Friday, August 31, 2007

Ratatouille: Motivational Wisdom from a Chef Rat?

Bonjour Mon Amies,

This is your friendly neighbor Sharif writing to you from Paris about a motivational Master Chef rat. Yup, it’s true. A motivational talking rat who happens to cook. What’s the world coming to! The Simpsons, Harry Potter, and Transformers are taking the summer movie box-office by storm followed closely by Remy the Rat – and they’re all wearing bad hairspray.

Of course, I’m not really in Paris; I was at the Scotia Bank Theatre in Toronto where I just finished watching Disney’s feature-length animation film, Ratatouille. It’s a fun and riotously funny family movie and I highly recommend it! The movie takes place in Paris and is about a rat named Remy who dreams of becoming a gourmet chef one day.

Only problem is he’s a rat! Go figure. Remy has a highly developed sense of smell and a keen appreciation for food. He yearns for a better life and desires to raise himself out of a meager existence of living in sewers and scrambling for crumbs and rotten cheese.

Ahh, but it’s not to be, mon ami. You see, he eees after all a rat! And responsible rats have to look after themselves. So Remy’s Dad puts his talent to use by making him the Chief Sniffer. Remy’s sole job is to sniff all the rotten food and human leftovers day in and day out to make sure there’s no rat poison in the food for his Dad’s rat colony.

Yuk! Talk about one stinking job! I’m treading on dangerous ground here, but can’t we all relate to this story on some level? I mean, sometimes we just fall into doing work that’s less than desirous and not even close to what we’re really, really passionate about in our hearts.

Sometimes we just settle for far less than the best we deserve in order to ‘make a living’ or meet other people’s expectations of us. Pretty soon we fall into a rut – a routine – and get cozy. Welcome to the Rat Race! The never-ending treadmill of constant busyness. A dream stealer disguised as a golden ladder to nowhere.

Ratatouille is a story about one rat’s dilemma to either play it safe by sticking to his normal rat routine and winning the approval of his friends and family or enter the forbidden human world and risk everything in pursuit of his dream to become a gourmet chef in the most prestigious restaurant in Paris.

We can all learn from Remy’s adventures and wisdom. I certainly did, and I’d like to share with you some insights I took away from the movie:


After being chased away by a gun-totting human and being tossed and turned in a raging river, Remy gets separated from his friends and family and ends up shivering, stranded and feeling utterly lost in a dark, cold gutter. This is what mythologist Joseph Campbell would call ‘the approach to the inner most cave.’

Remy spends days in this gloomy dungeon paralyzed by fear and never venturing out. In this moment of darkness and delirium, a mentor figure appears in his imagination – the late Auguste Gusteau, France’s culinary genius.

Gusteau gently encourages Remy to look up and venture out! And so, with some trepidation, Remy climbs up the drainage pipes and enters a brave new world. He is shocked to see the magnificent city of Paris unfold before him with its shimmering lights and the Eiffel Tower beckoning him forward.

All these years Remy has been scrounging around underground with his fellow rats while getting occasional peaks of his hero Chef Gusteau work his culinary magic on TV in glamorous Paris. Now, hungry and tired and being stranded for days in some dingy gutter, he realizes that he’s in the very heart of Paris – at the doorstep of Gusteau’s famous restaurant!

So what’s the application here?? I mean, it’s not like we’re living in some kind of rat hole! (Sorry Remy). Well, first of all, it’s important to realize that with each seed of failure and loss there’s an equivalent seed of new hope and opportunity. And second, when we get into a rat of a rut, it’s important to look up and venture out.

How do we do that as humans? One of the fastest and most memorable ways to ‘look up’ and develop a higher perspective is to once in a while upgrade some of our routine experiences: flying first class instead of economy, staying in a five star luxury hotel, joining a pricier, more exclusive business or fitness club, or attending a prestigious auction or art gallery.

Upgrading some of our experiences serves the multiple purpose of sending a message to our subconscious that we value ourselves while opening up higher learning and networking opportunities and developing friendships with people that can help us grow.

Of course, you don’t always have to shell out big money to accomplish this. You can offer to volunteer and help out at these types of establishments or events; you can join an online newsgroup at one of the higher brow establishments such as Washington Post, New York Times, or Harvard Business Review and participate or eavesdrop on some of the conversations; you can read a biography; or – if you can muster up the courage – you can ask to meet with someone you admire to learn how they became successful.

I used this last strategy once when I was working at a bookstore quite a few years back. Harry Rosen, world renowned men’s clothier, once walked into the store looking for a Kiri Te Kanawa opera video. Of course, as Murphy’s Law would predict, we didn’t have the video and he left the store promptly.

I then wrote a letter to him saying I tried various suppliers but could not find the video but really admired his success and was wondering if he could give me a tour of his head office and share with me how he became successful in his field.

A couple weeks later I got a reply letter back from his secretary to call and arrange for a time to meet with Mr. Rosen. I ended up meeting him at his penthouse office and getting a brief tour. He showed me his architectural design concept for a new store he was opening up in Chicago and we spent close to an hour chatting. (Actually, he was doing most of the chatting while I was listening and taking notes).

I later learned that there were a number of very important people wanting desperately to meet with him and that they’d be lucky if they even got fifteen minutes with Mr. Rosen.

One thing I never did get a chance to do is watch that Kiri Te Kanawa video…


When Anton Ego, France’s most notorious food critic who can make or break a restaurant with a single review, makes his appearance at Gusteau’s, Remy’s culinary talents are finally put to the test.

But instead of preparing a fancy delicacy worthy of Gusteau’s esteemed patrons, Remy chooses to make a homily Ratatouille (a vegetable stew made of eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers, and squash). It’s a common folk meal fit “for peasants” the assistant cook declares.

Remy ignores this slight and goes with his heart. It’s genuinely him and what he knows. He prepares an exquisitely rapturous, mouth-watering Ratatouille dish that just blows away the critic. As Ego takes his first bite, his cold exterior immediately melts in delight as he is brought back to sweet memories of his Mom’s home-cooking.

This was an emotional scene for me as well. In my case, it brought back sweet memories of my father’s home-cooking. My father passed away in a car accident eighteen years ago, and yet, I can still fondly remember savoring his Ratatouille. It was one of my father’s favorites and he used to brag all the time about knowing how to make this French specialty. My brothers and I used to laugh as kids at the funny sounding name and how my father would roll the word off his tongue with such relish.

Bottom line: be yourself and ignore the critics.


When Linguini (I don’t come up with these names), the supposed up-and-coming star boy chef at Gusteau’s, reveals that the real inspiration behind his cooking is Remy the Rat, the entire staff thinks he’s lost his mind and promptly leave the establishment.

Lesson: the best talent and ideas can come from anywhere and sometimes do come from the most unexpected places. Don’t pre-judge people. Just because someone’s a rat doesn’t mean they can’t cook!

Likewise, don’t be easily impressed by degrees, pedigrees, fancy titles, wealth, or so called experts. You have to carefully evaluate whether their talent or ideas will help move YOUR career or business forward. Sometimes that means seeking a second or third opinion.


When famed critic, Anton Ego, asks to personally speak with the head chef of Gusteau’s, he is told to wait.

Check your ego at the door and tell it to wait. Don’t let success get to your head. And give credit where credit is due.

When Linguini steals all the limelight and attributes Gusteau’s new found success all to himself and his love interest, it breeds sour resentment in Remy who eventually leaves Linguini to his own devices.

You decide what’s more important to you: your ego or your career. An effective leader always shares the limelight and generously gives credit, while a poor leader hogs up all the accolades creating resentment and unwanted enemies.

If you want to fast-track your success, go out of your way to catch people doing something right and give them the credit they crave so desperately and rightfully deserve!


When Anton Ego makes his grand appearance at Gusteau’s to put the final nail in the coffin, he literally asks for a new perspective. “Surprise me!” he demands asking for something new off-the-menu.

We don’t always have to go with the canned selection that’s offered us – whether it’s provided in a menu, business proposal, job offer, meeting agenda, or course curriculum. We can ask for a new perspective.

I suspect Ego was a management guru in his past life as this is great advice for managers as well. The next time you hold a meeting, ask for a new perspective. Or ask in advance of the meeting that each person come prepared to attend the meeting with at least one new idea or new way of doing things.

Ask them to surprise you. The results may indeed surprise you – and hopefully for the better! (For added emphasis or just for fun and humor, take your team out to see Ratatouille or play clips from the movie at your meeting once it comes out in DVD).

Speaking of management gurus, I’m thinking of co-authoring a follow-up to Dr. Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese.” I think I’ll call it: “Who Made My Ratatouille: Motivational Wisdom from Remy the Rat.” :)

To your success,

Sharif Khan
Freelance Writer, Copywriter, Speaker
Author of “Psychology of the Hero Soul”
An inspirational leadership book on awakening the hero within
Web:; Tel: 416-417-1259

P.S. Looking for a writer to help with an important writing project? Add a comment or send me an email with a new perspective on ways I might be able to help. Surprise me!