It’s been ten years since I graduated culinary school. In the years that followed my style of cooking has changed a lot. One thing that hasn't is my respect and admiration for Chef Thomas Keller. He is the proprietor for the acclaimed Michelin Star French Laundry and Per Se, along with a casual French bistro Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and adHoc restaurants.

So you can imagine the excitement I had during a routine trip to northern California to Yountville to enjoy adHoc fried chicken for lunch and saw Chef Keller walking down the street.

adhoc fried chicken and bbq (ribs and pulled pork) Totally worth the drive to yountville

A photo posted by Gary Heshiki Fitness (@garyheshikifitness) on

We left our home in Los Angeles early one morning and drove straight to Yountville arriving about 90 minutes ahead of our scheduled lunch. Sara and I figured were could get some coffee and a pastry at Bouchon Bakery and walk around. After parking our car, I spotted a man in chef whites walking down the street and I knew it was him.

I asked if I could get a photo while stumbling like a dope to get my iPhone out of my pocket. Sara quickly got her phone out and snapped this photo.  Obviously this was the highlight of the trip for me!

If you still haven’t caught on I hold Chef Thomas Keller in very high regard.

Even now as a fitness professional there are lessons I’ve learned from my time in the kitchen and from Chef Thomas Keller that are very applicable to a fitness professional and enthusiast alike.

1. Starting at the Bottom

Chef Keller started out as a dishwasher in his mother’s restaurant. There he was able to learn many skills that would serve him in the future such as:

  • Organization: Knowing where and how to stack the dishes in the right way so the team could be efficient putting things where they needed to be.
    • If you're unorganized, you’ll walk into the gym and perform a random 45 minutes while accomplishing very little. Plan ahead and be more productive. 
  • Feedback: In 45 seconds you know whether or not the dishes are clean or dirty. If they come out dirty, use that immediate feedback to correct the problem.
    • Pay attention to how things feel and look, you should know immediately whether a particular rep was good or not. Take steps to improve on the following set.
  • Repetition: You begin to learn the discipline and habits required to be good at the task you’ve been assigned. 
    • Being good at anything requires you to put in time to practice and get better at it. In one year you’ll be good at deadlifts, imagine how great you’ll be in ten years!

2. Cooks cook to nurture people

"You must take pleasure in serving others. Build a deep desire towards learning your craft. Skills are learned not innate."

Any fitness professional worth their weight in protein powder will make an extra effort to teach the why and how behind the what. They're doing you a disservice if all they do is hand you a sheet with food on it and expect you to follow that blindly. A true pro lives to pass on their knowledge with the endgame being a client who's better than they are. 

3. Attention to detail

"Having an attention to detail is the cornerstone of success. It’s there where you understand what you’re trying to accomplish and how to exceed expectations."

While every armchair quarterback believes they're only a few notches below JJ Watt. I hate to be the barer of bad news: You aren't anywhere near the level of a J.J Watt.

Photo: Men's Health

Photo: Men's Health

So training like him is only going to lead to an injury. Blindly following the "workout" printed isn't going to work for two reasons:

  1. It's not his actual workout. Do you really think he performs a few supersets and calls it a day?!
  2. It hasn't been tailored for your body and goals in mind. 

I can recall past colleagues who would lazily take a workout from a magazine and make their clients perform it. They decided it was an inconvenience to make adjustments for the person, glossing over tiny details that would inevitably lead to that client getting hurt.  

Don't be a shotgun, be a sniper. 

4. Believe in yourself because no one else will until you do.

When Chef Keller started, he mentions that his biggest asset was his ignorance of not knowing what it actually would take to start a restaurant. He focused on the small successes and continued moving forward in the face of having no resources, no money, and no job after leaving a failed restaurant in New York. He could've made that restaurant more casual, but it wasn't his vision. 

You need to believe in your vision so strongly that you're willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. 

He would wake up to make calls to banks or fill out forms for loans. He recalls speaking to over 400 people asking them for money. He would tell person after person what he was looking to do, and as uncomfortable as it was, it only strengthened the belief in his vision. 

Do you have what it really takes to accomplish the goal you’ve set for yourself? Ask before starting any program whether or not the goal you’re setting will be in line with the choices you’re willing to make. The sacrifices that might be asked of you may be too much.

Related: Cost of Getting Lean

5. Funnel your work into one singular goal

Keller states that his initial goals were always about how to make the French laundry a better restaurant. He opened bouchon south of the restaurant so the staff had a place to eat after work because at the time most establishments were closed long after service. 

If you're familiar with the bay area you know that it's filled with great bread bakers. Yet he could not find the exact style and size for the French Laundry. Thus he opened Bouchon Bakery to supply the restaurants there with the bread he wanted. 

Make sure your goals are consistent with the bigger picture. You may want to have an elite powerlifting total, run a sub 30 minute 10k, and have 8% bodyfat; but unless you’re getting paid to only exercise and recover those goals might be a little hard to accomplish.

Decide what it is you want and go after it channeling all your energies towards that one goal. Keep in mind that even after only 2 years, you can change your mind. 2 years is a drop in the bucket compared to 20.

Allow yourself that flexibility but don’t program hop only after a few months. Give yourself adequate time to asses whether or not what you’re doing is working or not. When making any decision think critically as to whether or not it is helping you achieve the larger goal you've set yourself. Big goals are accomplished by completing a bunch of little ones.