The Intersection of Art and Science: How a Lean Chef Thinks

by Stephanie Bursek, SPHR

A Unique Benefit

TrippNT Inc., a lean company that organizes and mobilizes lab and hospital equipment, has a benefit that most companies do not: a chef. Our company started out in the Tripp’s home in 1993, where each product was built in the basement and lunch was served at the dining room table. This benefit has been a delight to employees ever since. 

I recently sat down with Corporate Chef Andrew Hovey to better understand how he delivers high quality, delicious meals on a modest budget with very little waste. I wanted to understand what inspires him creatively and how learning lean has impacted his kitchen.

Early Inspirations

Andrew’s love of fine food took root in middle school. Andrew enjoyed the show Iron Chef (the original Japanese version) and read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Andrew, who is more than a little mischievous, fully embraced the roguish chef identity.

Additionally during this period, Andrew traveled to Europe twice.  Once to Ireland with his mother where he recalls an Irish breakfast punctuated with thick-sliced bacon and rich, yellow butter. Andrew’s second European adventure was a tour with other students tasting his way through London, Paris and Dublin.

Fast forward to college and we find Andrew in Missouri on a baseball scholarship at Maplewoods Community College. He eventually transferred to Johnson County Community College and focused on culinary arts while working full-time and getting valuable on-the-job experience. 

Art or Science

When I asked Andrew said that cooking is 75% art and 25% science. He explained that, like artists, chefs are encouraged to produce a lot of food so that they get comfortable with the process, rather than being overfocused and detailed on just a few dishes.

Despite science being only 25% of what Andrew does, he is celebrated at work for his precision and has never delivered lunch late. And though definitely our menu focuses on comfort foods, those comfort foods come from a variety of cultures. A few of our international favorites: Pozole, Tandoori Chicken and fresh-baked Pita with Hummus.  When interspersed with favorites like Biscuits and Gravy and the classic Cheeseburger, the menu is both accessible and palette expanding at the same time.

Lean Kitchen

Andrew started at TrippNT in April of 2020 when TrippNT was about two years into its Lean journey.  TrippNT initially gained Lean knowledge through Paul Aker’s book 2 Second Lean.  As a result, TrippNT affords EVERY employee 15 minutes EVERY day to “fix what bugs them” to identify the waste in their own processes and make an improvement.

I asked Andrew how this has impacted his kitchen and his approach. Andrew says that there are two major changes:

  • There is a place for everything and everything in its place. Tools and ingredients are placed strategically to minimize wasted motion and maximize efficiency. Andrew utilizes TrippNT carts to mobilize some of his supplies as well.
  • The waste of excess inventory has been dramatically reduced in TrippNT’s cafe as well.  E.G. Genius strategies where too many pickles are turned into a delicious relish. Or dramatically different uses for the same foods (tortillas for a Caesar Chicken Wrap transition seamlessly to Beef Quesadillas later that week). Highly coveted leftovers then go home with some lucky employees in the evening.

Despite the two major improvements identified above, Andrew’s favorite improvement is a nod to his previously described mischievous tendencies.  After frustration with personal items being left behind in the cafe, Andrew solved it by creating a lost and found. Humor made this video a TrippNT classic. (Please do check out our TrippNT Lean Improvements Channel - we have over 2,800 improvements to share.)

Signature Dish

Andrew does not claim a signature dish, but rather a signature technique: braising pork.  Incorporating his lean approach to inventory, Andrew’s delicious braised pork can be imagined into Mojo Carnitas, TrippNT Bo Ssam or a BBQ Pulled Pork  dish all in the same week.

What’s Next

Andrew and I discussed his chef influences and one we discussed in particular made him light up: Jose Andres. He spoke specifically about World Central Kitchen, whose lofty mission is To Change the World Through the Power of Food. 

Andrew aspires to use his intellect and creativity outside of the kitchen for TrippNT and has already made contributions to TrippNT’s marketing team. With influences like Andres, I have no doubt that Andrew will achieve his aspirations. Meanwhile he is changing TrippNT through the power of food. Lookout world!

Talent Unleashed by Lean
By Stephanie Bursek, SPHR