assumption that he tested? I’m, of course, thinking of the TV show where he did this quite a bit, which I enjoyed tremendously. We might chat about that. But anything in particular come to mind? The reason I ask – I’ll give you just as context – so, for instance, there are questions that some people are very well known for, but these are quite public facing. Like Peter Thiel, right? Why can’t you hit your ten-year goals in the next six months? These kind of absurd, forcing function-type questions. What is something – and I’m paraphrasing here – but what is something that you believe that other people think is insane? Roughly that type of stuff. A question that I ask of experts very often is, who is good at this?
Who shouldn’t be? Who doesn’t have the attributes say of like a Michael Phelps, who nonetheless is an incredible swimmer, whatever that might be. Any kind of long-held truths that you saw him test or questions that come to mind?
Chris Young: So there’s certainly a lot of culinary lore. I know he challenged and that influenced the techniques. I think the more interesting things were – I don’t remember a specific question. What I do remember were two specific things, which were Heston was remarkable at asking people in different ways, but getting to the same end result of what interesting thing are you working on? Like why is that interesting to you? What’s surprising about that? Is anybody else thinking about this? He just had this unbelievable ability to do it. I can give a specific example. There a psychologist at Oxford, Charles Spence, that Heston had a conversation with who’d done some interesting sensory research of juxtaposing temperatures.
Charles had created this little tool, this little instrument that was basically like a home radiator. But uniquely what it did is it was about hand-sized and it would juxtapose hot and cold temperature right next to each other. You would think that oh, you feel hot and cold next to each other, you sort of get warm, right? But under certain circumstances, no, that’s not what you get. You get really weird sensations because the brain is not equipped to process this contrast in temperature so closely placed together. And that was what Charles was doing research on. And so Heston dug into that.
Why is that interesting? Why is that surprising? And then what I don’t know how he did, I think that’s what makes him uniquely Heston, was he came back with oh, wouldn’t that be really interesting if we could somehow do that in a dish? What if we could juxtapose two temperatures together somehow in a drink?
This is right when I started working on new dishes nominally as The Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen. In fact, I don’t even think we’d named it that yet. I think it was just Chris did experiments in a little shed in the back garden of the restaurant and I think that’s what it was. That dish became – it was one of these things of “Hey, I had this idea that we could make a drink somehow that would put hot and cold together, go do something with that.” That was a super weird idea. I remember I’d be like “Do you mean layered like cold on bottom and hot on top?” He’s like, “No, no, no, they have to be vertical. They have to be vertically juxtaposed.”
I’m like “How the hell am I supposed to … what am I supposed to do with that?” But the end result, I actually developed hot and cold tea using a technology called fluid gels and I juxtaposed a hot Earl Grey tea – first it was tea. And then Heston came in and it’s going to be iced tea and it’s going to be Earl Grey tea, and these are the flavor notes we need to get. Essentially, I’d shown that we could basically put a divider in a cup and we could pour this hot liquid on one side and this cold liquid on the other.
And because of the unique properties of this fluid gel, I could pull the divider out and if you whisked it to the table in a few minutes, the person could sip it and all the tea on the right side of their mouth would be piping hot Earl Grey tea and all the tea on the left side of their mouth would be ice cold and you’d get that effect. Your hairs would kind of stand back up and the side of your face that had the cold liquid in it felt as heavy as concrete and the side of your face with the hot liquid just felt like it disappeared. It was a super weird effect.
Tim Ferriss: Want to feel like you’re having a stroke but don’t have the time?
Chris Young: Basically, yeah. Have some Fat Duck hot-and-cold tea. But it was just that thought process of you can have this conversation with a psychologist and have this inspiration for a dish, where I might have had that same conversation and been like oh, that’s an interesting effect, but I don’t think I would’ve drawn that path of here’s the idea, here’s what we can do with it. He had this ability to talk to anyone and pull those ideas out.
A lot of them failed. A lot of them went nowhere. But enough of them hit that you’re like, wow, that’s actually super impressive. I don’t see anybody doing that. I see a lot of people copying. I don’t see a lot of people finding those original sources for inspiration and doing something unique. I think that really stuck with me and it’s something I strive for in my work of how do we challenge it? How do we question and do something that isn’t copying, that’s novel and that’s inventive?
Tim Ferriss: Let’s flash-forward to ChefSteps. How has ChefSteps changed over time and what are some of the novel decisions that you’ve made? And could you describe what it is?
Chris Young: So ChefSteps is a cooking technology company, specifically. We make kitchen hardware that is controlled with mobile devices, but really the way we think about it is we’re building devices that allow us to augment people’s intuitions in the kitchen to make them more successful. There’s so many things in the kitchen where you’re sort of thwarted in terms of getting the outcome you want because the technology sucks.
So if you think about it, like you use your oven and should I set the oven to 350 or 450? Is it going to be an hour or is it going to be 30 minutes? Why does it work in this one oven but not in this other oven? The answer is ovens totally suck as a technology. You’re not even controlling the variables that really matter. What really sucks about them and frankly, every other tool we have in the kitchen, is that we have to translate our human desires into engineering parameters that we don’t necessarily understand, even though that’s not what we care about. We care about, I want a great roast chicken to have with my family. Or I want to have this unbelievable experience of 72-hour short rib. Or I want to cook some amazing vegetables. It’s sort of mind blowing to me that technology sucks that bad in 2016. So ChefSteps is a company that’s trying to solve those problems.
We sort of realized that nobody else was going to do it, so we were going to have to build the hardware. We were going to have to do artificial intelligence work. We were going to have to build mobile apps. We were going to have to combine it with content. And we were going to have to combine it with community, because that was the only way we were going to be able to bring it to market, because nobody else in the world knows how to sell a device like this. So I don’t know that we fully understand that in 2012, but we sort of knew that we had to go on our own unique journey and we knew we needed a lot of independence and not a lot of outside people telling us how we’re supposed to build a company. So I think Matt Mullenweg said it best when I first got to know him and he got to know a little bit about ChefSteps. And he’s like “ChefSteps makes no sense to me.” I sort of felt I was making progress when about a year and a half ago, Matt’s like, “Well, that makes half sense now.” I think in 2016, we now actually know how it makes sense and how we’ll do the other job of running a business of making sure we make money and we can keep growing.
But it was this wandering path towards if we create a place and a culture where we can put people who are passionate about cooking and passionate about technology and passionate about inventing the future, but who are disciplined in experience and have a track record of getting shit done, and we create a culture that doesn’t fuck them up or put them under a bunch of managers who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, then we create a company that nobody else could build. We’ve evolved over the years. We started out mostly as a bunch of guys putting shit on YouTube.
Tim Ferriss: Beautiful videos.
Chris Young: They’re beautiful videos, but okay, how are we going to monetize that? We’re not going to monetize the videos, but they built us a community and that community steered us in the direction of what are the types of problems we can solve? And we sort of looked around and originally said, well, maybe we’ll just do the software and maybe we can get some hardware companies that get this vision and could do the hardware side of things. That was just beating our heads against a wall, so we’re like, well, screw it, we’re going to do the hardware too. There was a lot of hubris along the way.
Tim Ferriss: Well, you know, there’s a fine line between the necessary, irrational exuberance and confidence needed to actually kind of step off the cliff and build the wings on the way down.
Chris Young: And really good people.
Tim Ferriss: And hubris that all make yourself implode. The question I had was, cue stage left, reappearance of Gabe Newell. How has he influenced the trajectory? Of you and the company. Who is he? Maybe we can start there.
Chris Young: Well, so Gabe Newell is the founder and I think he calls himself CEO, Managing Director, something or other, of Valve. To us, Gabe’s just Gabe.
Tim Ferriss: What is Valve?
Chris Young: Valve is the biggest – so Electronic Arts is actually the biggest software company – but Valve essentially is by far the most unique company in the video game space. A string of huge hits that redefined what video games could be. They then basically realized they needed a better way of distributing games to get control of their intellectual property back from publishers in the early 2000s. They built Steam. Steam is, I believe, the biggest online marketplace for video games and that’s what has really made Valve a force to be reckoned with.
Tim Ferriss: So it’s like the iTunes of video games?
Chris Young: Yes, it was really the iTunes before there was an iTunes, for video games. But Valve was really a company that has gamers at its heart and focuses on solving problems for video gamers or people that create video games and they built an entirely private, unbelievable business that has some very unorthodox ways of operating. Where nobody is your boss. Nobody tells you what to work on. You’ve got to figure that out for yourself and self-organize.
Now they’re doing unbelievable work in the hardware space, particularly in virtual reality, with the HTC Vive, which was really technology developed by Valve. I think what Gabe did for us, aside from being incredibly hands off, was two things. One, he gave us access to capital in a very unusual way that allowed us to be in control of our own destiny.
He did very little beyond that, except occasionally asking us questions about what types of problems we were solving, how we might think about a certain problem. But this would be very general. Based on the types of things that we would feedback, if we were thinking about this or we’re trying to solve this problem, he made a decision of whether he was going to keep extending capital. He’s kind of gone on this journey with us. We see Gabe in a business capacity once or twice a year. We usually have a talk for 15, 20 minutes.
And he might ask a question like, “How are you thinking about hiring people? How do you hire people? How do you interview people?” Or “What’s the role of content creators in the kitchen? How does that work?” And he’ll just ask questions. In the early days, it would totally randomize us. We’d be like, does Gabe mean like we should be doing virtual reality for the kitchen? No, he didn’t mean that. It’s usually whatever he’s thinking about and he’s just seeing how is our team thinking about this? What are the types of problems we’re solving? Do they make sense to him?
Tim Ferriss: Can you talk about the unusual way in which he’s given you capital or is that not something you talk about?
Chris Young: I can simply say he’s describing himself as acting as a bank. Gabe does not own any of ChefSteps. He does not control how we run the company. ChefSteps is 100 percent owned by ChefSteps. He’s made it possible for us to make some pretty big bets. But he’s also kept us hungry. So essentially he’s provided us a very favorable loan that we’re welcome to pay back whenever we want and that doesn’t have any terms to turn it into “I’m secretly going to control your company.” He was always clear, “You guys have to own your work.”
Tim Ferriss: Gabe has infinite levels of opportunities in front of him. Why would he take the time, energy, just bandwidth, to do that?
Chris Young: I really wish there was some super awesome answer I could give you here. I will tell you how I know Gabe and how this all went down. I first met Gabe because I auctioned off a dinner that I would cook.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, dinner.
Chris Young: Yeah, I auctioned off a dinner at a charity called Friends of the Children. Gabe’s wife, Lisa, purchased that dinner. So myself and a couple colleagues from Modernist Cuisine at the time, because that’s where I was working then, we cooked dinner at Gabe’s house. Apparently, according to Gabe, the dinner was awesome and fun and we had liquid nitrogen. He’s like, “This is one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had and I know a lot of people in the world of food and lots of things. I don’t know anybody that talks and thinks about food the way that you guys do.”
And as he said, that was kind of it. I didn’t see Gabe for a very long time after that. I thought it was just they were pretty nice. I didn’t really know who Gabe was. Actually, I had no idea who he was.
Tim Ferriss: That seems to work out well for you, not knowing who people are.
Chris Young: It wasn’t a particularly insane house. It was a nice home, but it didn’t suggest anything other than Gabe was a reasonably wealthy guy who was pretty interesting and unusual and low-key.
I met him again because he’s also friends with Neal Stephenson. So I did that event. Those were my two meetings with Gabe prior to the third meeting, where Grant Crilly from Modernist Cuisine, Ryan Matthew Smith, who the photographer on Modernist Cuisine, and myself, plus a college friend of mine, Ed Starbird, we’d started up a company called Delve that was a consulting company that went on to become the company it is today, which is ChefSteps. We were self-funding this and rapidly running out of the money we had.
So we were going to do a cookbook. Because of Modernist Cuisine, a lot of publishers wanted to talk to us. We sort of went, well, we’ll them the physical book, but we want to do stuff with the digital stuff. We kept hitting this roadblock of publishers were smart enough to say we want the digital rights, but they had no idea what they wanted to do with it.
They were just smart enough and greedy enough that they were like we should totally ask for them. So we’re like, Gabe does a lot of stuff in digital video game publishing, we should ask him how he’d approach this. So we just asked to meet with him and we went over to Valve. We’re like, “We’re trying to do this book deal and we’re getting hung up on the digital publishing rights and how would you suggest we might think about this?”
And he goes, “Well, I don’t know anything about the book publishing world, but I do know a lot about the video game publishing world, and it’s a terrible idea for creators to give their intellectual property away. Why would you do that?” And we’re like “Because we need the money?” He’s like, “What if I gave you $250,000.00 right now?” We’re like, ha, ha, ha. He’s like “No, I’m serious.” And he pulls out his iPad and he sends me an email right there that says “I will give you $250,000.00 – Gabe.” And the money showed up the next day and we’re like okay, well, I guess we’re not doing the book. And that was it.
So it sort of incrementally came from there. A month or so later, I think we had dinner. This was how naïve we were. We had dinner at Canlis in Seattle because it was super good at the time and Jason Franey was the chef there. We’re like, “We should go there.” And Gabe’s like, “I thought Canlis sucked?” We’re like, “No, no. It’s really good now.” So we took him to Canlis and we’re chatting, we’re chatting about the culinary world, and he’s just sort of trying to understand how our world works and asking us questions, like how we’re thinking about our business.
So Gabe goes, “If I gave you $100 million, what would you guys go build? That by building it, there’s no value for anyone copying. I’ll give you an example. Like Intel, when they go build a new chip fab, it’s like billions and billions of dollars and there’s no value in anybody else copying it because not only do they have to spend even more billions to catch up, but they have to spend way more billions to basically learn everything else Intel knows about this and then they have to be 10X better for anyone to want to switch. So it’s just a waste of everyone’s time.”
I sort of laughed that off at the time because I had no serious answer to it. And really, over the next two and a half, three years, that was us answering that question of what’s worth spending $100 million on in the kitchen space? The kitchen is crazy valuable; cooking is crazy valuable. What can we go do that that makes sense?
Tim Ferriss: That’s a good question.
Chris Young: He was patient enough for us to go on that journey. Before, we’re finally like, “Okay, we totally know how to answer that question. Now we’re going to go do this kind of stuff.” And he’s like, “Oh, that makes sense. I’m on this train.”
Tim Ferriss: It seems like he’s also – I mean, I’ve only sat in on one short meeting you guys had and this isn’t anything confidential – but he seems very good at asking questions that force you to hone in on what you’re uniquely capable of doing, as opposed to trying to do two, three, four, five different things simultaneously, one of which is say cash flow motivated, right?
Chris Young: Yeah, no, he’s never asked anything like that. In fact, he very strongly advised against premature monetization. That we would just go do stupid shit. And he also sort of advised against running around raising a bunch of money because that’s a really low-value use of our creative energies. But I’ll rephrase your question. What Gabe is really good at – like yes, that [inaudible]. What he’s really good at is asking a question where you realize that the way you answered it, you are an imbecile. Like I have just gotten used to basically feeling like I am a complete moron and I can’t believe I just said that. That makes no sense. I moderately feel good now where I feel like I came out of a meeting and Gabe isn’t mentally rolling his eyes from the idiocy that came out of my mouth.
Tim Ferriss: Does that come about because he will question or ask questions to try to clarify assumptions and then by speaking it out loud you’re like, that makes no fucking sense at all what I just said.
Chris Young: Yeah. Basically that. It’s his ability to sort of surface what the real issue is and be like, you weren’t even looking at the real issue; the real issue is this.
Tim Ferriss: You know who I think is good at that? You’ve spent a fair amount of time with Matt Mullenweg. I think Matt’s also very good at that.
Chris Young: Yeah, Matt’s another person where I basically feel like a complete idiot. I look to Matt and go, I don’t know how you know – like I think Matt might be one of the best people I know at running a company and how he builds people up. I aspire to be that good someday.
Tim Ferriss: I remember Matt asked me at one point – we were flying around. We went to a few Word camps together, because I use WordPress and have since become an advisor to Automattic, but that’s relatively recent. I was really worked up into a tizzy because there were a bunch of sites sharing pdfs of The 4-Hour Workweek. This must have been really early in my career as such, like 2008 or so. It was like RapidShare, I guess, or a number of these sites. I was trying to talk to Matt about it and get his thoughts because, of course, he’s Mr. Open Source.
But he has a for-profit company also. So a very interesting set of philosophical decisions and business decisions. I was like, “How should I think about this?” And ultimately it came down to talking through it and being like, “Oh, you’re totally fucking right.” Like the people who are going to download a shitty pdf version of this weren’t my customers in the first place. They’re never going to buy the book. It’s not like they would have bought the book but then found it for free. And at the same time I’m getting free marketing dollars and maybe at some point they’ll be converted over to wanting to exchange value for the value that I’m putting out there into the world. He was totally right. He rendered all of this angst and all of these time-consuming, potential avenues irrelevant. I was like wow, that’s a load off my mind. The meeting with Gabe reminded me of an expression that you hear a lot here in Silicon Valley, which is “If you want money, ask for advice. And if you want advice, ask for money.” It seems to have worked out.
So Valve – the only familiarity I really have with Valve is their employee handbook, which is a pdf that has floated around for quite a few years, which I thought was genius. And it sounds so boring, but if people look it up, and I’ll put it in the show notes.
Chris Young: It’s the only HR document you will ever knowingly want to read.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s fascinating. How has that affected how you think about building your company? How is it different?
Chris Young: I think we’re now getting to the point of how it is different. I think early on there were – I’ll say it this way – I tend to think that Valve, as a culture, is Gabe’s personal reaction to everything he really didn’t like about the Microsoft culture. Gabe was a very early and important employee of Microsoft. So Valve was sort of like, these are all the things that I think are why Microsoft is not going to do well in the long term and we’re going to get them right here. He built Valve that way.
Valve employee, Joe Ludwig, I remember asking me how much of ChefSteps culture did we copy from Valve just because that’s what Gabe told us to? Well, Gabe never told us to copy Valve’s culture. He never particularly encourage that. He did encourage us to think in certain ways that, I think, are going to bring you to those decisions. But in a sense, Microsoft culture came from Bill and Nathan. I worked for Nathan for five years and I worked on projects that reported to Nathan and Bill for another year after Modernist Cuisine was done. I can tell you, in my estimation, the Microsoft culture came from those guys.
I was just as primed when I was starting ChefSteps to have a reaction to everything I didn’t like about those cultural sensibilities of running a business. So ChefSteps, much like Valve, is partially a reaction to those are the things I didn’t think worked very well for running a company that’s supposed to get the best, most innovate, most interesting work out of people.
Tim Ferriss: What are the things that don’t work? At least for you.
Chris Young: For me, especially when you’re in the invention or innovation phases, traditional goal-oriented management is not incredibly helpful. You’re basically anointing this class of people whose job it is to tell these incredibly creative people what they should and shouldn’t be doing and trying to judge them by some arbitrary metric. That’s a waste of everybody’s time. Anybody who’s really good isn’t going to tolerate it for very long and will leave. Now conversely, you can get really flaky creative people who never get anything done and you’ll tear your hair out. Well, don’t hire those people.
We pretty much exclusively learned to hire people that have a demonstrated track record of doing incredibly creative, innovative things in whatever domain was relevant to their job and that had a proven track record of they’ve shipped stuff, they’ve gotten stuff done. That’s highly predictive, we think, of you’ll be able to do the same here.
If we have people like you, we don’t need to manage you. You know how to use your time better than we do, so it’s your choice how you spend your time. You’re free to make good choices and you’re free to make terrible choices. If you make enough terrible choices, your team may ask you to leave because nobody wants to work with you. And if you make lots of good choices, we’re going to trust you to make more good choices. That sort of leads you down the road of flatness.
Where you run into some challenges is when you’re working on a shorter timeframe because you don’t have infinite amounts of money, or when you have to sort of really align everyone pretty tightly towards a common ground of we need to ship, we need to pull six teams together to make this product ship and to monetize it and to not flub the launch. That’s where we’re definitely seeing there are struggles with flatness. The conventional wisdom is we should basically create a hierarchy to do this. I’m kind of fighting that right now because I think that’s a short-term gain and a long-term disaster.
I totally agree there needs to be structure. We need to have people that can clearly signal that they’re being trusted to lead, but we don’t want to make that permanent. I think this is another thing we’ve learned from Valve that I think is fundamentally a pretty good lesson, which is people tend to want to keep working on the things that made them successful in the first place. That’s antithetical to innovation, invention. If you’re a small startup company where your advantage is speed towards doing something nobody else is doing. That’s not a very good structure for finding those opportunities.
I tend to believe that for the type of business we are over the coming years, we’re going to constantly have to reinvent ourselves. The people that are really important today may not be the most important people to the company in five years when we might be about something totally different. The problem is if we anoint those people as special, senior managers, leaders, those people will tend to want to keep working on the things that got them in that position and that’s not in the interest of the company; it’s in the interest of them.
And pretty quickly, you have rent-seeking behavior and power politics and fiefdoms where the only solution for the company is to periodically come and just do this wholesale house cleaning of firing a bunch of people who used to be good because they’ve actually gotten in the way of the company. So we took the attitude of let’s just not create that structure in the first place.
That’s why even though we have the tension now, we’re pushing out a very complex project where we have to hit a lot of things right and there’s a real emphasis on disciplined execution, taking the short-term, easy way out of let’s create a bunch of people who are managers of this process, I’m totally convinced that will fuck us up in a couple of years.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any books or people who have most influenced how you make business decisions?
Chris Young: I think there’s quite a few people. I’m always looking for perspective. I think Matt, actually, has influenced me a lot. I think there’s people within ChefSteps, Michael Natkin, who is as close as we get to something like a CTO, he certainly influenced me a lot on how to think about some of the technical decisions we make.
In terms of other people that come to mind, absolutely Gabe and people like Yahn Bernier over at Valve have influenced my thinking a lot. My father has influenced my thinking a lot. I read lots of business articles. There’s stuff that I think a lot of people in the Valley read that certainly I pay attention to it and I think about it and some of I think is pretty right on. I think other stuff is super wrongheaded. So I don’t know that there’s any one person that I’m looking to.
The other thing I come back to is I try to look at the data. I’m sort of prone to changing my mind a lot. It can feel random, but it’s almost always because I’m seeing something in the data that I thought was true, but the data is saying it’s not true. So I have new information and I think the only rational thing to do when I have new information is change my mind.
That can actually feel pretty randomizing to a team, so I’m trying to find ways to buffer that, or to at least help them reach a point where they’re changing their minds too, without it just basically being that Chris has changed his mind. That’s not a good outcome. So we tend to bias towards people who are pretty quantitative in their decisions, especially on the business side, where we say well, let’s listen to our customers. What is the data really telling us? What are they really telling us? Let’s make sure we’re not fooling ourselves with anecdotes.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I found two books very helpful for that, as someone who is, I wouldn’t say particularly mathematically inclined or who got derailed by a bad teacher in tenth grade (if I want to point fingers).
Chris Young: I support that finger pointing.
Tim Ferriss: One which I want to actually go back and re-read or listen to, and I believe it’s available for free on audio is High Output Management by Andy Grove.
The other, which I think is helpful for conditioning oneself or others, if it’s prescribed as reading for spotting cognitive biases and learning to try to trust the data, it’s a fun read too, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. So to shift gears just a little bit, I want to talk about goal setting. Of course, maybe that’s an underlying layer upon which many other things are built, almost by definitely. But could we start with gliding. What is competitive gliding and what are some of your goals there?
Chris Young: Competitive gliding – there’s different ways of doing it, but as I usually practice it, we’re in gliders. These are big 15 to 20 meter sail planes made from carbon fiber or fiberglass composites. We’re usually basically racing the sun. We get all of our energy for competition out of the fact that the sun heats the atmosphere and that causes differential heating.
You get thermals, which you see birds circling in and puffy clouds at the top of. You get winds that basically maybe lifted up over mountains that create lift. We’ll get mountain wave, where the atmosphere actually starts to oscillate and we can surf that for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.
Tim Ferriss: So you have no propeller? No jet?
Chris Young: No propeller. We get towed up into the sky a couple thousand feet by another plane and once we come off that tow rope, it’s ours to go find energy.
Tim Ferriss: So it’s like big wave surfing, except you’re on air.
Chris Young: And you can’t see it. You have to look at the telltale. So our job is to basically read where the atmosphere is giving up free energy. The way a race will work is we’ll call usually turn points. So they might be a city, they might be an airfield, they might be a geographic feature. These can be 100 miles apart. More. Maybe a little bit less. And there’s cylinders around them usually; turn cylinders we call them, where you can sort of imagine these imaginary cylinders in the sky that are anywhere from 5 miles to maybe 20 miles around a turn point.
Our job is to basically decide when to turn in those and get back to our home airfield. But the challenge is you’re given a minimum time on course. So we have to be out for say three or four hours. If you come back early, whatever distance you flew gets divided by the minimum time, which obliterates your average speed. If you come way over, you might have covered more distance, but your average speed also goes down. So the very best pilots will usually time it pretty well to get back within a couple minutes of that time.
Over a four-hour race, that might cover anywhere from 300 to 500 kilometers. You’re covering enough of the landscape where the sky is going to change on you. You’ve got to decide when to start. That’s one of the other secrets. They open a start gate, but you get to choose when to start. So there’s a whole strategy and game theory behind when to do that.
The top pilots are all very good at this. We call it “start gate roulette,” where the top pilots will go out and be seen to go out and a bunch of the lesser pilots will follow them and then they’ll try to duck behind a cloud, get lost, come back and restart and then follow all of those people who are essentially acting as markers out on course of where there’s energy and where there’s [inaudible].
Tim Ferriss: They’re like the canaries in the coal mine.
Chris Young: They’re totally the canaries. I have been that canary when I was not more experienced. Where I was like, “Oh, look, he’s going. I should just follow that person.” Like, no. I was being suckered. And what’s really interesting about it is it’s physically demanding. You’re getting a lot of sun. You’re pulling – we might upwards of 30 percent of the time circling, but those circles are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.75 G-forces. Maybe occasionally you’ll pull 2 Gs. You can actually pull a lot more in a glider, but that’s atypical in a race.
You might be pulling those G-forces of 1.5 Gs for 30 minutes or more, when you’re dehydrated, when you’re getting a lot of sun and you’re changing altitude, which constricts and expands your capillary system, so you’re always having to pee or you’re always dehydrated, depending on whether you’re going up or going down. There’s this big part of it where you have to manage your physiology for several hours. You have to be very disciplined in your decision making because the difference between first and second or third might only be one, one and a half minutes. That’s usually only three extra circles during a four-hour race, where you might actually do hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of circles.
So it’s all about efficiency. It’s do I need to make this turn or should I be going? What do I think the atmosphere is going to be doing in ten minutes? Where do I think it’s going to be good? Where do I think it’s bad? So it’s extremely strategic. It’s also extremely tactical because you’re still having to fly the airplane. So you’re flipping constantly back and forth between the fly the airplane, because I might be in a climb with ten other airplanes a fraction of a wingspan.
We’re all circling together within inches, so it’s highly coordinated formation flying where the rule is don’t crash into the other guy. But we’re also having to do all the mental calculations of when is it time to go? Where am I going next? You’re always trying to think well ahead of the airplane. I find that it’s incredibly focusing. You have no choice but to be totally in the moment and to be extremely focused on what you’re feeling, the way the airplane’s feeling, what the right strategy is and I just find that incredibly addicting.
The fact that you can take this technology and just by reading the telltales of the sky around us, find enough free energy to go fly at average speeds that approach 100 miles an hour and cover hundreds of miles of distance over beautiful mountains or desert floors, where if you land, you’re going to be walking a very long time to the nearest road. It’s just amazing.
Tim Ferriss: This is going to seem unrelated, but how well do you typically sleep? Do you have trouble getting to sleep?
Chris Young: Most of the time, yes.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. The reason I ask is that I’m doing a lot better now for a host of reasons that I can save for another time, but I’ve always had onset insomnia. So I’ve been attracted to activities like that, where you cannot let – there’s a huge penalty. You can do it. If you let your mind wander or obsess on other things, there’s an enormous penalty. So I just find it to be a huge stress release valve – it’s almost like meditating – to engage in an activity like that.
Chris Young: For me, that’s a big part of it. It’s one of the few things that if I go off to a glider competition for a couple weeks or I go flying in Southern New Zealand, which I do every couple years. I was there in November and it’s as amazing as you would think. It’s all consuming. My entire schedule starts revolving around flying.
Because competitions are usually held over multiple days, too, so it’s about consistency. If you’re in first, the only place to go is backwards, so it’s all about low risk. Whereas, if you’re in fifth, you’ve got to be better the next day and take risks, but you might blow up and do horrible. It’s the counterpoint to the rest of my life, where it’s very unstructured, it can be very chaotic and that’s just part of how it works. Whereas, this is extremely structured, extremely focusing and highly rewarding.
Tim Ferriss: So what are your current goals? Or biggest goal in gliding?
Chris Young: So the biggest goal is setting a world distance record. These days, the world record I think is over 3,000 kilometers, 3,009, I think. It was set in the Andes. And really, that’s the only place left to set a record that big because what happens is the prevailing winds flow from west to east. There is a big, long mountain chain that runs up South America called the Andes that those winds slam into.
As they rise over it, they rise to a level where they become unstable, so they start to fall and it overdoes it in each direction and so it starts to oscillate. The whole atmosphere starts oscillating where you can climb into what we call a mountain wave and you can climb up, I think the record is over 50,000 feet and there’s people attempting for 100,000 feet. But once you get in that wave, you can surf it. You can run it parallel to the mountains. You may have to jump where the mountain range zigs or zags. You’ve got to read what’s going on. It’s not as simple as just put the nose down.
But you’re flying at the red line of the airplane. You fly even a knot or two faster and the wings will basically explode, which is bad. At this point, they’re not doing that up the length of the Andes and back down, where they’re racing against daylights because the records have to be set 30 minutes before legal sunrise to 30 minutes after legal sunset. That’s the time you have allotted. If you’re flying at the very limits of the airplane, you’re limited by the speed of the airplane.
I commissioned an airplane called a Duck Hawk VNX built by this incredible genius, Greg Cole, in Bend, Oregon. Greg was applying new technologies, new manufacturing techniques to build an airplane that’s about 40 percent faster than any other glider.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a significant jump.
Chris Young: It’s a significant jump and it’s possible because he was trying to optimize for a very specific problem and he was willing to use new technologies and try things that most people thought were a bit crazy. Either I’m crazy or not and if it’s the not case, then Greg’s built an incredible airplane that is capable of doing what no other airplane is capable of doing. So this is going to take several seasons of training. This kind of flying is highly technical. You really have to manage your physiology. You can go hypoxic. Because you’re usually operating at 20,000 to 30,000 feet. So you’re on oxygen. You’re solo in an airplane. It’s -80°C outside and you’re dealing with winds that could be 100+ knots.
Tim Ferriss: How much space is around you?
Chris Young: In the airplane?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Chris Young: I wear it is the best way to describe it. It’s very snug. You feel the flex of the wings. You feel what the atmosphere is doing and you want to do that. The plan is, in a few years, to start spending seasons down there trying to do these big record flights. There’s both the airframe and then there’s the possibility of sensorizing the airplane so that the airplane in certain respects can respond faster than a human can by automating the flaps based on what various accelerometers and mems gyros are doing. So this is where people at ChefSteps are totally freaked out, because I’ve been writing my own firmware for controlling my automated flaps.
Tim Ferriss: We were talking about confidence versus hubris. What is compelling you to do that? Are there not other – because from what I’ve gathered, you’re not a software engineer or coder, so do you have such-and-such for dummies and you’re just putting together the firmware? Why would you do it yourself?
Chris Young: Two-fold. So one, I’m lucky to be surrounded by a bunch of people who are, in fact, very good engineers. And I absolutely asked them for advice and I even asked them for code reviews now because this is a little bit bonkers. The other part of it though is two-fold. One, I like to know how things work. I like to know how they’re built. While I expect I will need the help and assistance of other people to fully implement what I want to do, I want to be part of doing that.
I want to know why various choices were made or what the trade-offs are. Partially, it gives me confidence. I’m used to working on my airplane. I’m used to understanding everything about how it’s built. I’m relying on the software to do a lot of things to augment my abilities.
I want to know how it’s built. I want to know when it might do bad things and when it basically can’t do bad things.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a good answer. You were talking about the structure and the required level of detail in gliding versus a lot of the rest of your life, at least let’s just say in the professional sense, which is unstructured. So I had a note to talk to you about the value of a less-structured day. I was hoping you could just elaborate on that because you seem to have both in your life.
Chris Young: You need both, I think. Or at least I suppose I need both to do some of the things I want to accomplish. In other words, absolutely no structure, there’s certain types of things I’d never be able to accomplish. Gliding is one of them, but actually running a company requires a certain amount of structure. On the other hand, I spend a lot of my time inventing. I don’t think inventing is something that is very amenable to being structured. I think inventing is a bit like writing, where some days you’re prolific.
Some days nothing is coming. Sometimes weeks nothing is coming and you start to get super nervous about deadlines that have come and gone and you’re avoiding your email and your cell phone because people are angry at you. But those types of activities, they take the time they take. I have basically found that I need to build part of my life highly unstructured. I wake up when I wake up. If I stay up until 3:00 in the morning reading something, working, that’s all sort of grist for the mill that’s just percolating there and in ways that I can’t predict, but I’ve come to learn will come at a certain rate.
I’ve found in my career that has allowed me to make certain leaps, figure certain things out or come up with something where if I tried to force it or structure it, I would’ve taken a very predictable path because it was oh, well, we just need to solve this problem and this is how you do it versus you have this flash of brilliance where you’re like, oh, this is what we need to do. I just don’t believe that kind of creativity is very amenable to structure.
So I try to have part of my life, even though it can be kind of insane for everyone else, where if I want to stay up all night, if I’m going to get up late, if I have a meeting that’s going to get canceled, it’s just like I’m not structuring my time. It’s my time to do whatever I want with it, whatever rate feels right that day. I’ve started to find I need to basically carve out very big chunks. The minimum chunk seems to be about half a day, where don’t expect me to be doing anything else because I’m not going to guarantee it will happen. I’m just busy letting myself enjoy life.
Tim Ferriss: So what does that look like? Or what do you hope it will look like on a weekly basis? One of the, not really epiphanies, but realizations I had a few years ago, is that many of my friends who are highly effective human beings thought of batching certain activities on specific days of the week. In other words, it wasn’t that they would check email, have meetings, set goals, brainstorm and journal and 15 other activities each day, they would batch certain types of tasks or unstructured time.
And so for me, that means generally speaking, batch recording audio on Mondays and Fridays. Unstructured time for just creation, whatever that happens to mean in a given week, on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. So even if my goals is to have room to think and space, if I don’t create that space in my calendar, it’s very likely it will get overrun with other stuff. How do you think about that? Or are there certain rules like if then, like you just said, if I stay up late, then I will clear the decks and send an email before I go to bed saying hey, wipe the decks up until this point in time.
Chris Young: So there’s some of that. I haven’t found that totally effective for myself. Although I have to do some of it because I have a responsibility of running a company.
I need to be available to certain people or it’s just not being fair or it’s impeding their effectiveness and their productivity. I have definitely surrounded myself with types of people that are very complementary to me of people who are more focused on organization and being productive in a very specific kind of way. I tend to find that especially when I’m getting into something where I’m trying to solve a very specific problem, but it’s open-ended. In fact, I’m not even totally sure I can define what the problem is. Like I might need to carve out weeks where the majority of my time is going to be going into this activity that may or may not be productive and may or may not be a terribly good use of my time. It’s just this rabbit hole that I need to dig in. That tends to be one where increasingly I’m trying to find chunks of my life where I can literally carve out. Like I’m going to commit 20 percent of my time to basically attending some of the details of being married and having a family, running a company.
But I’m also going to allocate a huge amount of my free time or I’m going to create a huge amount of free time to spend hours and days and even in some cases more than a week, just chugging away on this to see where it gets. Sometimes, I come up with a zero. Like that was a waste of time. But I’ve found over the last decade or so that those periods of time have turned out to be incredibly important for finding something that’s insanely valuable.
Tim Ferriss: Maybe it’s just rationalizing so I don’t go totally insane, but I remember coming to a similar conclusion related to writing because I became very frustrated once at a draft of a chapter where it was something like ten pages and nine and a half pages were just garbage, complete garbage. But there was a kernel on the ninth page of a few paragraphs that ended up becoming the beginning of a really strong chapter. I was like, wow, that was a really big fucking waste of time. I can’t believe that I only got a few paragraphs out of that.
One of my friends, who I guess you could view as a mentor of sorts, a very seasoned and successful writer said, no, no, no, you’re missing the point. You needed those first nine and a half shitty pages to get to the good stuff. You couldn’t have started there. And I was like, oh, okay. That’s at least a healthy way to look at it.
Chris Young: I basically totally agree with that. There’s no short-cuts. I can look back on the evolution ChefSteps has gone through since 2012 or the evolution I’ve gone through since ’99-2000. I can see all these periods where it was like, oh, that wasn’t super productive, where I didn’t accomplish what I’d hope to accomplish with that. It’s easy in hindsight to say, well maybe you could’ve cut that out or maybe you could’ve shortened this time scale to market or something. I don’t think so. I don’t think we would’ve had the thoughts. They come at a certain rate and all of those things in some way tend to lead into that solution.
There’s so many people that I read that are focused on efficacy and being effective and managing your time and doing these things.
Tim Ferriss: [Inaudible] people.
Chris Young: I don’t know anybody like that sitting in this room. That is about how to basically get there faster. There are absolutely things in life that are amenable to going faster, but the really interesting stuff, the stuff where like nobody else is doing it, it really is a breakthrough or it is an invention or is an innovation or it’s just a new piece of art or whatever it is, it takes the time it takes and you can’t force it.
Tim Ferriss: Sorry to interrupt, but another way to look at it is to optimize a process, there has to be a process. If you’re trying to connect dots that have never been connected before or create the dots, there is no algorithm to tweak yet. Other people might argue differently and I think there are some tools that I found helpful, like the Edward de Bono six thinking hats type of stuff. But generally, you’re just sitting there fucking staring at your navel a lot and waiting for an apple to fall and hit you in the head.
Chris Young: Yeah, you look totally useless. I’m working really hard, trust me. I’m actually okay with that. I’m thankful you haven’t asked this because I have no good answer to what’s your creative process? I have no idea. I could make something up. I don’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about my creative process. I mostly focus on what are the interesting ideas that I’m having right now that seem worth pursuing? For whatever reason, one may win out over another or it pulls on me more strongly and I just follow that. That has served me super well. You keep meeting these people, you keep doing these things and I’ve just pulled on threads and follow where they go.
Tim Ferriss: I want to hit you with some rapid fire questions. No. 1, what is your creative process? No. Please describe for the next ten minutes your creative process. When you think of the word “successful,” who is the first person who comes to mind and why?
Chris Young: My father, because I think he’s actually had a pretty happy life. He has a family around him. He’s achieved some business success and he’s done a lot of things.
He’s created a lot of meaning for people. And so I admire that. The fact that he has created a lot of meaning for people.
Tim Ferriss: How so? What type of meaning?
Chris Young: I supposed I would answer it by it depends on who we’re talking about. I think in the world of his employees, a lot of the employees have been there for as long as the business is around and they value in it. They find any meaningful thing to do with their lives and the fact that there’s been that loyalty to them and they’ve clearly felt that it was a valuable use of their time. That was meaningful. For his family, it’s the fact that we’re still a family and that he’s created meaning for me and meaning for my brother and my mother and more broadly speaking, our extended family.
We had lots of exchange students growing up, especially through high school. They still come back and visit. They’re coming back with their families now and they really attach a lot of importance and meaning to their time with my family. That was really creative for my father and my mother as well.
Tim Ferriss: How did they create that bond? What were the ways – because that’s unusual, right? It’s atypical.
Chris Young: I guess. I never thought it was that atypical. Because I think they were very inclusive and supportive of these people and made sure they had a memorable year and that they got to do fun things, fun things as a family, felt included in our family. And even after they left, we’d stay in touch. We’d go on trips to Europe and we’d see them. I think that even 20 years later now, we’re still having reunions and I think that’s created a lot of meaning for people in their life.
Tim Ferriss: Other than your Dad, if you had to pick a second person, dead or alive, doesn’t matter, fictional or non-fictional?
Chris Young: Winston Churchill.
Tim Ferriss: Winston Churchill, okay. Why Winston?
Chris Young: So I think there’s a great series of books, The Last Lion, by William Manchester on Winston Churchill. The third volume actually just came out a few years ago posthumously. But the first two, which really only got up to his life at the outbreak of World War II – it didn’t even touch on everything that happened after World War II started. I just remember being like, he was a bestselling author by 20, he’d fought in wars, he was one of the highest paid writers, he was an important member of Parliament, all of these things. And you’re just like, he’s a fascinating individual.
I remember reading these and I was probably in my early 20s just being like, “Man, I suck compared to this. I am way behind.” So I think on some level, that’s what historic level of success looks like. As a history professor pointed out to me, you weren’t born into the British aristocracy so you’re working with a deficit to begin with. Fair enough.
But I think always looked at things like that as being of lasting significance. I suppose that drives me on some level.
Tim Ferriss: That description makes me want to see a celebrity death match Claymation of Winston Churchill versus Ben Franklin.
Chris Young: Churchill is totally taking Franklin down. He was a cripple and Churchill has him on mass by at least 5X. Plus he’s drunk.
Tim Ferriss: He is a big unit. And he could hold his liquor. Do you have any superstitions? And the reason I ask is that I find it in a way a stress reduction for me to prize a handful of superstitions because I try to be so hyper analytical in other areas. I don’t like using red pens, for instance. Which I think I picked up in Asia somewhere. They don’t like using red ink for a handful of things. Cheers-ing with water, don’t like it.
Chris Young: I don’t know if this qualifies as a superstition, but as much as I said I am about lack of structure and stuff, I’ve certainly found as a writer that it was incredibly important for me to have certain things just so with writing.
I would have a very specific ritual about driving to a very specific coffee shop and I had to have sort of one or two very specific tables. If they were filled, I’d sit there with my coffee just leering at them, like you are taking my table, don’t you know that I’m trying to finish a manuscript?
Tim Ferriss: Excuse me, sir, do you know who I am?
Chris Young: I come here so much, this should be my table. So that’s one of these things where I actually really struggled to write if I broke that pattern. So I don’t know if it qualifies as a superstition, but I certainly found having – it’s almost like you need to walk in a circle three times and have this particular mug or none of the magic will work. It’s totally one of those. So if something would go missing, like it was total freak-out. Like I have to have that or I’m doomed.
Tim Ferriss: So you drive to the coffee shop. What were the characteristics of the table that made it the right table?
Chris Young: It was in a window. It was a two-person table. It sat in such a way that people weren’t terribly intrusive when they were coming or going. You weren’t constantly getting bumped. But there was a bit activity behind it that sort of provided just this white noise that allowed me to focus. It wasn’t that table, per se, it was that table in that particular coffee shop worked where it was just the right balance between feeling among people, but without the distraction of people.
Tim Ferriss: Do you listen to music when you write?
Chris Young: I will and usually some pretty – a lot of techno, a lot of late-‘90s techno.
Tim Ferriss: Like one?
Chris Young: I might listen to Paul Oakenfold Live at the Rojan in Shanghai. It’s an essential mix. To this day, when I’m doing a certain kind of work, it’s put the headphones on and it’s SoundCloud and it’s old essential mixes with Pete Tong.
Tim Ferriss: How many pages of text that you were involved with in some capacity were in Modernist Cuisine, roughly?
Chris Young: Of the pages I wrote? I think I wrote around 300,000 words.
Tim Ferriss: So what does that break down to? That’s like –
Chris Young: Or pages had pictures and full [inaudible], so it’s hard to say.
Tim Ferriss: That’s like six full-length books.
Chris Young: It was slightly over a million words for the final book. I think it was 2,400 pages. It’s long enough now I’m starting to forget. But it’s 50 pounds of book.
Tim Ferriss: When you did first drafts, was that on a computer or by hand?
Chris Young: On a computer.
Tim Ferriss: On a computer. What program? Was it just standard Word?
Chris Young: It was Word at the time. I experimented with some other things. I write a lot with a program called IA Writer because it sort of blanks everything out.
Tim Ferriss: IA Writer, yeah, I’ve heard about this.
Chris Young: I enjoy that. I think there’s cooler, better stuff that I haven’t even heard of yet.
Tim Ferriss: There’s another one called Hemingway that a lot of folks have mentioned.
Chris Young: It’s like I find something that works and just leave it alone.
Tim Ferriss: There’s one called Scrivener that I’ve used for my last few books that I really enjoy. The reason I like it is that you can lay out all of your chapters within a single window on the left-hand side, like a vertical scroll. You can move them around, dragging and dropping into sections and then you can have a split pane on the right side showing the text that you’re working on and then have your research notes below it, which I just found so incredibly helpful for the last two books. How do you edit? When you have your first brain dump of stuff, what is your editing process like?
Chris Young: There’s like what is my good editing process and then what is the battle I must fight?
My tendency is to actually edit myself as I write and do a lot of polishing that really would be better served after I got the words out. My preferred approach and what tends to be best for me is I do my writing in the evenings and I do my editing in the morning. I usually wake up after having written until 3:00 in the morning and then I’ll wake up at like 9:00, 9:30 or 10:00 or whatever. And then I’ll go back and look like, oh, my God, this was incredibly indulgent. But there’s 9,000 words, so I’m going to be able to find some good nuggets here and I can start iterating at it pretty quickly. That works well.
Tim Ferriss: Would you kick out 9,000 words a session?
Chris Young: Sometimes, yes.
Tim Ferriss: Holy shit, man.
Chris Young: That would usually get pared down.
Tim Ferriss: How much meth were you taking?
Chris Young: It was a lot, I don’t even remember. That might end up, it’s something like 1,500 words when it’s done. It’ll be a lot of slop. Sometimes it’ll be whole sections where I’ll leave it there and just pick it up again.
So it’s a total mess at that point. But there’s ideas to work with. I got the ideas down. A more typical session would probably be 750 to 2,000 words, depending. The closer it was to 750, usually the less work I had to do on editing, but often it would take three times as long as if I had barfed out 3,000 words.
Tim Ferriss: The less grist for the mill to work with in the first place. What is your favorite documentary or movie? Or any favorites that come to mind?
Chris Young: So right now I think I’m going through an ‘80s nostalgia binge. I’ve been watching some John Hughes movies lately that I’ve enjoyed. I can’t really –
Tim Ferriss: You’re watching Mrs. Doubtfire?
Chris Young: No, it’s like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and stuff like that. Old John Cusack. Movies that I’ve really loved – Pulp Fiction was super. So I was living in Germany at the time as an exchange student.
I was homesick and Pulp Fiction came out and I remember seeing it in German because everything was dubbed there. And Samuel L. Jackson sounds horrible as a German. Not funny, not Samuel L. Jackson. So I was lucky enough that I lived in Aachen, right by the border between Holland, Belgium and Germany. So I remember driving to a town called Haralin and seeing it in English. It was so great to basically just see this movie in English after I’d been hearing nothing but German and was super homesick. But that movie still stands out as a movie I love.
Tim Ferriss: Documentaries? Any documentaries?
Chris Young: So this one I would call docudrama. It’s partly documentary and partly not entirely true – The Right Stuff. I’m a pilot. I love flying and that movie was just like, I got to do this. Where do I sign up to get one of these rides? So I think that’s a great movie.
Tim Ferriss: I need to see that again. I haven’t seen that film in ages. What purchase of $100.00 or less has most positively impacted your life in recent memory?
Chris Young: I’ll give two answers. I bought a new electric teakettle. I used to have all the stovetop kettles. Even though I knew it was vastly better, I underestimated how much better my life would be by having an electric tea kettle so I can have tea actually quickly and more or less on demand with very little fuss. I think I have an Oxo clear, one-button, nothing fancy teakettle and it’s flipping awesome. So much so that I’ve now bought them at work too, so I can just have them everywhere. So that was great.
I don’t remember exactly what the price is, but I’m going to go with it anyway. I bought the Wii DJ Hero for my 9-year-old son and me. It’s awesome. Because one, he loves it and loves doing it, but two, I totally won’t let him win. I used to briefly DJ back with some techniques in college. It was my way of going to a fraternity party without having to go to the fraternity party.
I’d get paid to go DJ and do them. When we get to the scratching competitions and stuff with Jack, I totally can’t let him win. But we have so much fun with that. So I think that might’ve been just over the threshold, but in terms of make my life awesome and time to spend with my son, it’s great.
Tim Ferriss: If you were to teach a ninth or tenth grade class, what would you focus on? What would you teach?
Chris Young: Tough call. It’s a toss-up between Shakespeare or I’d be really interested in doing a history of science class.
Tim Ferriss: Why Shakespeare?
Chris Young: I had a phenomenal teacher in high school that taught me to write. John Fitzpatrick. I think he passed away about a year ago, which is a bummer because I haven’t seen him in probably two decades. But he taught a whole year of Shakespeare and I signed up for it as a senior because I’d had him as a sophomore English teacher and right when every other teacher hated me or I was a pain in their butt.
He sort of mentored me and put up with a lot of my shenanigans or my laziness of turning stuff in. He really pushed me to write. As a sophomore, I think I was having to write 8-page papers, like real papers for him where you’re really exploring literature. So I signed up for him when he taught a year of Shakespeare in my senior year. I particularly remember the comedies of just the discussions we had around it and the ideas and how actually funny they were and how humorous they were and how great some of the themes were.
It totally blew my mind because up until then, Shakespeare was really this poncy, English literature kind of thing to go do and actually it was hysterical and they was a blast to read them. So I’d want other people to experience that. I don’t know if I could do it justice.
Tim Ferriss: And the history of science would be option No. 2?
Chris Young: I don’t know that I’d do science. I’d do engineering now.
I think a lot about science. But I love the ideas. I love the inevitableness of the ideas. I like how one idea built on another. When you really have a great history of science teacher who sort of tells the story of how these thing shaped cultures, shaped the world, it makes science something more than just the formulas or the equations or the theorems or the ideas that you learn in a fairly dry science textbook, no matter how much they’ve made it artsy with sidebars and graphics.
The fact that there were people involved and it wasn’t at all – at the time, they might have been hugely controversial ideas and it wasn’t so obvious at the time that the calculus was right or that air was a thing or that germs were a thing, and how much controversy and how much humanness there were around these ideas. I love that because I think I sort of see it on a day-to-day basis. When you’re investing stuff, it feels totally nuts at the time. You’re like, is anybody going to think this was worthwhile?
Tim Ferriss: It makes me think of a dinner I just had last week, which was an incredible, rare opportunity. I had a chance to go to a small group dinner with Jim Watson of Watson and Crick.
Chris Young: Wow.
Tim Ferriss: He’s got to be – I don’t know exactly – late 80s maybe?
Chris Young: I think almost 90, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Maybe 90s? And completely lucid. I was two chairs away. I was one person separated from him. So co-discoverer of the double helix. It turns out, I didn’t realize this, but he has probably half a dozen other discoveries that would’ve been anyone else’s life work and he has a collection of them. But I remember having a number of short conversations with him and also overheard a lot of his fascinating conversations with other folks.
I remember thinking, if this were 25 years ago, I could totally see this one encounter veering me off into becoming a scientist of some type. Just that one encounter. Could totally see it. By meeting someone who embodies all the things that felt irrelevant when they’re being thrown out by someone who is –
Chris Young: Far lesser.
Tim Ferriss: Far lesser and just not passionate or particularly interested in conveying it to me in a compelling way. What are your morning rituals? What does the first 60 minutes of your day look like?
Chris Young: First 60 minutes of the day. So I’m not human if I don’t have a shower. That’s super important to me.
Tim Ferriss: What time do you usually wake up? It sounds like it moves.
Chris Young: That moves a lot. Given my own devices, I probably naturally will wake up between 9:00 and 10:00 most days. I would naturally usually work until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. I actually experimented with biphasic sleep in college and I would totally do that still if it didn’t make me so unbelievably anti-social.
Tim Ferriss: So what kind of biphasic sleeping?
Chris Young: I would basically sleep from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. And I would work from 8:00 p.m. until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and then I would sleep from 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning until usually around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.
Tim Ferriss: It sounds like the Argentine schedule. I was wondering how they survived. I was in Argentina and they would stay out until 4:00 in the morning and then go to work in the morning and I tried to match that. I was just like how are these fuckers surviving? I don’t get it. And then it’s like no, no, no.
Chris Young: A place where everybody disappears.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, they have like a two-hour lunch and then go home at 4:30 and sleep until 8:00.
Chris Young: So I should move to Argentina to go fly gliders is what I think the conclusion is I have here. It’s socially acceptable there.
Tim Ferriss: So you take a shower first.
Chris Young: I take a shower. We usually eat something. If I’m not feeling totally rushed for time, it’s bacon and eggs. I’m particularly, right now there’s a recipe on ChefSteps called the emoji egg, which is basically an egg cracked into a nonstick pan heated very slowly until it looks like the perfect emoji of a sunnyside up egg.
That, maybe a piece of toast and bacon is great. But there’s a 50/50 chance that I’m just going out the door at that point. The very next stop is espresso. We have very nice espresso machines courtesy of La Marzocco at ChefSteps. We keep the entire company caffeinated. We keep a world barista on the team. Our job training is if this whole thing doesn’t work out with the company, everybody at ChefSteps is capable of being a barista.
Tim Ferriss: You’re in the right town for it too.
Chris Young: We’re totally in the right town.
Tim Ferriss: Well, actually, you probably have a lot of stiff competition.
Chris Young: We’ve got to raise the bar. So I start the day like many people. At that point, I will have a latte at work, usually a more traditional size. A 5 or a 6-ounce latte. I don’t like a ton of milk. But that’s kind of the ritual of okay, now I can start dealing with whatever I need to do.
Tim Ferriss: If you did not have machines to help you make espresso, how would you make a good cup of coffee?
Chris Young: I’d make a tea.
Tim Ferriss: You’d make a tea?
Chris Young: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So you wouldn’t use a Chemex, AeroPress, any of that?
Chris Young: I have all that and I don’t mind it, and if somebody else wants it, I’ll do it. It’s a bit fussy. But I’ve got to be honest, during my time at The Fat Duck, we had builder’s tea, PB Tips. It just came in a giant garbage, basically, stuffed with really crappy tea dust. And that with a bunch of milk is just milky tea, it’s really satisfying in some sort of cringe-worthy way. I have nicer tea than that at home, but it’s something about the ritual of make some tea. I steep it. I like a little bit of milk. If I’m writing or something, I can drink gallons of that and not feel guilty. I’ll need to go to the bathroom a lot, but it’s really satisfying and just like, that’s my break. Every 15 minutes or so, I need to make another big mug of that.
Tim Ferriss: Builder’s tea.
Chris Young: Builder’s tea. It’s a British saying so like the builders on a job site. At some point, they all get around and make a cup of tea and this was the cheap ass, cheapest bulk tea you could buy and because The Fat Duck was a three Michelin Star restaurant, which meant we made no money that was what we had. For the staff; the customers had much nicer stuff.
Tim Ferriss: That’s something that surprised me when I was in the midst of working The 4-Hour Chef, which of course you were involved with and realizing that in effect, the higher the quality of the food and drink, the food especially, the lower the margins appear to be. Like the more expensive, the better the food, the harder it is to run as a business, in effect.
Chris Young: I guess I didn’t tell the story of nearly going bankrupt at The Fat Duck. I was there, so it’s not really my story, it’s Heston’s story, but I’ll tell it because it gives some context to this. We were a two-star restaurant. Most two-star restaurants are really just a three-star restaurant that’s going out of business.
This was January of 2004. We were at Madrid Fusion, which at the time was the biggest chef conference in the world. We were unknown and Ferran Adriá was the biggest chef in the world at the time. Jockey, James Petrie, who was our pastry chef, and I were basically prepping backstage all week for our demo. All these chefs from these restaurants in Madrid and around Spain were coming around and watching what we were doing because we were basically doing crazy stuff. We had liquid nitrogen. Nobody had seen that. We were doing stuff with pressure cookers and vacuum pumps and all sorts of crazy stuff.
In the background of all this, Heston couldn’t make payroll on Friday. So there was like a ton of stress from him about that. We were at this really lavish event and we were super well taken care of, meanwhile back in Bray, he couldn’t pay the bills because there were no customers or not enough customers.
I remember we were out for lunch with Nick Lander from the Financial Times. He was their food critic. He’d taken us out to lunch and we were coming back to the conference. We were slotted last slot in the day. Everybody is usually gone by then, but because of all the craziness people had been seeing us doing all week, there was a buzz going around. I’m like, you’ve got to stay for this. So Heston got the order out a little bit. We basically give that presentation at the 6:30 p.m. slot. We get a standing ovation from the 800 chefs in attendance.
Ferran Adriá jumps up on stage, throws his arm around Heston and says, “This is the most important chef cooking today.” We’re like, “What just happened? This is amazing.” Well, next day we go to lunch and we’re chatting with Nick and all this. We come back and we think the restaurant is going to be done. Well, Heston gets a call from Racine, his assistant and she’s like I just got a very strange call from The Telegraph saying what does it feel like to be the third chef in the U.K. to get their third Michelin star?
And Heston’s like, well the guide’s not out yet, so somebody must be pulling your leg. And she’s like, well, I thought that so I hung up and I called the paper back and they confirmed a journalist was working on the story. So we’re all kind of sitting in the car looking at each other like this can’t be true. And Nick just goes, “If it’s true, let me be the first to congratulate you.” And then right after Heston hangs up from Racine, Derek Balmer, who is the head of the Michelin guide, calls Heston’s cellphone.
He’s like, “I understand you’re in Madrid. We usually like to come in and tell you in person, but congratulations, you’ve earned your third star.” So we’re all gobsmacked. And what nobody knew that night is we had zero customers. The next day, the phone was ringing off the hook and three months later we were voted best restaurant in the world. That was actually really how close it came to total implosion. It was also, I think, a real lesson for me of one, you don’t do this for the money. The fame and the celebrity and the TV shows and the books and all that and future restaurants did grow into a sizeable empire for Heston.
But that wasn’t what motivated him. I think that was really a big impression on me as well. This isn’t why you choose to do things and it is going to be a knife edge. You have to have faith that it’s going to work through onto the other side. I have no idea where that story was going.
Tim Ferriss: No, no, it’s a great story. It also makes you wonder how many people who would’ve been the best in the world or recognized just missed it by that razor’s edge?
Chris Young: One day.
Tim Ferriss: Right? Like the demo came a week after they already missed payroll and that was it, they couldn’t do it. Which is why, I think, one of the dangers in a place like Silicon Valley is you see these exceptional successes lionized on magazine covers, but it’s a lot like the survivorship bias you might see in a Barron’s or something, where you have all these amazing mutual funds that are advertising how well they’ve done for the last five or six years. And it’s like well, those are the 5 out of 1,000 who managed to get here –
Chris Young: They’re all gone.
Tim Ferriss: – by skill or luck and you don’t know. It’s easy to get sucked into that sort of fallacy when you don’t see the bodies. I guess on that note, just in terms of these lessons learned, and looking at advice that you would give others then, in turn, what advice would you give your let’s say 25-year-old self, if you could place us where you were or what you were doing? Or you could choose when you were graduating from college.
Chris Young: Graduating from college was a very diffuse thing for me. I think it was actually in 2003 I actually applied for my degrees because I needed them to get my British work permit. It was one of those, “I’ll leave the back door open because I’m technically just on sabbatical and I can always come back.” Even though I stopped going by 2001. So I don’t know that when you graduate college is all that relevant to me. I think the more interesting question is what would I basically tell myself in my later 20s?
I think the advice I would try to give myself is to dispense with a lot more of the ego and hubris. I’d ended up in a very influential position at a very famous place that felt like you were on top of the world. That does go to your head to have that success that quickly, that early, to be recognized for it, and then to have a string of other great things happen. You’re surrounded by people that are telling you you’re doing great stuff, how valuable this is, how important you are. And most of that people won’t be around when that period is over.
But it becomes very seductive. You keep aspiring to take that next step up the Ziggurat. It’s totally irrelevant. It’s a total waste of time, but it will make you a giant asshole. I think that was something that really took over the course of Modernist and subsequent to Modernist and actually even founding ChefSteps for me to really grapple with and find comfort in the fact that I’m not really that interested in celebrity or those kinds of accolades.
They’re nice to get; they’re no longer motivating for me at all. Chasing those actually really made me a jerk. It got me very focused on who was getting credit for what.
Tim Ferriss: How did you make that leap? A lot of people would prefer to be in that or of that mindset. And not be seduced by the celebrity, etc. What was the –
Chris Young: Because it has to be incredibly destructive. For me, I spent five years at The Fat Duck. I did a bunch of work I’m incredibly proud of and there’s many people I still consider strong friends. But it was also realizing that I had created a future that wasn’t tenable for me to stay for much longer because I was so hardheaded and so obstinate, that it created a lot of friction between me and other senior members of staff because I was pushing for something I was convinced was right, but it basically made me very difficult to work with. Just because you’re right, you’re only going to get away with that so many times.
So that was sort of the realization that a restaurant like that is built on teamwork and yes, some people can be doing really valuable work and yes, some people can be exceptional or special and they do get certain amounts of dispensation, but if that gets abused, you’re not going to be in a tenable position. As soon as basically you’ve delivered your value, people aren’t going to want to work with you for much longer. Working with people at Modernist, there were a lot of people on that time who were very talented, exceptionally talented, very difficult people to work with.
Everyone involved in that project was accomplished, was skillful. It had a pretty big ego to match and was pushing to do something exceptional. We all got the work done. At the end of it, nobody really wanted to do that again together. I was actually lucky enough that Grant and Ryan and I still wanted to work together after that, but if you look at most of the team, we sort of scattered to the wind.
It was like okay, the book’s done. We don’t want to work as a team with ChefSteps. One of the things that’s really become clear to me is I work with 50 of the most exceptional people I’ve ever worked with. I’m amazed at what they do and what they accomplish. The worst thing in the world for me would be not being able to work with those people and see the types of things they can do. So I really found a lot of my satisfaction is how do I enable other teams of people? How do I enable other people to do their best work?
That’s on a good day how I feel about that. I have the same tension and struggles, I think, anyone does. It’s not like you suddenly flip a switch and you’re perfect. It’s more I have seen how teams get blown up. I’ve been a participant in that. That’s really a long-term destructive pathway to be on. At some point in my mid-30s, it was like, do you want to stay on this pathway or do you want to be able to do big, ambitious things that take talented teams of people? Because if so, you’ve got to learn to basically check your ego so there’s room for other people to do their best work.
Tim Ferriss: Something I’ve struggled with as well is also shifting your focus from – and of course not always getting it right – but from being right to being effective and choosing the battles really carefully. I was chatting with a pretty well-known political advisor, not because I have any political aspirations, but he’s become a friend of mine.
Chris Young: I think there might be an opening for you this season.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Chris Young: It’s not too late.
Tim Ferriss: Who knows? That’s a whole separate wine necessitating conversation. His advice to me – at one point we were having wine and eating pizza on cheat day, it was great – this was in Venice, California not Italy. I was telling him about the multitude of places where I wanted to start initiatives, have an impact.
He just said to me, “You know, you should kind of think of this like a six-shooter. You have six bullets. You get six bullets each year. Maybe every two years. What are you going to use them on?” And that’s how I’ve started to think a lot about conflict resolution or just conflict in general. Is this the fight? If I only get to have six fights, is this one of the six? Am I going to spend a bullet on this? It’s tough to follow your own advice when it comes to that stuff when you’ve been rewarding for so long for being a stubborn ass.
Chris Young: That is actually exactly the problem. When you are talented, when you are good at what you do, people will tolerate a lot of stuff, as long as it serves their purpose or as long as it’s useful, but you will get no runway as soon as that’s over. That unfortunate, because we’re all going to hit rough patches, we’re all going to hit patches where you need people to basically cut you some slack because you’re not firing on all cylinders.
If you’re basically insistent on being right all the time and controlling everything, you’re not going to get that slack.
Tim Ferriss: If you could have one billboard with anything on it, what would you put on that billboard?
Chris Young: I think I would probably have to erect it outside of my high school. I think I might have to erect it outside of my high school and I don’t know exactly how I would art direct this, but it’s going to be something to the effect of, “It all worked out anyway.” High school was not a great time for me.
Tim Ferriss: I love it. And this is the last question. Any ask or request of the people listening? Anything they should ponder, consider, do or otherwise and then we’ll get to where they can find you and everything you’re up to, of course.
Chris Young: I have two. I guess we’ll call them call to actions. So one, if you’re into cooking, if you’re curious about how cooking works, come check out what we’re doing at ChefSteps. If you are interested in new tools, things like that, we have them. Also, if you’re essentially an awesome engineer, whether a software engineer or a physical hardware engineer or you’re just amazing at something and you can relate it to cooking at all, we want to hear from you. We want to work with more people who are passionate about cooking and have skills worth adding to the kitchen.
Tim Ferriss: Where would they find – they can go to chefsteps.com?
Chris Young: They can go to chefsteps.com. There’s a jobs link at the bottom. If you don’t see anything on there, roll your own job description and tell us why would should take a serious look at you. We’ve hired applied mathematicians. We’ve hired musicians. We’ve hired a lot of unusual people that have found ways to add incredible value at ChefSteps, so we’re pretty open-minded there.
If you just want to basically find some awesome cooking content or inspiration for the kitchen or buy some pretty damn cool tools, that’s another good reason to check it out. The other thing – gliding. I have tried to introduce several people to gliding. I have yet to take you up, Mr. Ferriss.
Tim Ferriss: I’m up for that, okay.
Chris Young: I’ve taken Matt up. I’ve taken quite a few. I’ve got a pretty good hit record of turning people into glider pilots. The sport could use more people. It’s awesome; it’s a blast. It is incredibly compelling. So check out the Soaring Society of America. If you’re in the Bay Area, William Soaring is a phenomenal place to learn.
Tim Ferriss: William Soaring?
Chris Young: William Soaring. It’s up near Sacramento, but there’s a bunch of other good clubs around here. I would encourage a lot of your listeners to check out gliding. It is a hell of a thing and it is an incredibly welcoming sport.
Tim Ferriss: What was it? The Soaring –
Chris Young: The Soaring Society of America, SSA.
Tim Ferriss: All right. And there you have it. So where can people, if anywhere, say hello on the social media and whatnot? Do you participate in such shenanigans?
Chris Young: We do. So you can find ChefSteps on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, chefsteps.com of course. There is an app. There’s probably a bunch of social channels like Instagram and others that I don’t even know about yet.
Tim Ferriss: Perfect. Well, Chris, it’s always fun to hang. We will have more adult beverages in Seattle and elsewhere soon, I am sure. I appreciate you taking the time.
Chris Young: Thanks, Tim. It was fun.
Tim Ferriss: And for everybody listening, you can get links to everything that we talked about, all the goodies, in the show notes at fourhourworkweek.com/podcast, as well as all the past episodes if you want to hear my chat, which involves some tequila with Matt Mullenweg, for instance, then you can find that episode there as well. Until next time, as always, thank you for listening.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.