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Posts tagged: Amy Cuddy

Don’t Upset The Chef

The Perils of being ‘nice’.

According to Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, when it comes to judging someone we do so on two main factors: warmth and competence. Warmth – whether they are friendly and well-intentioned, and competent – whether they have the ability to deliver on those intentions. She says: “We admire and help people who are both warm and competent and feel and act contemptuously towards the cold and incompetent.”

Yet by being ‘warm’ to one of the queens of pop-up hospitality the other day only incited rage and barking. By trying to diffuse the situation with more warmth, I was perceived as more incompetent- to the point of an airhead, and might well have done better if I had behaved cooler.

My friend is desperate to introduce me to the pioneer of the pop-up restaurant, the woman he’ll be working with at festivals and possibly in her kitchen while he stays with her. He has one of her business cards to show me when we meet off the train. I’m excited. We arrive at a gorgeous house with flowers blooming over the entrance; a handmade ceramic number is pinned to the door frame. Cute. Inside: beautiful wooden floors, a large open dining room half-prepped for guests and French windows that lead onto a lush garden with a small white summer house at the end of it – for private parties.

But the woman in question is on the phone. So we loiter in the corridor and read numerous testimonials taped to the wall. Half an hour later, we pop our heads around the kitchen door.

“I’ve got to go.” I hear her say. “There is a stranger in my kitchen.” She means me.

“This is my friend; I wanted you guys to meet each other,” my friend says.

A short, harassed-looking woman storms through the kitchen giving me more than just the once over. “Hi,” we say in unison.

“I love your house.” I chirp, “It’s so gorgeous. And you do a pop-up restaurant here?” My enthusiasm is genuine, but she doesn’t like it.

“Listen,” she looks like she’s ready to charge at me. “Do you really think I’m going to talk about- A,” she lifts a tiny finger to the ceiling, “my ‘fabulous’ pop-up restaurant. Or B how I make the fabulous effing food for it?” as a celebrity might bark down questions on their sex-life. “So don’t ask me about that.” But I’m not here to interview her. She turns to an open cook book on the sideboard. Silence falls.

“I’d love to have a place like this one day.” I’m now afraid. Maybe she could ask us a question?

“I’m making mustard,” she huffs. Should I respond to this? I could ask her what type? Why? How long it takes?  “Do you make all your own sauces?” I say nicely, searching for my bag.

“You know what; I’ve answered these questions to death. I,”  - she waves her soiled spoon in the air – “have been interviewed by everyone and I,” – she sticks it into the magi mix – “write a blog! Read the effing blog that I spend hours on if you want to know about my restaurant! Read the fucking interviews if you’ve got any questions!” She’s not joking. She’s not even playing the role of ‘drama chef’ but something similar to a bride yelling abuse in her wedding dress. She’s a host-zilla.

And the warmer I am to her the more horrid she gets.

When researching the idea of warmth and competence, the psychologist Nicolas Kervyn performed a study on two groups of people, one ‘warm’ and one ‘cold’ and his findings showed that people regarded the colder group as more competent. The upshot: “Your gain on one [trait] can be your loss on the other.” As if people who are actively warm to others must be concealing what they lack. Maybe that is true. I conceal my nervousness by asking questions that she doesn’t want to hear.

“Do you know the book Like Water for Chocolate?” I ask.

“Think I watched the film.” She says.

“When the girl cooks, all her emotions pour into the food, and the people that eat it go wild.”

“So, I should make my mustard with less bitterness?”

“Well, it is mustard, so maybe it’s OK.” She sort of laughs so I turn to leave before I say something ‘nice’ again.

“Well, you should come to my restaurant if you want to know more!”

Judgements and prejudices are far more complex and subtle than the ‘warm/competent’ theory. And I only disliked her so much because she hated me, not because she was ‘cold’ and certainly not incompetent. She later referred to me as ’posh’ and a ‘bimbo’, without knowing anything about me, so I guess that ties in class and hair-colour. I was an unexpected guest in her kitchen when she was tired. But why go to so much effort creating a brand of cute, retro chic – down to the font on the business cards – when you’re a nasty, barrel shaped woman who wields mustardy spoons at people. Maybe by plugging this warm, welcoming image since the scene started, has made her repel her own branding – and those that liked it.