#TBT: How To Bounce Back From An Idiotic Mistake

In 2007, I weaseled my way into an awesome job with Andrew Zimmern‘s company, Food Works, Inc. He said he needed a marketing/web/writer/communications person; really, what he needed was cheap help. I was 25 and up for anything that allowed me to talk and write about food/travel.

I obviously took the job.

To say we were running a bare bones operation hardly covers it. At the time, it was just Andrew, his assistant Dusti (aka the person who ran everything) and me. We shared a three bedroom, third floor apartment on Grand Avenue with a sober living company, which meant people were always leaving urine samples in the bathroom.

You can’t make this stuff up.

After, I dunno, a meeeellion internships, I’d become very accustomed to the day-to-day responsibilities of the lowest person on the totem pole. Send boring emails, answer the phone, pick up lunch. I was a grade-A, busy-work beyotch.

Six weeks into the job, Andrew asked (told) me that I was to have a segment on his pre-recorded weekend radio show. He just needed a five minute interview of me talking to a chef.

All by myself.

Fast-forward seven years and I’ve literally interviewed every chef you can imagine. Daniel Boulud, Lidia Bastianich, Jose Andres, Guy Fieri. I mean, you name a chef & I’ve interviewed them. But in 2007, I’d never even met a real-life chef. Aside from my years working in a catering kitchen, I had no idea how the restaurant world worked. I’d barely even eaten in for-real restaurants.

But this sounded like an amazing opportunity, so I said, “Sure!”

My very first interview was Michelle Gayer, who’d worked for Charlie Trotter & is one of the best pastry chefs in the country. At the time, she was teaching at Le Cordon Bleu. This was before Salty Tart. None of this mattered a bit because I didn’t even know what a Charlie Trotter was, let alone what a pastry chef actually did. Make cookies? Maybe!

Somehow, I got through the interview. I listened when it aired that weekend and everything sounded pretty darn good.

Wow, the power and magic of editing!

With one whole interview under my belt, I was clearly an expert journalist. Twenty-five, and already slated to be the next Katie Couric!

I scheduled my next interview with John Occhiato, who was the chef at Damico Cucina. When I arrived, the two of us sat at the restaurant bar. They didn’t open for a few more hours, so Chef Occhiato offered to make me an espresso. For free!

Sure, why not!

I plugged in the microphone and pressed record. I then asked him hard-hitting questions, like about his first kitchen job and why Minnesotans like Italian food. He talked about his farm (this was before I knew farm-to-table was a thing) and sourcing the best ingredients and all sorts of other stuff.

We chatted for about 20 minutes, and I figured I had all I’d need. But when I got back to the office and went to download my file, I got nothing but 20 minutes of fuzz.

I’d plugged the microphone into the headphone jack.

@!^$&%(#)!@$#&!

This damn interview was supposed to air in two days, and I had nothing. First things first: I berated myself for being such a big, dumb idiot. Next, I weighed my options: Tell Andrew (not appealing), tell our producer Christopher (reasonable option), or ask Chef Occhiato if he’d redo the interview (so embarrassing!).

In the end, I called the chef and explained the situation.

He was so cool about it and invited me back the next day. I asked him the same questions, he answered similarly, and in the end, I can’t remember if I ever told Andrew or Christopher.

I learned a few great lessons that week: First, make sure you’re microphone is plugged into the right spot! Jeez!

Second, everybody makes idiotic mistakes.

Third, if you eff up, say something. You might not need to tell your boss (or whoever will react the most) right away, but if you ‘fess up to someone who can help, you’re setting yourself up for redemption. We’ve all been there and most people are more than happy to help out a fellow human.

So the next time you accidentally copy the wrong Sarah on a very personal email, realized you filmed the whole thing without actually pressing record, or inadvertently link to your own blog instead of Food & Wine magazine in a tweet from a really well-followed Twitter account (oopsies), find someone who will support you and help make it right. Ok, in that last scenario, I just deleted the tweet without telling a soul.

And if that person’s nowhere in sight, run!

* * *

Other mistake tales:  Me + Excel + Taxes = Mistakes City! Like learning from other people’s mistakes? Check out this free downloadable, compiled by my pal Sarah.

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Comments (6)

  • Kelly 3 years ago Reply

    *soul 🙂

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    haha, another dumb mistake.

  • April H. 3 years ago Reply

    I thought it was going to be way worse than that! Although I am sure at the time it seemed mortifying. How great that the Chef was gracious enough to have you back and was polite about it. That is so true, everyone does make mistakes and we ALL do REALLY stupid things now and then. Just have to laugh it off, chalk it up to a lesson learned, and move on. I think the most important thing is to admit a mistake and take responsibility for it. Some of the people I hate the most are those who won’t take responsibility for their actions, and/or try to blame everything on someone or something else. (I work with someone like that and no one can stand her!) People are much more willing to forgive if the ‘offender’ steps up and is willing to deal with whatever the consequences are. If in a leadership role, it is a critical quality to have in order to earn respect. I totally agree with you on fixing the mistake first if you are able to! It causes less stress and your boss may still be annoyed but at least know that you were able to solve the problem. It is always good to have a ‘Plan B’!

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    Yeah, in retrospect, it was not a big deal. But at the time, I was mortified! I do think people actually ended up respecting those who can admit when we screw up. It’s about humility. What kind of jerk never makes mistakes? I’m just glad I learned about this one in a pretty low stakes environment, not say, in an operating room or something. Yikes!

  • Alyssa Tuma 3 years ago Reply

    I recently read the most FASCINATING book (What Doctors Feel) by this amazing author/doctor named Danielle Ofri. It’s about making mistakes in the medical field–which obviously have the potential to be, literally, fatal. And how the profession can help prevent mistakes/mitigate mistakes better. It’s an amazing read about redemption, compassion, shame, guilt, forgiveness, etc., etc. Anyway, sort of a "heavy" plug, but it’s a good look into how promoting a culture of perfection/infallibility can actually lead to more mistakes and/or cause people to not admit mistakes when they should. Bottom line, people? Be honest and admit the mistake–if your boss/supervisor/higher-up is a good one, they will deal with you fairly and everyone will come out of it feeling better.

  • Jill 3 years ago Reply

    Haha! You owned your mistake and now it’s a fun story. Great example and good reminder!

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