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Podcast Episode 5: Salt, Fat, Acid, UXR?! (w/ Samin Nosrat)

Samin Nosrat, known for her Netflix show and cookbook, shares how her love of food reflects on user experience.

Words by Karen Eisenhauer

Samin Nosrat will be speaking at our People Nerds Conference 2022! Learn more and register here. For full episode transcription, click here.

3 Takeaways from the Culinary World

This week on the People Nerds Podcast, we had the incredible opportunity to sit down with famous chef, author, and Netflix star Samin Nosrat. Samin is the New York Times bestselling author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, in addition to the host of its Netflix companion show.

I couldn’t be in the conversation myself (I’m so bummed!) but Ben Wiedmaier sat down and chatted with Samin about the role research and story plays into her work as a chef. Samin shared wisdom on many topics, from research styles to empathetic storytelling to democratization.

1. Enable people with the language to talk about their experiences

Samin pointed out that cooking—like many things in life—is more intuitive than we think. Even though people don’t consider themselves to be chefs or food critics, we all prepare and eat food. The educational part isn’t necessarily teaching people how to cook, it’s about teaching people how to understand the cooking folks are already doing. And that’s where research comes in.

User researchers are in much the same position as Samin. Our stakeholders and our users don’t need to be taught new experiences or skills—they often just need a new language or ways of thinking to activate what they already know.

Despite often being parts of innovation engines, we are more in the business of education and connection. Samin suggests we should frame research work as something that turns existing knowledge into something new and more functional, and trust people to already have the intuition they need to fill in the gaps.

2. Let the users tell their own story

When immersing herself within culinary cultures, Samin loves bringing the words of those whose dishes she wants to spotlight into her recipes, writing, and creative endeavors. Why risk misconstruing a feeling or a memory by translating it through our own prism?

Many mixed methods researchers believe the stickier "How?" and "Why?" questions are best answered by open-ended, qualitative methods. These data are most resonant when a participants' own words are presented as-is.

Verbatims, video highlight reels, and photos communicate the lived experience of our participants in the most empathy-translating, honest ways. Yes, we can summarize themes, note frequencies, and specify recommendations, but when possible, present a participant's experiences as they occurred and as they described them.

This is especially true when you’re speaking on behalf of people who historically have had fewer platforms to share their experiences. The power of qualitative data is in its undeniability. We have the opportunity to present previously unplatformed voices directly to stakeholders – allow them to directly tell their story, and let its truth have direct impact instead of filtering it through your own point of view.

“Whenever possible, I try to let people tell their own stories in their own words…Something will inevitably be lost in my interpretation of someone else’s experiences.”

Samin Nosrat
Chef and author of "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking"

3. Don’t let your critical lens rob you of connection and joy

(Or: take it back to the basics).

When Samin started her career, she spent a lot of time with a critical eye on herself and her colleagues. When she visited restaurants, she would always have her analytical brain going, trying to figure out what the food was and how she might do it differently. But she says that she’s since moved beyond that, and back to basics—enjoying food with the people around her.

Since she’s done that, she’s found more knowledge than ever. Not only is she more relaxed and open to human connection, but she also has her mind open to unexpected sources of knowledge, since she’s no longer analytically trained on where she thinks knowledge “should” come from.

As a researcher, this really resonated with me. In this industry, we also spend a lot of time with our analytical hats on, striving for rigor, improving our craft, and always listening to our participants with an eye for data and patterns.

But our work, just like cooking, is fundamentally emotional work—not analytical. We are story collectors and storytellers. We are professional empathizers. It’s important to step back from the analytical frame once in a while and take it back to the basics, listening to new people and taking in the human connection that we have the opportunity to form.

Interested in checking out other People Nerds podcast episodes? Read more of our breakdowns here.

Karen is a researcher at dscout. She has a master’s degree in linguistics and loves learning about how people communicate with each other. Her specialty is in gender representation in children’s media, and she’ll talk your ear off about Disney Princesses if given half the chance.

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