I read an interesting article in Fast Company Magazine, entitled: “Guitarists Can Sync Their Brains with Other Players, Forming a Giant Hyper Brain.” In this article based on a scientifically researched study, it was implied that when guitarists are jamming they are able to shut down certain distracting parts of the brain and almost telepathically communicate with each other, anticipating where the music is going next. In essence, the musicians are linking their brains to function as one.
In citing their research, the authors of the study determined that the section of the brain that musicians are able to shut down is:
“Typically deactivated in situations of goal-directed behavior to inhibit distraction by irrelevant stimuli that might impair performance.”
This, of course, got me thinking of potential parallels to what happens on any given busy night in a restaurant. This is why building a team of passionate and talented professional line cooks is so critical to a restaurant’s success. This is why some restaurants are able to work so well, while others falter, and this is why the current line cook shortage is so devastating to the industry.
Line cooks, just like talented musicians, are able to lock their brains and get in the zone. On a busy night in any functional restaurant, you will find line cooks running like a well-oiled machine. I have often equated it to a symphonic orchestra with the chef serving as the conductor. “NOW- bring in the violins (fire up that sauté dish, we have an order-fire), SOFTER on the oboe (slow down that medium rare steak they’re still on their salads), STACATTO on the flute (we have a re-fire on table 34 – let’s get it out). The line is able to zero in on their work, align with the timing of everyone else, and take nuanced directives from the leader.
For those who have never witnessed this miraculous event, I would encourage you to ask for an observational tour of a professional kitchen. Stand in a corner (never become a distraction to the team) and just take it in. Pans are banging, fires are blazing, you can hear the sizzle of scallops hit a hot pan to bring out that wonderful caramelization, steaks cracking from the intense heat of a char-broiler, the pop of moist, hand cut pommes frites hitting that oil for a final browning, and the steady prod and dialogue between the expeditor and the line cook. The right hand knows what the other persons left hand is doing, the plate appears when the cook turns to set-up a dish, pre-blanched vegetables have been finished with seasoning at the precise moment that the entrée hits the plate, and the expeditor wipes the edge of each plate while quickly inspecting the final product when it arrives at the pass. It really is beautiful to watch – poetry in motion.
Just like the interplay between Dwayne Allman and Dickie Betts, the on-fire interaction between Jeff Beck and Tal Wilkenfeld, or the subtle musical dialogue between Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke – talented line cooks are able to anticipate their teammates next moves, their needs, and what will push them to excel. The article based on the hyperbrain phenomena, refers to it as “phase locking”.
Charles Limb, a musician and researcher summed it up:
“Humans are hardwired to seek art, and there are very few things that engage the brain on the level that music does. To understand the neural basis of creativity teaches us something fundamental about who we are, why we’re here.”
The question, assuming this phenomena is valid, is if and how can a restaurant create the environment for this to occur? After all, this “hyperzone” is exactly what is needed for a restaurant to consistently function well. So, here are my thoughts:
 SEEK OUT TALENTED COOKS and AUDITION THEM for a POSITION on your LINE.
Yes, I know how hard it is to find anyone to do the job nowadays, but where are you as a business if hiring is relegated to simply filling shifts? Hire only those who have the talent and the chemistry to make your line really hum.
 MAKE SURE THAT THOSE “TUNED IN” LINE COOKS that you ALREADY HAVE on your STAFF are INVOLVED in the HIRING PROCESS.
Building a team must be a bottom up process. Can and will this person meld with your team of cooks rather than just fill a time slot. Creating that “hyberbrain” starts with everyone’s comfort level with each other.
 GIVE THEM the TOOLS that will ALLOW the MAGIC to OCCUR.
The musician will need the right instrument, amplifier, special effects, and maybe environmental appointments such as lighting, certain colors, etc. – the line cooks needs the right pans, enough BTU’s from the range and char-broiler, lots of side towels, refrigeration that works well, floor mats to take away some of the stress on feet and backs, and the right ingredients to make the environment for “zone work”.
 MAKE SURE THE SUPPORT STAFF IS ON THE SAME PAGE.
Manage day time prep to ensure that enough, quality mise en place is ready for the line. Train your dishwashers to clean pans, plates, and utensils properly, respond to a cooks call for more pans and plates quickly and place everything exactly where they want it (prep crews and dishwashers are the roadie crew for line cooks), and take the time to establish the protocol for service staff calling in orders, making changes, asking for re-fires, and picking up plates from the pass. The line cooks who are in the zone can only listen to and respond to one person: the expeditor. Remember, that section of the brain that responds to multiple questions is turned off when cooks are hyperlinked.
 FINALLY, HYPERLINKED MUSICIANS NEED AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE CREATIVE IF THE MAGIC IS TO SURVIVE.
Give your line cooks the opportunity to be involved in planning the menu (the music), try some of their own ideas, be the lead player on nightly features, and add their signature to the repertoire of the house.
Read the Article: “Guitarists Can Sync Their Brains with Other Players, Forming a Giant Hyperbrain.”
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC