3 Ways to Slay Like Flay

Nothing turns me into a binge-watching fool faster than The Food Network program, Beat Bobby Flay. For those unfamiliar with the show’s premise, two contestants battle it out by preparing a dish that includes an ingredient chosen by Bobby Flay, renowned chef and reigning king of competitive cooking. The first-round winner then takes on Flay, armed with his/her own “signature dish,” forcing Flay to prepare his competitor’s specialty on the fly. A suspenseful blind tasting from a panel of respected culinary critics determines the ultimate winner. 

The show boasts an ingenious construct, since the advantage would seem to belong to Flay’s competitor. After all, they know exactly what they will be making, and they’ve probably made it many times before. The constant goading from celebrity judges, who play the role of Flay’s tormenters throughout the last segment, would also seem to seal the deal, as shouts of “I’m coming for you, Bobby!” and “You’re going down!” ring out in every episode. How could the mild-mannered Flay possibly win against these odds? Well, win he does – and often! 

I’ve watched Flay’s triumphant winning streaks, but I’ve also witnessed his rare losses. There is much to learn about why the odds often stack up in Flay’s favor. Three power plays emerge when you deconstruct the action, all of which can be applied beyond the culinary arena.


  1. Beware your “signature dishes” – We all have them. Maybe it’s a skill that you’ve relied on for years, a color or “look” that friends said flattered you a few years ago, or maybe a style of communication that once worked and has gone unchecked ever since. To me, the show’s “signature dish” is a metaphor for complacency and even delusion. Every time the competitor prepared the dish previously, raves and validation followed, signaling that no further updates to a recipe were required. So why change anything? Under this backdrop of complacency, Flay need only add a twist or two to get the judges’ attention – an unexpected spice here, a creative topping there – and Flay slays again. What are your “signature dishes”? Are they behaviors, assumptions or go-to crowd-pleasers? Could a competitor’s creative twist take you down? 
  2. Get out of your head (and into theirs) – In the majority of episodes in which Flay suffers a loss, the winning competitors have one thing in common: Rather than obsessing about their own strengths, they zero in on Flay’s weaknesses. Many competitors study Flay’s style of cooking over time, tease out patterns and adjust their signature dishes accordingly – some claim that Asian cuisines are Flay’s weakness, others note that simple dishes throw him off (once Flay was crushed by an unadorned Salisbury steak). These winners were willing to study and depart from the tried and true in order to attack Flay’s weakness. It’s not the easy way to win, but it’s far more effective than assuming an advantage. What are the missing skill sets among your competitors and rivals? How will you attack them without falling back on assumptions about your traditional strengths? 
  3. Avoid excess – Flay wins a surprising number of victories simply because his competitors colored too far outside of the lines. Flay is famous for adding twists, but he also knows not to reinvent the wheel. When up against a meatball sandwich made with three meats, cooked in a pressure cooker and dusted with exotic cheese, Flay slayed his opposition simply by working with traditional ingredients and techniques. It makes sense that, once Flay's final-round competitors reveal their signature dishes, the expert judges instantly form expectations. The same holds true in the professional realm. Do you go over the top when offering validation might be more effective? Are you or your company creating solutions in search of a problem, or are you responding to real opportunities?

In my experience, an upset is often easier to execute when the odds seem to be stacked against you.

Isn’t that great? 

Carol SpieckermanComment