I love the Food Network – I’m not a great cook, but I love cooking and I really enjoy cooking shows. We know there’s many aspects in the food industry and Restaurant Operations where Kaizen is important. My secret desire is to one day own a restaurant. Oh well.
One of my favorite shows is the Iron Chef. The show has a lot to teach us in terms of how to manage people, resources such as ingredients, but has also many principles of Lean Thinking at work, such as Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED).
The Iron Chef Challenge
In the Iron Chef, an incumbent chef goes against an Iron Chef, of which there are 6 1. They are given 60 minutes to cook 5 meals around a secret ingredient; that secret ingredient is unveiled at the beginning of the show.
So now America, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of my uncle: allez cuisine! – Chairman of Kitchen Stadium
When the 60 minutes are over, each chef will present their creations to 3 judges and they will be judged based on creativity, taste, and presentation 2.
Lean Thinking and the Iron Chef
With only 60 minutes to cook 5 meals using the secret ingredient, one has to wonder how they do it. I don’t know for sure, but here are some principles of Lean Thinking that I see at play.
Single Minute Exchange of Die is a concept in Lean Thinking developed to reduce the waste of waiting. Specifically, SMED is a approach to reduce set-up times or changeover times, but also rework, motion, and defects. It’s creator, Shigeo Shingo, developed SMED to reduce setup times related to paint coating for automobiles.
The general steps for SMED are the following:
- OBSERVE the current process
- Separate the INTERNAL and EXTERNAL activities. Internal activities are those that can only be performed when the process is stopped, while External activities can be done while the last batch is being produced, or once the next batch has started. In the Iron Chef, for example, water can be boiling while another step is being completed; or, some of the plating can be completed while other parts of the meal are still in the cooking phase.
- Convert (where possible) Internal activities into External ones. Pre-heating of pans or pre-heating the oven is a good example of this. Another example is to pre-build meal items into kits – otherwise known as “kitting”. For example, if a secret ingredient is Bacon, then perhaps the “bacon theme” can be pre-kit with eggs, or something creative worthy of the Iron Chef.
- Streamline the remaining internal activities, by simplifying them. Focus on Plating – according to Shigeo Shingo, only the last turn of a bolt that tightens it – the rest is just movement. So, focus should be on plating – going backwards, we get cooking, then preparation time. If we spend more time in cooking and plating and reduce preparation time, then the 60 minutes will be adequate time for the Iron Chef or any upcoming challenger.
There, of course, is more to SMED than the little I share here. I don’t discuss the step of standardization and iteration, but I invite you to discover on your own.
Oh – I forgot. Eliminate adjustments. This is related to step #4. Adjustments take time and are typically wasted motion.
It’s Your Turn, Lean Thinker
What principles of Lean do you see at play in the Iron Chef. Any thoughts on Layout, Visual Management? Others? What about the use of a Checklist? Standard Work? Any Andon Cords at work in the Iron Chef? Batch size or single piece flow in cooking? What about flow? Pull? Is there Push manufacturing going on here? What about sustainability and Lean and the Iron Chef? Any principles of Lean and Green going on?
What are your ideas?
- Cat Cora, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Masaharu Morimoto, Jose Garces ↩
- Based upon the Japanese cult sensation, Iron Chef America carries on the legend of Kitchen Stadium and the famed “secret ingredient.” Each week, world-class chefs battle the legendary Iron Chefs of America: Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Masaharu Morimoto, Cat Cora and Michael Symon. Alton Brown serves as Commentator and Mark Dacascos is Chairman. ↩