A perfect pairing comes together.
By Ari Weinzweig
In Secret #39, in Part 3, Managing Ourselves, I wrote a whole essay about creativity. It was a subject that, oddly, in all our many years in business, I’d given little thought to until, suddenly, during the economic collapse of 2009 and ’10, we started getting a bunch of requests for me to do a keynote talk on the subject. The curious thing is that, in all my years here, I’d never once taught anything about creativity. In truth, I was stumped. I felt like fleeing, but instead, I started studying. My creative inquiry into creativity eventually evolved into the 53-page essay, “Creating Creativity” which was published as Secret #39!
The three kinds of creativity.
One of my big learnings in my study of the subject was that creativity is mostly about connections. Not necessarily who you know, but about putting things together in ways that they haven’t otherwise been combined. In my love for simple models that help me—and maybe you—get my mind around complex concepts without dishonoring the natural complexity of the world around us, I started to look at three kinds of creativity:
- “Creativity Forward” – The easiest example to share might be high-tech innovation. Back in 1982, Open Book Management would have an example as well.
- “Creativity Back” – We do a lot of this here in the ZCoB. It would include finding old, unused, or under-used ideas and putting them back to work. The Bakehouse’s fresh milling and the Creamery’s handmade Cream Cheese are two easy examples.
- “Creativity Sideways” – Here’s what I wrote about it in the essay:
[Creativity sideways] generally seems to come in two forms. Often, it’s merely finding something that’s commonplace within its own culture but, when introduced into unfamiliar territory, is transformed into an attention-getting, creative act. … We do a lot of this sideways creative work at Zingerman’s. … The Hungarian foods we’re working on at the Bakehouse would certainly fit.
The other sort of sideways shift of creativity comes when two already well-accepted ideas or ways of working are put together in a totally new way, resulting in an innovative approach or product. … The classic historical example is of Gutenberg using wine press technology to print books … using Emma Goldman’s ideas to help run a progressive 21st-century business.
Creativity and the origin of our Fried Chicken Mac & Cheese
It’s this last kind of creativity that I’m thinking about here. The story goes back about 15 years now. In one of those unintended moments of connection, I was standing by the buffet table at ZingTrain after folks had happily consumed a lunch catered by the Roadhouse. I can’t recall which seminar I was teaching that day, but I do remember that down near the far end of the table were two of those big foil pans used to hold hot food. One had held a whole bunch of the Roadhouse’s really well-known Mac & Cheese (made with the marvelous Mancini maccheroni and that Vermont Cabot cheddar-based bechamel sauce). By the time I got there, the pan was pretty much empty—only a few lonely noodles and a little cheese were left around the edges. The other pan, to its left, had held fried chicken. That was pretty much gone, too. All that was left were a bunch of those itty-bitty little crumbs of crust that fall off when the actual pieces of chicken have been consumed. Looking down at the almost-empty pans, I suddenly had this thought that the two—Mac & Cheese and fried chicken bits—would be a beautiful thing if you put them together. I tried a few bites right then and there by putting together the small bit of each that was left. It was terrific. It went on as a special the next day and we sold 20 orders in two hours. It hasn’t come off the menu since.
Why our Fried Chicken Mac & Cheese is so good!
If you’ve never had Fried Chicken Mac & Cheese, let’s just say it’s pretty marvelous. Little bits of fried chicken cooked into, and sprinkled on top of, a plate of creamy Roadhouse Mac & Cheese. The pepperiness of the fried chicken bits—we use that wonderful, small-farm Tellicherry black pepper we get through Épices de Cru—serves as the counterpoint to the creamy Mac & Cheese. And it all melds marvelously with the moist bits of fried chicken. (I like the dish for breakfast, topped with an over-easy egg!) Fried Chicken Mac & Cheese may not be as monumental a connection as the printing press, but I have a feeling this one is here to stay!
The Fried Chicken Mac & Cheese was the long-time favorite (always with a side of hot sauce) of Roadhouse server Danny Patterson. Danny moved away at the start of the pandemic and sadly, passed away earlier this year. His loss is felt by many. I’ve chosen to remember him by his big smile, his laughter, and his joy every time a serving of this super tasty dish went out into the dining room!