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Chef Davide Oldani's Harvard Case Spreads his POP concept

Chef Davide Oldani's Harvard Case Spreads his POP concept

On the tenth anniversary of D'O restaurant, an exclusive look at Harvard's Case Study. Chef Davide Oldani will attend the seminar on November 15th.

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Italian Chef Davide Oldani's restaurant D'O is on its tenth anniversary. The annus mirabilis is upon the Michelin-starred restaurant with a 18-month wait list. The Chef is leading the media on Italian Tv's “The Chef” and planning his visit to Harvard University on November 15th.

Oldani was cordially invited to attend a class at Harvard Business School. Part of an Operations Strategy course on-going this semester, “Chef Davide Oldani and Ristorante D'O” is a joint case study signed by Professor Gary Pisano, Alessandro di Fiore, Elena Corsi and Elisa Farri. Chef Davide Oldani will visit the class and provide his reactions to the discussions and answer student questions in the last 30-40 minutes of the session.

“It's a fascinating case with implications that go well beyond the world of gourmand restaurants. Davide has created an innovative system to build Michelin-starred quality at a very reasonable cost,” comments Gary Pisano. “For me, the lessons are about how an organization (any organization, not just a restaurant) can -through careful design of their operating systems - fundamentally change the cost-quality trade-off. Davide is clearly a very creative chef; we all know that. But, he's also a very creative designer of organizational systems. That's what fascinates me about D'O”.

When we interviewed Chef Davide Oldani a while back, he was humbled by the invite. A great satisfaction if we consider the only other Chef invited to Harvard is none other than Ferran Adrià.

The Italian Chef is a self-taught, successful business man. His entrepreneurial spirit lead him to become his own manager and build a brand; he designs kitchen utensils, writes books on his “POP philosophy” such as “Il Gusto, Il Giusto” (translates to “Taste and Fairness”). He learned along the way studying with Gualtiero Marchesi and Alain Ducasse how to control the overall functioning of a restaurant. “I realized that it is vital to create a well-functioning system, and to standardize the whole process,” reported Oldani in the Case Study. “ No matter the category of a restaurant, high-quality standards and customer satisfaction should always come first.”

He is also a self-made brand. In the Case Study he declares:

“ My analogy is Giorgio Armani. The Armani brand is the umbrella, but that incorporates a full range of products from Giorgio Armani haute couture to Armani Jeans. I see POP by D‘O as the philosophy underlying the style, i.e. making D‘O quality food accessible. Other brands representing the D‘O style—such as H2D‘O or IDish by D‘O—will reflect the D‘O style in the various branches of my activities, such as design, books, etc.”

The Michelin-star (awarded after only one year) is an accolade and point of prestige to not only the system's effectiveness, one that lists all the cooking ingredients and their percentage of waste, but the quality of the work being done in the kitchen, “a high-end gourmand cuisine with reasonable prices”.

The Study examines the restaurant's “organizational system” as Professor Pisano points out . The researchers collected their information over a year-long conversation with the Chef. The method consisted in looking at the numbers, the organization of the restaurant from electricity bills to creating the menu. This is a Case Study that wants us to think about a system, a business model, and see how we can apply D'O's to any other business.

According to the Chef we only need to take a look at his “10 pillole POP” (the 10 bullet points behind his POP philosophy), yes, according to Oldani the answer is easy and simple, yet never banal:

1. Exalt balance and contrast, in the kitchen and in life.
2. Design needs to put forth the content.
3. Each activity is worth a profit, but, prices need to be fair.
4. Curiosity and observation are the best way to interpret the needs of your guests.
5. There is an opportunity in each of your mistakes, it's important to take action.
6. Our priority in the kitchen is to care about the well-being of the people.
7. Each ingredient, from the most simple to the most prestigious, deserves the same respect.
8. You should give wine the importance it deserves. 9. Always buy your groceries on a full stomach, you won't waste food.
10. A brand needs to be immediate, easy to remember.

Oldani's recipe is transparent, you need to master your excel file and build human relations with your customers, suppliers and staff, add value and passion to your work. Harvard's Case Study investigates each step and fundamental stage of D'O's astute work. Although at first the main ingredient appears to be merely “cutting down costs”, preventing staff turnover and waste of ingredients, picking a lower-cost location, setting and decor, it goes hand in hand with many other aspects depicted in the study such as better paid and flexible staff, long holidays, fidelity of suppliers, in-season ingredients, more resistant glasses and flatware, and obviously affordable prices on the menu to attract customers to a Michelin-starred gate, even at lunch time.

Any academic discussion should open a question for debate. The students will be considering Oldani's future challenges. The Chef explained to FineDiningLovers his intentions to expand the POP philosophy, perhaps test its limits. According to the Study: “The deeper issue in the case concerns how businesses based on the creative talent of an individual (like Chef Oldani) can grow, without losing what makes them special.”

*Practice the Art of Fine Food with Chef Davide Oldani, get a taste of his cooking with this exclusive video-recipe for Italian Spaghetti.

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