Sous Vide

Image via jetcitygastrophysics.com

It’s a special Foodie Friday for me. I received a holiday gift of an immersion circulator yesterday. It just might be a catalyst of large changes in how I cook. It also got me thinking about the business point which is our focus today.
What one does with an immersion circulator is to cook using the “sous vide” method. You French scholars out there will recognize that the term means “under vacuum.”  You place whatever you’re cooking into a plastic bag, extract the air, and seal it. That can be as fancy as one of those Foodsaver devices or as simple as a zip lock bag.  Either way, what happens next is the magic and where my gift comes in.

The bag (or bags) is placed in a water bath.  The immersion circulator holds the water at a steady temperature which is the desired end temperature of the food.  So, for example, you might want a steak cooked to 140 degrees.  That’s how you set the circulator.  The food never gets warmer than the water it’s in, so the method is pretty foolproof.  It cooks to an even temperature all the way through – no overcooked parts, no raw parts.  Because it’s in a sealed environment no moisture is lost either. When you’re ready to eat, most cooks will take the product out of the bag and, in the case of most proteins, put them briefly in a very hot pan to sear them.  Other than that it’s really “set it and forget it”.  Which is the business point.

Sous vide cooking doesn’t require much attention.  That is dangerous.  Chef Thomas Keller wrote “Eliminate the need to pay attention and you eliminate the craft” in his book on Sous Vide.  I agree, and we need to be mindful of the same thing in business.  Part of what we do is to set up processes that work extremely efficiently without a lot of hands-on from managers.  That’s dangerous.  First, no process is foolproof (in sous vide a bag could rip or, if cooked way too long, the food can become mushy).  Second, as Keller says, the hands-on part is the craft of business.  While data extraction, as an example, might be automated and hands-off, what we do with it is very much the craft.

I’m excited about trying my new toy this weekend.  As in business, I’ll do so mindful that while the process may be “foolproof” the designers might never have met a fool such as me and pay a lot of attention.  Make sense?

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