Lessons From Lettuce

By Rachel Layton (VP Marketing & Growth):

My latest adventure has been joining the incredible team at Taziki’s. If you don’t have a location near you, there’s a chance you’re on our growth list (hopefully).

As a customer, I had visited these locations many times for their fast service and healthy food items. As a new employee, I began my training at the store level, in the kitchen, with two different teams in Nashville at Taziki’s Green Hills & Taziki’s Gulch. José (local owner pictured below) and his sweet team became my family.

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Let me preface this by saying, I grew up in hospitality. It’s not like I had no knowledge of the inner workings of a restaurant, chefs have been my best friends for over four years now but I hadn’t used my body and hands in hospitality or a restaurant kitchen for a long time (about 6 years).

If you haven’t been in hospitality before, let me take a minute to brag on the people who prepare your food. A restaurant kitchen starts sometimes as early as 4 am, (depending on the restaurant and catering schedule) prepping items for the daily menu. Many different positions must show up in order to make this run smoothly and any one of them can cause a glitch by under performing. It’s intense, it’s physical, and an environment full of pressure but the creativity is normally oozing out of there because innovation comes from improvising. A bustling kitchen is always the perfect place for problem-solving. To put it plainly, the level of teamwork required is unmatched in any other industry/environment besides the military. Needless to say, I was hooked on the movement and thrill long ago.

As I walked into this kitchen which ran as a well-oiled machine, I felt intimidated — mostly because the thought of being in the way or not useful completely shattered my psyche. I know just enough to know that being in the way is the same as messing up a recipe. It’s not good. Anyway, I digress.

The first step is prep. Seems simple but it’s actually very intricate. One of the main menu fixtures on the Taziki’s menu are these beautiful, fresh salads. I got assigned to prepping the lettuce that makes up these bountiful wonders and I learned a few things about life in the process.

Chef Cesar, my trainer for the day walked me through the process from full vegetable to sliced salad, and there were many steps. After the lettuce is cut to perfection (intentionally sized so it’s easier to eat), it’s put into a produce wash bath where it soaks. While it sat in the bath, Cesar was careful as he explained to me how to properly treat lettuce — and there is etiquette for this type of thing.

  • Be graceful: Lettuce, though sturdy and versatile, is also fragile and delicate so it’s not meant to be shoved down into the water. Too much force will brown the beautiful lettuce and it won’t be fit to serve.

  • Have a system: Post-bath, all the lettuce is spun (in a 50 gallon salad spinner with a crank) to remove the water. Always remove the lettuce from the same corner of the bath container every time, so you can ensure you’ve got plenty of water for every handful to remove dirt as it spins. Too little water will keep the lettuce from getting totally clean.

  • Don’t rush: Spinning the lettuce happens in two steps for a reason. The first set of spins removes the excess water normally containing little dirt particles from nature. You take the lid off the spinner, remove the salad strainer and dump the tub of water. Then, you put the salad strainer back in and spin again. The second time is to ensure the salad is totally dry before it hits the line (and your salad plate). Too much excess water will cause the salad to wilt into a tasteless, soggy mess. SAD!

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Here’s me and my friend, Chef Cesar on my last day of training in his store. I found the lessons he taught me about lettuce to be a good reminder in general for life and leadership.

Grace is a powerful tool. It makes an impact — whether you’re displaying simple elegance while handling lettuce, or honoring a person for their talents and heart though they’ve made a big (or little) mistake. It’s great for perspective and good leaders always search for context.

Systems are the reason we achieve success. Though they normally seem mundane, they protect us from mistakes when we’re being too casual and susceptible to distraction. People achieve excellence when it comes from strong, relevant systems — never winging it.

Being present and in the moment takes a level of consciousness that breeds intention. Being rushed doesn’t honor time for what it really is — defined, it’s continued progress of existence (past, present, and future) regarded as a whole. Leaders establish cadence and set the pace for those looking to them for a help. Intentional, conscious leaders build teams that achieve wins together and enjoy their journey together.

I’m grateful for food and how it nourishes bodies, along with minds. Today, I’m especially thankful for lessons from lettuce. Thanks for reading.

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I appreciate you.