How Cooking Made us Human and Why it Matters for Your Team

A little under a million years ago or so, an ancestor of modern humans found an animal (or maybe some veggies) ‘cooked’ by a wildfire, took a bite and realised it tasted pretty good and was much easier to chew than the raw food they had been eating. The clever caveman figured out how to cook with fire, giving birth to a whole new world. Cooking not only showed how smart our ancestors were becoming, it made them (and us!) human.

cavemen at the fireAbout 4 years ago a researcher at Harvard introduced the idea that cooking made us human in terms of our brain development and physical and social evolution. I found this really exciting because it helped me understand a bit more about why cooking as a team building strategy is such a powerful development tool – it’s part of our DNA. So how did cooking make us human?

In a nutshell, cooking food releases more of the energy and nutrients overall, allowing our gut to do less work for the same return – genius! It also freed up a lot of energy needed for digestion. This drove a number of changes in our bodies. The Harvard team argues this extra energy went to our heads, literally leading to the huge increase in our brain size.

There is another side of this I find even more enthralling; cooking also gave us time and community – things we all seem to crave more the world speeds up. As we spent less time gathering raw ingredients and chewing, we spent more time sitting around the fire creating language, families, communities, arts, rituals, dreams… cooking is part of our social fabric. This is why cooking together is important for building and developing teams.

cave painting - handsBy leveraging what naturally connects us to each other, a skilled Chef with the right people skills and flair for presenting can maximise bonding among members of a team, increasing productivity, creativity, and the willingness and ability to transcend blockages. In fact, we believe cooking is the most effective form of team building when led by skilled Chef Presenters with a proven model.

Because cooking is primal, the right metaphor delivered at the right time touches something innate, revealing new ways to think about experience. As there is natural bonding that happens over food, even a well run cooking party can deliver some benefit. But cooking as team building is most effective when the physical and emotional experiences are drawn out with powerful metaphors that teach essential lessons.

For teams looking for a good time and a great outcome, it’s important to work with experienced Chef Presenters. These are very different people to restaurant chefs, caterers or ‘cooking class’ teachers; Chef Presenters are foodies and facilitators in one. As an organiser, you need to look for talented, trained Chefs who are also experienced teachers, primarily focused on the experience of the group and your objectives.

cave artI’m passionate about this, because ‘corporate cookery’ is all the rage these days; every celebrity chef and anyone who ever flipped an egg in a café or took a class at Cordon Bleu is selling cooking as team building. Look beyond the glossy brochure (or PDF) and read the client testimonials. Are they from real people, including recognised organisational development professionals and corporate facilitators? Do they talk about the outcomes delivered (or is it all about ‘fun’ and ‘vino’?) Take the same care you would take to select any corporate facilitation and you will be assured of a brilliant and delicious outcome.

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