Kimbal Musk: The Art of Cooking, Tesla, SpaceX, Zip2, and Family | Lex Fridman Podcast #417

Kimbal Musk: The Art of Cooking, Tesla, SpaceX, Zip2, and Family | Lex Fridman Podcast #417

Introduction (00:00:00)

  • Kimbal Musk views cooking as an art.
  • He doesn't have a favorite ingredient to cook with, but when there's a great ingredient, like Colorado peaches in August, he can't stop using it.
  • Kimbal Musk grew up in South Africa.
  • His family had a big garden and grew their own food.
  • He learned to cook from his mother and grandmother.
  • He loved the experience of cooking and eating with his family.
  • Kimbal Musk opened his first restaurant, The Kitchen, in Boulder, Colorado in 2004.
  • The restaurant focuses on using fresh, local ingredients.
  • The Kitchen has been a success and has been featured in several magazines and newspapers.
  • Musk has since opened other restaurants, including Next Door and Hedge Row.
  • Kimbal Musk is the brother of Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.
  • Kimbal has worked with Elon on several projects, including Tesla and SpaceX.
  • He is currently the CEO of Big Green, a non-profit organization that builds gardens in schools.
  • Kimbal Musk has written a cookbook called The Kitchen Cookbook: Cooking for your Community.
  • The cookbook features recipes from The Kitchen restaurant, as well as stories and essays about food and community.
  • The cookbook has been well-received and has been praised for its delicious recipes and inspiring stories.

Growing up in South Africa (00:01:02)

  • Kimbal Musk grew up in South Africa during apartheid, witnessing violence and the devaluation of human life.
  • He experienced a traumatic incident where a person was stabbed in front of him, shaping his perspective on life and death.
  • Kimbal draws a comparison between the value of human life in South Africa and the United States, suggesting that a lower value can lead to easier mass-scale suffering and violence.
  • Despite the violence, he also found joy and celebration within the townships, where people embraced mortality and lived life fully.
  • Kimbal witnessed a brutal attempted murder of his brother, Elon Musk, which deeply affected him and emphasized the fragility of life.
  • He believes traveling and gaining a broader perspective is essential before criticizing one's own country, as it helps recognize the value placed on human life in different parts of the world.
  • Kimbal's relationship with his father was complex, involving both affection and verbal abuse, which led him to develop a coping mechanism of mentally drifting away during conversations.
  • Kimbal's strength lies in his social skills, such as gathering people, facilitating discussions, and creating emotionally connecting parties, while Elon Musk excels as an engineering genius, and their complementary skills contribute to their success.

Cooking (00:13:32)

  • Kimbal Musk's passion for cooking began at age 11 when he took matters into his own hands due to his mother's unconventional cooking style.
  • Cooking became a way for Kimbal to connect with his busy family, providing an opportunity for them to come together, be present, and share meaningful conversations.
  • Unlike alcohol, which tends to keep people in the small talk zone, sharing a meal fosters a deeper level of connection and understanding among individuals, regardless of their differences.
  • Kimbal Musk emphasizes the importance of active listening and engaging in respectful conversations, even with individuals holding opposing viewpoints.
  • Food has the unique ability to create vulnerability and foster meaningful connections among people, allowing for discussions on various topics, including controversial ones.
  • Musk suggests creating a single conversation at the table during gatherings, using simple questions to encourage vulnerability and spark engaging discussions.
  • Kimbal Musk opened The Kitchen restaurant in 2004, an American bistro, and enjoys the tangible reactions from people that running a restaurant provides.
  • Customers' psychological states can greatly influence their dining experiences.
  • Good bartenders remember their customers and can adapt to their needs, whether they want conversation or solitude.
  • Bars offer a unique experience where people can connect or choose to be alone together, providing a welcome change of state between daytime and nighttime.
  • Restaurants serve as a frontline indicator of the overall energy and mood of society.

Ingredients (00:36:18)

  • Kimbal Musk considers cooking an art form and emphasizes the significance of high-quality ingredients.
  • He prefers smoothies with berries and raspberries over whole fruits and sources vegetables from local farmers to appreciate their unique flavors.
  • Carrots are his favorite vegetable, and he enjoys experimenting with different types.
  • Despite having a gluten allergy, Kimbal allows himself to enjoy carbs in moderation, criticizing restrictive diets and advocating for balance.
  • He emphasizes the importance of cheat days and flexibility in dietary choices, personally practicing intermittent fasting but not strictly adhering to it.
  • Kimbal follows a primarily low-carb diet but allows himself to indulge in his favorite foods without considering them "cheat days."
  • He believes eating a single meal a day provides more freedom and encourages openness to new experiences, cautioning against excessive restrictiveness.

Anthony Bourdain (00:43:23)

  • Anthony Bourdain's book, Kitchen Confidential, inspired Kimbal Musk to pursue cooking.
  • Bourdain's writing romanticized the restaurant kitchen and made Musk want to experience the energy and teamwork of a real restaurant.
  • Musk met Bourdain a few times and felt his genuine love for food.
  • Bourdain's advice to "not be afraid, get excited, and cook with love" has influenced Musk's cooking philosophy.
  • Musk believes that cooking with love is especially important when cooking for family, even if the food isn't perfect.

Cooking school (00:45:38)

  • Kimbal Musk attended the French Culinary Institute, where he learned valuable technical lessons from Master Chef Alan Sual.
  • He emphasizes the importance of continuous learning, practice, and mastering the basics, such as making scrambled eggs.
  • Musk stresses the significance of focus, precision, and using the same type of salt consistently to develop an understanding of its properties.
  • He provides QR codes in his cookbook to demonstrate cooking techniques visually and prefers visible salt flakes on steak for better control.
  • Musk's love for food began with roast chickens, and he particularly enjoys steaks, especially those prepared in the French style with sauces.
  • He sources high-quality ingredients, with his favorite cut of meat being the New York strip, and shares his preferred cooking method for steak.
  • Musk praises Austin's food culture, particularly its barbecue scene, and appreciates the communal atmosphere and generous use of paper towels and wood in many barbecue restaurants.
  • He discusses the art of cooking and the importance of creating a unique culinary experience, emphasizing the significance of establishing a legendary reputation in the food industry.
  • Musk's restaurant in Boulder has a 20-year history and operates in a 120-year-old building with a rich history, including a hidden tunnel in the basement.

Life-threatening accident (01:01:58)

  • Kimbal Musk, a former tech CEO and restaurateur, had a life-threatening snowboarding accident in 2010 that resulted in a ruptured spine and immediate paralysis.
  • Despite the severity of the injury, he initially felt no pain due to the paralysis, but moving his body afterward caused increased blood flow into the spinal column, worsening the damage.
  • During his recovery, he experienced a unique sensation of death, not as a fear of dying, but as a confusion about what was happening.
  • He heard a clear voice in his head, which he refers to as the "voice of God" or a divine presence, instructing him to work with kids and food, leading him to resign from his job to focus on children and food-related initiatives.
  • Kimbal Musk contemplates the nature of consciousness, the depth of the human mind, and the interconnectedness of all life on Earth.
  • He practices meditation as a way to calm his nervous system and gain clarity, viewing it as a beneficial alternative to unwinding at a bar after work.
  • He describes a meditative practice of observing one's thoughts and feelings while maintaining a sense of presence.
  • Ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic, can be a transformative experience, but it should not be taken recreationally due to its challenging and potentially traumatic nature.

Road trip across US (01:16:02)

  • Kimbal and Elon Musk took a road trip across the US in 1994 to brainstorm ideas after college, facing challenges but also encountering kind and helpful people.
  • Kimbal Musk had a successful experience running a house painting business in college, which sparked his interest in entrepreneurship.
  • Despite being drawn to Wall Street and finance, Kimbal Musk was disappointed by the people he encountered and realized it was not his passion.
  • While working at a bank, Kimbal Musk automated a time-consuming task using code, but his innovation was not appreciated by his colleagues.
  • This experience led Kimbal to abandon his business classes and pursue entrepreneurship, despite his fear of failure and the pressure to succeed in a family of entrepreneurs.
  • Kimbal Musk initially struggled in sales but improved significantly after a general manager helped him identify and correct his mistakes.
  • Musk emphasizes the importance of humility for entrepreneurs, especially young ones, as it allows them to learn from others and adapt their actions.

Zip2 (01:27:45)

  • Zip2 was one of the first companies to offer vector-based mapping on the internet, allowing users to zoom in and out of maps.
  • Kimbal and his brother obtained the mapping data from Navtech, who owned it but allowed them to use it on the internet with the condition that they would share any revenue generated from it.
  • Zip2 was a success and became a top 100 website, but it faced challenges in generating revenue as the internet was still in its early stages and there was no clear business model for online services.
  • Zip2 was acquired by Compaq, which wanted to merge it with AltaVista (a search engine) to create a Yahoo killer.
  • Compaq paid Kimbal and his brother in cash instead of stock, which turned out to be beneficial as the dot-com bubble burst shortly after.

Tesla (01:32:28)

  • Kimbal Musk was involved in the early days of PayPal, which merged with, now known as Twitter. He later joined Tesla as a founding board member and helped sell the initial products.
  • Tesla faced significant challenges during the development of the Model 3, including financial difficulties and skepticism about its viability. Despite these challenges, the Model 3 became a transformative product for Tesla, making electric vehicles more affordable and accessible to a wider audience.
  • Tesla operates differently from traditional car companies, with a focus on continuous improvement, software updates, and over-the-air updates. Kimbal Musk compares Tesla's autopilot update to turning the car into an iPhone with wheels, emphasizing its significance.
  • Kimbal Musk contrasts his growth mindset, which focuses on learning and progress, with Elon Musk's destination-oriented mindset. Kimbal finds personal fulfillment in the learning process, while Elon is driven by the urgency of reaching specific goals.
  • Kimbal uses "forcing functions" instead of strict deadlines to motivate productivity, acknowledging the importance of deadlines while emphasizing the ongoing nature of progress.

SpaceX (01:39:53)

  • Kimbal Musk invested in SpaceX and supported his brother, Elon, through the company's highs and lows.
  • One of the most challenging times for SpaceX was when a rocket blew up in the mid-Pacific.
  • Kimbal found solace in cooking and sharing meals with the SpaceX team during difficult times.
  • Cooking brought the team together and helped lift their spirits.
  • Despite the advanced technology and accomplishments of SpaceX, the communal experience of sharing food remained a foundation of human society.

Hope for the future (01:43:36)

  • Poverty rates and infant mortality have significantly decreased over the past 50 years.
  • Despite daily challenges and negative news, long-term trends show improvements in various aspects of life.
  • Instead of focusing solely on hope, it's important to maintain perspective and reflect on progress.
  • Addressing specific problems, such as the obesity epidemic, through initiatives like Big Green can make a positive impact.
  • Celebrating successes and acknowledging the efforts of those who help others is essential.
  • Taking time to appreciate life's incredible moments and the opportunity for meaningful conversations is important.

Overwhelmed by Endless Content?