Wisdom Fed by Two Celebrity Chefs

August 2022

One of my favorite bits of advice came from, of all places, a Food Network star. On a Comic-Con panel of celebrity chefs, Adam Gertler was asked about the creative process and said: “If you nail it the first time, where is the journey?”

That quote stuck with me weeks after I attended the world’s largest pop culture convention in my hometown of San Diego. I was unaware of Gertler and therefore didn’t recognize the actor for his turn on The Next Food Network Star and his starring role in subsequent Food Network shows. But I appreciated his recognition that the creative process is messier than most realize.

If every assignment a content marketer receives is easy, then there’s no growth. Even if it’s a routine deliverable done many times before, there should always be room for innovation.


Often the best ideas are generated when given a little mental space and a big deadline. If you mail it in, those moments won’t arrive. That means creatives must allow enough time for a concept to gestate and anticipate a painful push to the end. They also must expect miraculous saves and prepare to make mistakes. All of the celebrity chefs on that Comic-Con panel bombed at least once before discovering the right recipe. And their TV work requires numerous takes because no one sticks the landing the first time, every time. It’s the content producers who deal with the messes, so audiences see only the polished product.

One of my favorite television programs remains (years after it ended) PBS’s A Chef’s Life, which chronicles Vivian Howard’s journey to bring a high-end restaurant experience—using locally produced ingredients—to rural North Carolina. Anyone who’s been to Lenoir County (myself included) knows what a challenge that is. In the first season, the restaurant almost burns to the ground. Howard later admitted she thought the series would end before it ever aired. But instead, A Chef’s Life continued for another four seasons, showing Howard’s culinary failures as well as more frequent successes. That’s the kind of journey Gertler referred to in his Comic-Con comment.

Howard went on to win major awards for her show and her memoir cookbook, Deep Run Roots, which mimics her shows format of spotlighting a key ingredient in each section. In her second cookbook, This Will Make It Taste Good, she talks of writing an entirely different book to fulfill a publishing contract. But she found the draft boring and rewrote the entire manuscript around 12 flavor enhancers a home cook can easily create to elevate ordinary dishes.

That level of transparency has worked well for Howard, who not only revitalized the farming community where she grew up but has since opened both fine and fast dining establishments throughout the Southeast. And starred in another PBS food show. A big part of her appeal has come from fans who followed her messy creative process.

Like Gertler, she’s shown that nothing ever goes as expected, and resiliency is key to recovering from a misstep. That’s the real story—the real inspiration—from this woman’s content. And that reminds me of another tidbit from Gertler that creatives should daily put into practice: “Simple should not be synonymous with easy.”

Thank you for reading this,