On Food (and my 50by50 challenge) | January 11, 2019

I’ve always been somebody who has favoured experiences over objects. The buzz you get from buying a nice watch or a fancy pair of shoes fades pretty quickly, even if the utility remains. However the memories you form from that city break to New York or that diving holiday in the Maldives last a lifetime, or at least until you memory starts to fail. Research into the field of hedonic psychology backs this up. There’s a general belief that you get more bang for your hedonic buck when buying experiences over material positions—just one of the many things our Millennial friends have got sussed.

For me, one of the best ways of capturing a strong memory is having a great meal at a top-notch restaurant with a small group of friends. There’s something amazing about the art of hospitality—of making people feel warm, welcome and comfortable. From a UX perspective, I find so many parallels in the art of hosting and the art of creating digital experiences; the sense of occasion, the focus on small details, the dedication to craft.

Of course, these meals can be pricey, so I realise what a fortunate position I find myself in. That being said, I’m often surprised nice restaurants don’t charge more; especially in comparison to some of the expensive, but un-noteworthy meals I’ve had in the past. In my experience a top end restaurant serving an eight or twelve course tasking menu will cost about twice as much as my favourite local bistro offering a starter, a main course and a desert. So for the cost of two nice but largely unmemorable meals, you get to have a three to five hour gastronomic experience that will stay with you forever. Good value hey?

Over a post conference dinner with a couple of friends last year, we bonded over our mutual love of food. Whenever we found ourselves in a new city, we’d try and hunt down an interesting restaurant to dine at, and one of the easiest ways to do this was by picking a restaurant with a Michelin Star. Now there’s a lot to be said about the Michelin star system, both for and against. Not every good restaurant has a star, and I’ve been to several “starred” restaurants which over promised and under-delivered. However if you don’t know the culinary scene in a particular city, it’s generally a safe bet.

A few years earlier I’d discovered another restaurant rating list called The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants. Rather than restaurants being reviewed by professional reviewers with a strict set of criteria, this list was compiled by industry experts; chefs, restauranteurs, food writers and critics. I’d eaten at a couple of the restaurants on this list already, and had been super impressed. I told my friends about this crazy idea I had of trying to eat at 50 of the best restaurants in the world by the age of 50. Much to my surprise and delight, they thought this was a great idea, so we’ve ended up egging each other on to undertake this task.

Over the past 12 months I’ve eaten at 7 restaurants on the top 50 list; The Clove Club, Restaurant Tim Raue, Odette, Attica, Alinea, Le Bernardin and Eleven Madison Park. The year before I’d also eaten at The Ledbury, Septime and Lyle’s, brining MY grand total to 10. I’ve two more restaurants booked for early next year, and have a couple more I’m lining up once reservations open.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this undertaking so far, it’s it’s ability to bring folks together around food. Normally when I travel to cities for work, I’ll reach out to groups of people I know in that city to arrange brunch, dinner or drinks. However if you live in a city like New York, you’re always getting folks passing through, so it can be difficult making enough time. Especially if you have life to get on with. If, on the other hand, you’re into food and somebody says that they’ve just secured a hard to get table at a restaurant you’ve been anting to try for years, people find a way to make that happen.

I generally book a table for 4-6 people, put the word out, and see who fancies joining me. As a result the dinners are usually a mix of super interesting folks, some of whom know each other already, and some of whom don’t but really should. As such, it’s fun playing matchmaker, and seeing new friendships form.

While many of the restaurants are in easy to reach cities like London, Paris and Barcelona, a few are in more exotic or off-beat (for me anyway) locations like Shanghai, Mexico City and Lima. So another big draw is having an excuse to go and visit these places. There are also a few places like Moderna in Italy or San Sebastian in Spain which I hadn’t considered visiting before, but now I am.

As the lists changes each year, I’m not going to be able to eat at every restaurant on the list in my 50th year. However by the age of 50 I hope to have eaten at 50 amazing restaurants that were on the list the year in ate in them. Oh, and if you were interested, I’ve 4 years left to accomplish this task, so it’s doable, albeit tricky.

That’s where I need your help dear readers. If you’re a friend, happen to live in one of these cities and would like an excuse to have a nice meal, drop me a line and let’s get our dates synced up. If I don’t know you, but you’d like to take me out for a meal at one of the restaurants on this list in return for some free mentoring or advice, consider me interested; and if you’re a conference organiser arranging an event in one of these cities, we should definitely chat.

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On Travel | January 2, 2019

I grew up in a pretty standard working class family. My father was a glazier while my mother looked after me and my two brothers. We lived in a nice, 3 bedroom council house, on a friendly estate. My parents worked hard to give me access to things they didn’t have as children. That meant a home full of books, weekend trips to museums, and regular holidays.

Summers were spent in the U.K. Mostly in the West Country, but occasionally we’d venture further afield; to Wales, The Lake District, and the Yorkshire Dales. I relished our family trips and felt super lucky, as few of my Friends had seen as much of the country as me.

I had one friend who’d been on holiday outside the UK. He’d had a two week trip to California and I loved hearing his stories from the land of CHiPs and Beverly Hills Cop. The huge meals, the gigantic freeways; it all sounded so exotic. However his dad had an office job and they owned their own house, so overseas travel clearly wasn’t on the horizon for me. Yet one can dream, and dream I did.

Being a child in the 80s, I grew up on a diet of James Bond and Indiana Jones. Watching these heroic figures hop from exotic country to exotic country with seeming ease. I dreamed that one day I’d be able to visit places like Hong Kong or Shanghai, but how was a kid from a council estate going to make that happen? I reasoned that the only way somebody like me would get to travel was if I ferried other people there, so I set out to become an airline pilot.

I went to Manchester University to Study Aeronautical Engineering but quickly realised that being a pilot wasn’t for me. At the time, the majority of airline pilots were ex RAF, and doing 20 years military service didn’t really appeal. British Airways took on a small number of graduate trainees, but competition was stiff, and they seemed to favour applicants from specific backgrounds. The only other option was to pay your way through training, and that wouldn’t have been possible for somebody from my background.

Fortunately I was starting to go off the idea anyway. There’s an old adage that being an airline pilot was ninety nine percent bordom, punctuated by one percent sheer terror. I also had a friend whose dad was an airline pilot and she talked openly about his drinking problems and tendency to have affairs with the cabin crew—something of an occupational hazard I later found out. Neither of these things sounded like a lot of fun.

Around the same time I met a couple of people who’d been on a gap year before University. Being one of only a handful of kids at my schools to go on to University, I hadn’t realised this was something you could even do. Hearing their stories about trips along the Mekong River and full moon parties in Thailand sparked my sense of adventure. So once University was over, I saved up some money doing low paid jobs, and went off travelling.

Looking back it’s amazing how much your environment and the people around you fix your perception of what’s possible.

That first 6-months travelling around South East Asia really opened my eyes to the wonders of the world, and the possibilities that existed. I loved experiencing different cultures and seeing how others lived. I also met people from a variety of backgrounds, opening my eyes to a range of career options I never thought possible. I was hooked.

6 months turned into a year, then two, then three. I learnt to dive in the Indian Andaman Islands, did my Dive Master on Koh Tao, and became a Dive Instructor in Phuket. I led dive expeditions on the remote islands of Indonesia, ran a dive school on Koh Phi Phi, and did a stint as a dive guide on the Great Barrier Reef. This helped fill my coffers, working the high seasons and then using the money to travel the rest of the year. It was on one such trip to Singapore that I discovered Web Design was a thing.

Arriving at the hostel late one evening, there were only two other people still awake. A British guy and a French dude in lycra who I later learned had just cycled to Singapore from Paris. We got chatting over beer and the British guy said that he was a Web Designer. At the time I didn’t know you could actually create web pages, let alone make a living from it. The British guy explained that it was super easy. All you needed to do was learn this thing called HTML and you could make tonnes of money in London. This was in the hight of the first dot on bubble, allowing my newfound friend to work for 6-months and travel the rest.

As somebody who’d always had an affinity for computers—I was the first person in my school with a ZX81 and would regularly spend my lunchtimes playing snake on the BBC
micro while everybody else played footie outside. So I set about learning web design from sites like Ask Dr Web, using cracked copies of Dreamweaver and Photoshop from coverdisks of tech magazines. The rest, you could say, is history.

Somehow I’ve managed to build a career that involves a fair amount of travel. Last year I visited Singapore, Wellington, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Chicago, Berlin, Amsterdam, Norway, Stockholm and New York for work. I’ve also visited Rome, LA, Palm Springs, Vegas, and The Maldives for pleasure. All in all I’ve had a spectacular year or travel!

This year is also shaping up to be a fun year. I have work trips to Copenhagen, Seattle, Seoul and Japan arranged for the spring. I have a couple of potential speaking engagements in India and South Africa which I’m waiting to confirm, and am tentatively planning a holiday to Ibiza, a road tip in the US, and a long weekend in Marrakesh in the second half of the year.

While I’m not a millennial, I think I have millennial sensibilities—possibly a product of growing up on the Web. For instance I’ve never been a huge fan of acquiring stuff. My movies are through Netflix, my music through Spotify and my transport (when not walking or using public transport) is through City Car Club. As such, the bulk of my disposable income is spent on renting services and buying memories, be they food, travel or live entertainment. So yes, I’m somebody who would rather have a nice brunch of avocado on toast on the weekend, then save up for a 65 inch OLED flat panel TV or statement car (I should add that this isn’t to dismiss anybody who does want to spend their money on physical possessions, it’s just not how I’m wired).

I feel incredibly privileged by all the travel I’m able to do, and can’t imagine what 12 year old me would think of the life I’ve somehow made for myself. However I’d like to think it’s everything he dreamed it would be, and more.

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