When you’re discussing what you’re making, it’s tempting to try to seem perfect all the time. But revealing your flaws can be just as compelling. Imperfections are real — and people respond to real.
In “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch,” Michael Pollan discusses what made Julia Child so popular and brings up the famous show where she drops a potato pancake.
When I asked my mother recently what exactly endeared Julia Child to her, she explained that “for so many of us she took the fear out of cooking” and, to illustrate the point, brought up the famous potato show…This was a classic live-television moment, inconceivable on any modern cooking show: Martha Stewart would sooner commit seppuku than let such an outtake ever see the light of day.
The episode has Julia making a plate-size potato pancake, sautéing a big disc of mashed potato into which she has folded impressive quantities of cream and butter. Then the fateful moment arrives:
“When you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your convictions,” she declares, clearly a tad nervous at the prospect, and then gives the big pancake a flip. On the way down, half of it catches the lip of the pan and splats onto the stovetop. Undaunted, Julia scoops the thing up and roughly patches the pancake back together, explaining: “When I flipped it, I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have. You can always pick it up.” And then, looking right through the camera as if taking us into her confidence, she utters the line that did so much to lift the fear of failure from my mother and her contemporaries: “If you’re alone in the kitchen, WHOOOO” — the pronoun is sung — “is going to see?” For a generation of women eager to transcend their mothers’ recipe box (and perhaps, too, their mothers’ social standing), Julia’s little kitchen catastrophe was a liberation and a lesson: “The only way you learn to flip things is just to flip them!”
Great story. Most people today would edit this out. Yet it’s exactly the thing that endeared Child to so many. A Washington Post reporter commented:
It wasn’t that she could do no wrong; rather, she made doing wrong so right. The more she faltered — dropping the entire side of lamb on the floor, failing to make a dent carving the suckling pig, unmolding the mousse with a splat — the more viewers loved and trusted her.
The lesson for anyone trying to pick up fans/customers: Don’t be afraid to reveal those little mistakes everyone faces.
This is especially true if you’re a little guy. Being open and honest about stuff like this is something you can get away with. It’s an area that bigger competitors (with their PR teams and slew of filters) can’t match you on.
What you lose in the professionalism column, you’ll make up in the interestingness and intimacy columns.
Above: Can’t find the potato incident online but here’s a clip of Child preparing omelets.