Rapidly Learn Any Skill (Including Cooking): An Interview with Tim Ferriss about “The 4-Hour Chef”


Note: This is a post from Adam Baker, founder of Man Vs. Debt.

Hey, it’s Baker here – and I’ve got a special treat for you today.

I was able to wrangle Tim Ferriss, one of the people responsible for me starting this very blog four years ago, onto the phone for an interview about his newest project, The 4-Hour Chef.

For those wondering, this is far more than a cookbook (though it’s the best cookbook I’ve ever seen). Have a listen.

Listen to the interview…

You can also download the .mp3 file here; simply right-click or option-click and choose “Save link as.”

Read the full interview transcript…

Adam Baker: Hey everyone. It’s Baker here, and I am joined with Tim Ferriss. Tim is the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and the new The 4-Hour Chef. Tim, thanks for joining me, man.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Baker: When I first heard that you were writing The 4-Hour Body, and that you were reusing 4-Hour, I was like, “OK, I could see that. I could see how that can tie in with The 4-Hour Workweek. But now you’ve written The 4-Hour Chef, and essentially you’re really running with the 4-Hour brand, or that philosophy. So for people that are new to this, what is this 4-hour thing? Can you give us the gist of what 4-hour means to you?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is my last 4-hour installment. The 4-Hour Workweek, for those who haven’t read it or seen it, actually has a basis in reality—the title, that is. It’s a look at non-obvious solutions to business and career problems that people have. And it’s full of case studies of remote control CEOs and working moms who travel around the world half the year with their kids, while making really good income, etc. And the four hours is from 2005, when I was running a multinational company with two to four hours per week of work, actual time and management.

The 4-Hour Body, then, was the same sort of framework applied to physical performance and Choose Your Own Adventure guides to the human body. Losing fat, sleep, sex, all that stuff, also full of dozens of world-class experts and professional coaches, and you name it. And I was effectually the guinea pig for all that stuff, which also ended up the #1 New York Times, and actually I’ve been selling at five times the rate of The 4-Hour Workweek, if you can believe it.

The newest one, The 4-Hour Chef, is really the third obsession of mine. And dude, I’m not sure I’m going to write any books after this, ’cause that was the—The 4-Hour Chef is really a cookbook for all skills, disguised as a cookbook for food. So it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure guide to the world of rapid learning, and it uses cooking, it uses food as the story, as the medium. You know, all the adventures and misadventures around the world of food. But it teaches people simultaneously, you know, how to learn a language in eight to 12 weeks, how to become a world champion or world record holder in a given dance, like tango, in five to six months.

And it talks about all of the learning skills that I applied that allowed me to do The 4-Hour Workweek, that allowed me to do The 4-Hour Body and everything else that I spend my time on.

Baker: Yeah, that’s amazing. I think that’s funny, because when you first said you were doing The 4-Hour Chef, I was super excited, but I was super excited, because I literally thought it was all going to be about cooking food, and I suck at cooking. And I was so excited that you were going to be talking about my problem. But I was even more excited when I found out that it was going to be about cooking, but also as a metaphor for other skills. That’s what you said, right?

Tim: Yeah, it’s — basically it’s a cookbook for people who don’t like cookbooks. So for people who want to learn how to cook really amazing food with all sorts of weird tricks, and also just an elegant lens through which you look at what’s the minimal effective dose? What are the four or five pieces of gear that are cheap, that I can use to make amazing things? What are the one or two techniques I can apply to a thousand dishes and 20 cuisines? This book will give all of that in a really compressed fashion.

But for people that are like, “You know what? I really don’t give a rat’s ass about cooking, but I would like to be able to learn anything in half the time it currently takes me,” then whether that’s Ruby on Rails, Japanese, salsa, skiing, swimming, it doesn’t matter – there’s a framework that’s explained in the book that uses examples for all of those things.

Baker: That’s amazing. And another question I wanted to ask you about was when you wrote The 4-Hour Workweek, which is now a New York Times bestseller — you just said The 4-Hour Body is selling even faster, also a New York Times bestseller. I’m sure The 4-Hour Chef is on the same path. But it didn’t start out that way, right? I’ve read, as part of Tim Ferriss More, that you were rejected, how many times was it on your first manuscript?

Tim: 26 times.

Baker: Rejected 26 times in the early days. How did you- what made you push forward through that, to establish that first success?

Tim: There are a few things. I think that I had trained myself using stoic philosophy, so specifically
Letters From a Stoic – that’s my favorite book. It’s really a — the ideal operating system for people who want to thrive in high stress environments, I think. And it’s written — Seneca was not only a philosopher, he was the wealthiest man in Rome, one of the most successful playwrights, advisor to the emperor. And Letters From a Stoic is a collection of short letters from him to one of his students about different problems ranging from lawsuits to marriage, death in the family and so forth.

But I really wanted to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. So preparing myself psychologically for the worst was preparing myself for complete rejection from every published. And I was psychologically prepared to deal with that and I didn’t, for instance, paint a rosy picture of only having success, which I think is one of the dangers of positive thinking.

I expected failure. I expected rejection, and I was therefore not surprised when it happened.

But I also wanted to — I felt like writing the book as a process would be worth it, even if I only ended up dramatically impacting the lives of one or two of my friends. Because I knew they had exactly the same problems that I had, and I had simply had two years to travel around the world and to figure out some approaches that were really counterintuitive that worked, as well as all these case studies. So I went into it with the expectation that, “Look, even if it gets rejected, this process will be a learning experience. And secondly, if it does get published, even if it doesn’t sell more than 10 copies, as long as I get those 10 copies to people who will really be impacted by it, then I’ll consider it worth my time.

And you can’t see me right now, but I actually have a dog tag on. So it’s like a dog tag necklace, and it says — there are only a few words on it, and I’ll tell you that in a second. But I’m not sure if you ever heard the story, the anecdote of Winston Churchill at one point was invited to give a commencement speech, and the person introducing him took like 20 minutes to list all of his accolades and so forth. And I think Winston Churchill was budgeted for like an hour or two of commencement time. And he got up and he went up – he sort of ambled up to the microphone, and he just said, “Never, never, never give up.” And then he sat down, and that was the end of his speech. And so I have a dog tag with “Never, never, never give up” around my neck.

And that’s kind of my philosophy. You know, if things are worth doing, they’re worth fighting for. But I do think it’s also becoming inoculated against fear and rejection.

Like if you try anything interesting, you are going to get rejected almost all the time. And just expecting that instead of trying to pretend like it’s not going to happen, I think is important.

Baker: Absolutely, and I think it’s a good lesson. Many of our readers and listeners are at the beginning stages of a life design, or at the beginning stages of changing something major in their life. And I think that’s great advice and a good philosophy to live by. On that same note, I often encourage people to do what you call on The 4-Hour Workweek a big step called “Eliminate.” So we talk about paying off their debt and selling their physical possessions that trap them down, the same way that you talk about eliminating distractions in your life, and the constant checking of email.

And I’ve seen many interviews where you’ve talked about this. Can you once again reiterate for people who aren’t familiar with that how big of a role that elimination step that you talk so often about is in sort of changing or learning a new skill, or just changing the trajectory of your life?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that in a digital world in particular, and in the physical world, to see things clearly, you have to remove as much as possible. And everything that you make a decision about that is unimportant affects your — it reduces your ability to make good decisions about the important things. So if you imagine, let’s just say, a glass full of sand. Or like one of those snow globes you get for Christmas, where you shake it up and all that snow flies around, and you can’t see through it clearly, can’t see what’s happening clearly. You really need to remove as much of that noise and interference as possible.

And whenever I feel personally overwhelmed, the first thing I do is either remove physical — ’cause I do think it’s an external reflection of how your mind is operating internally. And I’ll organize, I mean physically, like in my house or in my office.

And I think that one of the mistakes people make is — and this is something you constantly have to revisit — is believing that doing many things is more important or effective than doing a few things really well. And before you think about automating anything, before you think about delegating anything, to virtual assistants or otherwise, or to service companies or to accountants or anything, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a high leverage activity? Is this an important to do?” And if not, no one should be doing it.

You shouldn’t be doing it, and doing something well does not make it important. So the first step, after defining what it is that you’re after, you know, things you want to have, things you want to be, things you want to do — and I’ll skip some of the other things, like dream lining, and determining financial targets and whatnot — but once you’ve done that, it’s removing absolutely as much as possible.

And you know, in the last six months alone, I’ve removed probably 75% of the books in my house, either sending them to get scanned, donating them to local libraries, buying Kindle copies of the books I still want to have as references, but otherwise removing them. Clothing, I’ve probably gotten rid of half of my clothing, donated it to Goodwill. So forth and so on.

And I find that you don’t realize how much psychic drag those are causing, like anchors being thrown behind you, until you actually remove them, and you’re like, “My God. I feel like I’ve been sleeping with a 45-pound weight on my chest and I didn’t realize it until I got rid of all those things.” So elimination is massively important, massively important.

That’s true for any skill. It’s true for cooking too. All the crap that clutters most people’s kitchens, you don’t need 90% of it. And just by virtue of having it there, it is stress-inducing. It causes you to consider more things than you should have to consider.

Baker: Absolutely. It’s so amazing how the digital world, or just information, can reflect the physical world. Just what you said about cooking is applicable for many people all over their homes, and it’s what we talk about a lot. Just having that stuff, having to decide where it goes. Having to think about it all the time is such a weight. I love the metaphor that you use about having that 45-pound weight on your chest. I think that’s how many of our listeners will feel as they’re going through this process. The other thing I wanted to mention, and I just wanted to reflect a little bit how your work has helped me. It seems like a lot of your principles are about complacency. And this has been a theme for me. We just got off a road tour completing a documentary on this subject, so I might be biased.

But I felt like The 4-Hour Workweek really helped me battle complacency in my work life, how I wanted to structure my work life, and how to go against the grain and succeed. I feel like The 4-Hour Body is continually teaching me. I haven’t mastered it yet, but it’s continually helping me not be complacent in my physical life. Do you feel the same? Do you feel that’s the same impact that you want your work to have, to have people fight complacency? And as a follow-up, what kind of impact, then, do you want The 4-Hour Chef to make in that realm?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that complacency is much more insidious than catastrophe in some ways. Because if you have a nightmare situation in your work or your relationships, you’re almost always going to be forced to make important changes. If you have complacency — in other words, if you learn to tolerate a certain level of mediocrity, like there’s a certain comfortable mediocrity, let’s just say in your 9-to-5 job. Or in your relationship, where it’s not an A+, but nothing horrible has happened, and therefore out of a 0 to 10, 10 being most satisfied, fulfilled, you’re at like a 7, and you could stay there for the rest of your life. It’s very easy to accept that.

And certainly, the question I like to – I want people to ask themselves in reading what I do write is, you know, “What if I could have a 10 in ‘fill in the blank’?” In my work life, separation, work life balance, or travel, or time, etc.? What if I could have a 10 in terms of my physical appearance? And what if — and really driving people not to accept some weird partial completeness, where they’re like, “Well, that’s just how it is. My family’s fat, therefore I’m fat.”

Because it’s nonsense. Almost all of those things are entire malleable. And in the case of The 4-Hour Chef, the point that I make is, in the world of learning, there are a lot of old wives’ tales.

There are a lot of myths that are extremely self-defeating. Like it takes a lifetime to learn a language, or adults learn languages slower than kids. Both completely false. Adults can learn languages faster than any kid, I guarantee you. And you just need the proper recipe, the proper structure for it. You could be functionally fluent in Spanish in eight to 12 weeks, no problem. And what you have to realize is most companies, say like Rosetta Stone, just to call one of them out, they’re not incentivized to give you anything that works really quickly, because then they can’t charge you for three sets of DVDs or whatever the hell, that lasts a year long. They can’t do it, it affects their business model. And simple doesn’t sell, right?

So complicate until profit is a very common thread, and that’s true for cooking too. Like, if people want to sell you a $700 knife, or a $700 set of pots and pans and stuff. You go into a professional kitchen, you see what they use.

I went into one of the best kitchens in India, amazing kitchen, incredible food. The guy was using a $20 Victorinox knife and a cheap-ass stainless steel pan that cost probably $5, and you get it in the US for like $12, and that was it. There was like nothing fancy whatsoever, and didn’t even have potholders. Used these hand towels, which almost all professional chefs use. They don’t use potholders. And you look at the total cost of all his gear was less than $75, even if bought in the US, and he used it for everything. Like oven, stovetop, didn’t matter. Same stainless steel pan, and I think that it’s really important to realize that—two things: #1, that the universe, the commercial world is in it to complicate, ’cause that’s where money is made. So you’ve been brainwashed from the very beginning to believe that things are complex.

#1 — I’m sorry, #2 is that it’s easy — most people in the world do not want you to excel. It sounds terrible, but most people in the world do not want to put in the time to build themselves up, so they create myths to keep other people from trying, or to tear other people down. So the whole idea, like, “Oh, I’ve been studying Spanish for 10 years and I’m still intermediate.” Therefore when I talk to someone who wants to learn Spanish, I’m going to tell them, “You’re in it for a lifetime. You’ll really never sound native, and it’ll be at least 15 years until you’re ready to go to Mexico and really interact with people.” Horseshit. It’s total nonsense, and so I want to make people kind of indignant about the fact that they don’t have to settle for being extremely good or world class at one or two things in their lifetime, because it’s simply not true.

With the proper framework and a really sophisticated, uncommon approach, I thoroughly believe that you can become world class at one or two things per year. And that fundamentally changes entirely how you look at the world, how you look at yourself, how you look at opportunities, how you look at your family, teaching your kids. It changes everything, so I really do think that The 4-Hour Chef, which is this book on learning disguised as cookbook, is in many ways the most important book of the three that I’ve written.

And as a huge fan of Ben Franklin, his trinity was always “healthy, wealthy, and wise,” right? Well, for me, this is — that’s my complete three books. You have “healthy,” 4-Hour Body, “wealthy,” 4-Hour Workweek, and “wise,” 4-Hour Chef. So I’m super psyched about this one.

Baker: I saw that you recently showed some of it on social media, of the actual book. Is it bigger than The 4-Hour Body? It’s a pretty big book, isn’t it?

Tim: Yeah. This one, this book is — The 4-Hour Body is 592 pages, and The 4-Hour Chef is 672, after cutting 250 pages. And you know, what’s important to realize about it is, I don’t want anyone to have to buy any book on learning ever again after reading this book. So it’s intended to be definitive. Or on cooking, necessarily. So the — but the real important point is — just like — both of those books are Choose Your Own Adventure books. Like, I don’t expect anyone to read more than 100 to 150 pages at a time. So it’s like you choose the stuff that really fascinates you, that’s really interesting, and then you dive in. But you could get certainly 100 times — that’s not an exaggeration. Just in saving time in courses and other books and stuff, the value of the cover price of the book in the first hundred pages, which covers basically everything I’ve learned about accelerated learning, ranging from smart drugs to language progression, all sorts of stuff. Music, whatever.

Baker: Yeah. That’s a pretty bold claim. Your other books have delivered on it. The claim that you don’t want anybody to have to buy more… I need to get my hands on this and read it in the next few days here. So Tim, final question. If people take an action after reading this book, they only can take one action, as a fun game. What’s the real action that you want people to take as a result of engaging in The 4-Hour Chef?

Tim: One action. I would say to pick something that they’ve assumed they could never be good at. So for me, for instance, swimming. I mean, I’m 35. I couldn’t swim until a few years ago. Basketball, I had assumed — I had been sort of chastised by a PE teacher in junior high, who told me I dribbled like a caveman, I should go back to wrestling. So I was like, “Screw it. I’m never going to be able to play basketball” and never could.

So I took those skills, and I would want the reader to take — pick a skill that they thought they could never possibly ever be good at or ever have time for, and to go for it. Like, totally go for it. Whether that’s like playing the violin, shooting a three-pointer, learning a language. Whatever it is, just to have the confidence and the unbridled enthusiasm to just absolutely go ahead and tackle it. And that could be cooking a dinner for four, and at the end of the night being like, “Wow, no stress. That was awesome. I can’t wait to do it again.”

It doesn’t have to be some crazy thing. But choosing one skill they’ve always been afraid of or always thought they would fail at, and actually tackling it.

Baker: Yeah, that’s amazing. So pick the skill you want to learn, pick up The 4-Hour Chef, give it a try.

Thanks for all you did, Tim. I’ve appreciated all your work over the years, and I can’t wait to get my hands on The 4-Hour Chef.



17 thoughts on “Rapidly Learn Any Skill (Including Cooking): An Interview with Tim Ferriss about “The 4-Hour Chef””

  1. Great interview, Baker.

    I can definitely use this advice as a business owner and new father!

    My wife and I have a system that works OK for our meals, but it could use some tweaking. We tend to make 1-2 larger meals a week that work well for leftovers.

    Lately we’ve been doing soups and stews. We make everything from scratch so it’s super tasty and healthy. Yeah, it’s a little more work to make everything from scratch, but it’s worth it to us to have healthy, tasty food!

    We’ll mix it up with some different simple meals through the week so we’re not eating the same thing everyday, but it’s great to have the big pot of stew in the fridge to draw from.

  2. I’ve read Tim’s first two books and I’ve been wanting to pick this one up for my Kindle but just hadn’t yet. I go to Amazon and it’s only $4.99 for Kindle. $21 for hardcover, $4.99 for Kindle. That is how it should be. So sick of the Kindle versions being the same or more than the regular editions. Well done Tim. You got my $4.99.

  3. Great interview – really enjoyed it! Good for you for getting into TIm’s epic schedule! I’d love to talk to him on language learning some day and share it with my readers, especially since it seems really relevant in the 4HC.

    So glad to see this is available for the Kindle. Even though I’m 500km deep inside Brazil, I’ll go get my copy now. Cheers Baker!

  4. Great read and exactly what I needed to hear right now! The perfect reminder that if you want something bad enough, you have to go out and get it, even in the face of adversity.

  5. Great interview! Two way cool people talking about way cool stuff!

    My life (and my whole family’s life) has definitely been changed by the thoughts Tim has shared – even down to where we now live and how (little) we actually own. So it’s great to see Tim come out with this new book talking about “rabid learning”. I’m excited to grab a copy – kindle of course! 🙂

    Good luck with, “I’m Fine, Thanks” Baker and thank you for this interview!

  6. Great interview, a friend of mine recommended the 4 hour body to me awhile ago but I still haven’t had the time to read it!

    It really is hugely liberating to get rid of your old stuff whether it’s clothes, stuff in your kitchen or books and magazines that pile up over time. When my wife and I decided to travel and move overseas we had to get rid of or box up lots of things. Now we only have the essentials and it feels great!

  7. Wow great score Baker! You got hookups 🙂

    I REALLY loved this point: “Simple doesn’t sell.”

    Omg is that ever true. I see this on a daily basis. Whenever I get to the gym I hear about some new workout. My brother and I stick to the basic lifts (squat, bench, deadlifts, press, pull-ups). For some reason there’s always a new routine. Every gym magazine has the newest “killer workout of the month.”

  8. Baker and Tim, nice interview. I had seen this post earlier in the day and ignored it because I follow Tim on his blog and also purchased The 4-Hour Chef on kindle this afternoon. The interview was still super insightful and I heard Tim talk about things I hadn’t really heard him mention before. I’m left with taking on the challenge of really learning Spanish as it is something I really want.

  9. Adam, thank you, thank you for the transcript. I loved this interview! I’m about to launch my third book which I started two and half years ago with Keith St. Onge and this is exactly what we said when we started writing it, the same thing Tim shared:

    “Look, even if it gets rejected, this process will be a learning experience. And secondly, if it does get published, even if it doesn’t sell more than 10 copies, as long as I get those 10 copies to people who will really be impacted by it, then I’ll consider it worth my time.”

    And about that movie, “I’m Fine, Thanks,” yeah, you’re just a tad biased. 😉

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  13. Nice interview Baker! You have a great site here my friend! I haven’t stopped by your site in a while, but I’m going to catch-up and see what you have been up to.

    I got Tim’s book, back on it’s release date. I’ve been digging through it. It is really a cool read. I’ve always been a bit of a wanna-be chef, so I love that part of the book. Also, I love the parts of the book that teach about being more self-reliant. I wasn’t expecting so much information about that subject, but I love it.

    However, I really wanted the book to learn Tim’s methods for learning. He has some really interesting approaches to learning. I’m applying those principles to my goal of becoming a pro-level pool player.

    I highly recommend The 4-Hour Chef. I’m a big digital book buyer, but I love the physical book in this case…JMHO.

    Keep up the great work.


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