The Upper East Side Italian restaurant had been on my list for a long time, maybe eight years.  And each time I’d been in NY, things just hadn’t lined up.  But this week’s trip to see clients presented the perfect opportunity.  Fingers crossed, I dialed for a reservation.

And at 6:30 on a Manhattan weeknight, with only two others in the restaurant, I settled in to delicious anticipation.

As I sat munching on some of the finest grissini I’ve ever tasted, a grizzled older man wandered in.

Somewhat stooped, wearing an oversized beige sweater and what can only be described as billowy blue and white pajama pants, he walked slowly past my table, a plastic shopping bag swinging from his left arm. With a slight nod, he made his way to the rear of the restaurant.

The chef.

Which delighted me to no end. I’d heard about the off-menu cacio e pepe.  But he alone prepares it. Like many of the simplest things, its execution requires mastery.

By 8:00pm, the small tables had filled to create an intimate, neighborhood feel as we patrons jostled our chairs to make room for one other. My guest and I were spinning long strands of perfectly textured pasta around our forks when the chef appeared from the kitchen.

He spoke briefly in Italian, but I got the gist of it: How was the cacio e pepe?

I am not a local who will dine there with frequency.

I am not a food critic who wields power.

And yet this critically acclaimed chef, simultaneously standing at his zenith and beside my table, was asking if the dish he’d prepared was to taste.

Do you use your success as a quest for ongoing mastery?

Have you become superbly proficient in the few simple, but essential ingredients of great leadership?

And, by the way, are you asking your customers what they think?

I’ll be speaking at the New York Bankers Association Annual Financial Services Forum this fall, and with any luck I’ll have the opportunity to dine at Sandro’s again.