Tag Archives: Cook

Foaming At the Mouth

This Foodie Friday, let’s talk about foams for a minute. Food foams, that is, and not the thick ones such as whipped cream, marshmallows, or even cake. I mean the foams that have come out of molecular gastronomy and are made out of mushrooms or parmesan cheese or just about anything else. Throw some stabilizing agent (agar, lecithin,etc.) into a liquid, grab the old immersion blender and voila: foam.

Let me give you two prominent cooks takes on them. The first is Gordon Ramsay:

If I want foam I will stick to my bubble bath after the end of a long week. Watching foam sit on a plate and 30 seconds later it starts to disintegrate and it starts to look like toxic scum on a stagnant pool of crap. I don’t want to eat foams. It’s not good.

Then there is Alton Brown‘s take:

Don’t think you can replace cooking technique with throwing a bunch of flavors on top of something. Any more than you can making it into a caviar. Or making it into a foam. If I live the rest of my culinary life without a seeing another foam, I’ll be OK. I’m sick to death of foam. What does foam do? Cover our bad cooking, by and large.

I must admit that I’m not particularly a fan of foams on my plate but I find the above two quotes of interest to us today because each also contains a business point. Chef Ramsay rightfully points out that when customers purchase a product they expect it to perform and endure. If you have kids, you know the experience of toys being destroyed by lunch time on Christmas. It’s almost as if the toy makers never put the thing into the hands of a 4-year-old to test endurance. But many of us have had the same experience with tech toys and other products. We need to build our products and services to last.

The second quote points out that customers aren’t easily distracted. A nicely flavored foam can’t hide a poorly cooked protein underneath it. It’s great that we design digital products and physical products to look nice but consumers value substance over style in the long run. Just as diners order the protein and not the foam, consumers are focused on the main promise the product is making and not on how pretty it is.

Foams add flavor without adding substance. I think we all need a lot more substance in this world. You?

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Cooks And Bakers

It’s Foodie Friday and today I want you to think about if you’re a cook or if you’re a baker.  Your immediate response, assuming you spend time in the kitchen, might be “Gee, I do both.”  That’s probably true.  When I’m preparing the Thanksgiving feast, I bake pies and the occasional cake but I am definitely NOT a baker.

One of the bakers at Boudin Bakery in Fisherma...

(Credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it’s my rebellious nature (those of use who lived through the 1960’s have that streak) but baking is way too rigid for me.  Baking is chemistry.  It’s Baroque music to cooking’s jazz.  One has specific formulas and rules; the other encourages improvisation.  I know how certain flavors go together and armed with just an idea and my tools I can usually make something pretty good.  Try that with baking.

When you make a baking mistake it’s pretty obvious.  Not so with cooking.  I can eyeball a tablespoon of oil for a pan.  Try eyeballing a tablespoon of baking powder armed with the knowledge that if you’re off the whole project fails.  This is not to say I think less of bakers.  They are far more precise and patient than I tend to be in the kitchen.  I can’t see very many bakers I know or see on TV going off on a rant while many of the chefs appear to be aggressive, anxious, and on edge.  Walk in to any restaurant and you’ll see them both.  Which is, of course, the business point.

Like a restaurant, any business needs both bakers and cooks on the team to produce a complete product.  You need the team members who try new things and crave pushing the boundaries.  You also need the ones who are calmer and more grounded in the “recipes” that make your business go.  Which brings us back to my initial question.  Are you a baker or a cook?  There is no right answer, but whatever your answer is should remind you that you need someone to make the other half of the menu.  You might be a cook who can bake a little (me) or a baker who has kitchen skills but finding both types are what will make your business well-rounded and last.

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Top Foodie Friday Post Of 2014

Since it’s Friday I thought I’d finish the week of reviewing the most-read posts of last year with the most-read Foodie Friday post.  This one is from April 11 and was originally called “Sinkers vs. Floaters.”  In all candor it tied two other posts – “Pumpkin Eggnog” and “Why Saving The Pots Is Bad Business” – as most read.  Since it was the oldest and kind of one of my favorites, I’m reposting it.  Enjoy – back to new rants next week!

It’s Foodie Friday and this is the last food-related post before the start of Passover.

matzah ball soup

Photo credit: h-bomb)

In honor of that, I thought I’d raise one of the most important questions this time of year brings:  sinkers or floaters?   I’m talking about matzo balls, of course, and the question of whether they should float in the soup like little clouds or sink to the bottom like rocks is a matter of serious debate around the Seder table.  As it turns out, the debate contains some instructive business thinking as well.

I’ll preface what I am about to say with an acknowledgment that I am not a neutral party.  I have some definite thoughts about matzo balls.  I should also add that here in the New York area, many non-Jews eat a lot of matzo ball soup year round so the debate isn’t limited to Passover tables.

The basic recipe for matzo balls is simple.  Matzoh meal, eggs, fat of some sort, and liquid.  That’s where agreement stops.  The primary aspects of the discussion involve the following (almost Talmudic) questions:

  • Should the kneidlach (Yiddish for matzo balls) sink or float in the soup?
  • Should they contain schmaltz (chicken fat) or margarine or oil?
  • Should seltzer be used to “leaven” them?
  • Should the egg whites be separated and whipped to add lightness?
  • Should they be boiled in salted water or in the soup broth?
  • Should they be the size of golf balls or tennis balls?

There are some minor issues including the use of parsley and other seasoning but the above are the main elements.  Every family has their own answers and even within a family there is disagreement, especially if there are two grandmothers involved.  Which brings us to the business point.

There are few things more simple and yet as complex as these little dumplings.  The risk one runs when just assuming they can make them without careful thought to each of the above is that the debate rears its ugly head at the table and a familial brouhaha ensues.  The same problem happens in business.  We often look at seemingly simple issues without a fully thinking through the many complex underlying issues that can affect how well the final product fares.  That can be a huge mistake and it’s always worth a few minutes thinking through those issues before jumping into a problem.

Floaters with a nice “chew”, by the way.  Yours?

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Why Cook?

Foodie Friday (finally) and this week’s food screed is about cooking. I’m always surprised that many people – younger people in particular – can’t cook.

Cooking Knifes

(Photo credit: nickwheeleroz)

Oh sure, they can heat up something in the microwave and say they’ve “cooked” supper, but since food is one of life’s necessities, one would think that everyone would take the time to learn to prepare it.  There are some basic business points in my thinking as well (you knew THAT was coming…).

I can hear the naysayers among you: “Cooking takes time and I don’t have any.”  Not true.  Once you’ve learned a few basic skills, you can have really good dishes on the table in under 30 minutes.  That’s not longer than it takes to heat a frozen meal up in the oven and while the microwave might cut that time down, there is no comparison to the quality (plus you’ll generally have some leftover for the next day).

Other reasons to learn to cook:  you know what you’re eating.  I guarantee you can pronounce the names of everything you put in a dish – read a frozen food package and see if you can say the same.  The ingredients are healthier too.  Ordering in?  Besides being more expensive than doing it yourself (even factoring in the cost of your time), you have no clue how much salt or fat was used, no clue if everything was as scrupulously clean as you would make it, and no idea if the food will arrive hot (ever had a pizza arrive with a steamed crust – yuck).  Finally, cooking is fun.  OK, maybe not so much when it doesn’t go well, but for me it’s almost a form of meditation.  It takes you away from the rest of your world and forces your focus elsewhere.  So why this rant on why you should learn to cook?

Like the non-cooks, many businesses haven’t learned some of the basic skills they need, thinking they can outsource them or buy an off-the shelf solution.  In some cases it makes sense – it’s like going out to eat every so often.But take, as an example, a web business that outsources all of its coding and design.  That firm is at the mercy of the developer. They can’t “cook” for themselves.  Obviously I’m a “dine out”solution for my clients so you know I’m a fan of looking outside for some tasks.  But mission-critical skills – which will vary by business – should be acquired and available, just like cooking.

Your take?

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Meatballs

For our Foodie Friday Fun I’d like to challenge you.

A batch of Danish meatballs, also known as &qu...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Name a culture that doesn’t have a meatball on the menu. Chinese? Got a lot of them. German? Not even Klopse (see what I did there?). No, they’re pretty common everywhere, and why not? They’re a wonderful way to stretch meat as well as to make use of the scraps left when trimming larger cuts.

In most cultures, the meat is ground or finely chopped and some sort of panade – a moistened mass of bread – or breadcrumbs are added both for moisture and lightness.  The herbs and other seasonings are added, as is a binder such as egg.  The mixture is rolled into balls and then fried, steamed, boiled, or cooked in some combination of those methods.  Of course meat is optional.  Once can make excellent meatballs with beans and vegetables and bind them with soaked ground flax-seed in place of eggs to keep them vegan.  What does this have to do with business?

A lot.  First, meatballs are the common food across cultures.  NYC is the crossroads of the world.  Is it a coincidence that a place called The Meatball Shop has done really well here?  If I’m creating a product that I want to sell around the world, or at least to a diverse customer base, I look to the ubiquity of the meatball as a guide.  What do this culture’s meatballs have to do with other with respect to methods and materials?  How can that guide me from a product and marketing perspective (I’m looking for affinities here, not for the types of spice they prefer.  Are they more in tune with, say, England than with Denmark?).

Next, I look to the meatball to remind me that there is no one way to do anything.  Most meatballs are relatively simple although they’re equally simple to screw up by making them too dry or under-seasoned.  Keeping things simple prevents errors, as does clean instruction and detailed recipes.  That said, allowing people to do things their way and to build a better ball can move the business forward.  Embrace their mistakes and help them feel free to make them.

Finally, meatballs can be a bonus product created from the detritus of the main dish.  What can be made from the by-products of what you do every day?

Amazing what we can learn from something so simple, isn’t it?

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Confiting Your Business

Foodie Friday and I have duck confit on the brain.

Duck confit with salad

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s one of my favorite foods and as I’m writing this I’m in the process of making a batch after one of my friends gave me a tub of duck fat. Stop making freaked out noises. You’ve probably had lots of stuff fried in duck fat without knowing it. It’s one of the professional kitchen’s secret weapons.

Duck confit is duck legs that are cured, usually in salt and spices, for a day and then the cure is removed and the legs are roasted at a low temperature covered in their own fat.  The resulting product can be kept for months.  You can confit anything but to me duck legs are the absolute pinnacle of the technique.  After all, fat is flavor and what could be more flavorful than food cooked in fat!

I think there is a lot to learn about business from confit.  After all, what is fat but stored energy?  They are also essential in preventing disease.  So much for all you sickly, skinny folks!  Every business person can benefit from the confit treatment when it comes to their business.

Think about it.  Immersing one’s self in the stored energy of the work. Recognizing that this immersion will focus you, letting you pay attention to the important stuff and  that the needs and priorities will change day by day.  Too many of us try to stay aloof in order to see the big picture.  Not a bad idea but getting immersed – letting the stored energy of the business cover you – can be a perspective change too, one that can prove beneficial.  As mentioned above, fat is flavor, and that immersion in the essence of the business can’t help but add to your understanding.

The magic of confit is that is intensifies the flavors, brings out the essences,  and holds them for a long time.  Doesn’t that sound like something from which a business can benefit too?

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Sinkers Vs. Floaters

It’s Foodie Friday and this is the last food-related post before the start of Passover.

matzah ball soup

Photo credit: h-bomb)

In honor of that, I thought I’d raise one of the most important questions this time of year brings:  sinkers or floaters?   I’m talking about matzo balls, of course, and the question of whether they should float in the soup like little clouds or sink to the bottom like rocks is a matter of serious debate around the Seder table.  As it turns out, the debate contains some instructive business thinking as well.

I’ll preface what I am about to say with an acknowledgment that I am not a neutral party.  I have some definite thoughts about matzo balls.  I should also add that here in the New York area, many non-Jews eat a lot of matzo ball soup year round so the debate isn’t limited to Passover tables.

The basic recipe for matzo balls is simple.  Matzoh meal, eggs, fat of some sort, and liquid.  That’s where agreement stops.  The primary aspects of the discussion involve the following (almost Talmudic) questions:

  • Should the kneidlach (Yiddish for matzo balls) sink or float in the soup?
  • Should they contain schmaltz (chicken fat) or margarine or oil?
  • Should seltzer be used to “leaven” them?
  • Should the egg whites be separated and whipped to add lightness?
  • Should they be boiled in salted water or in the soup broth?
  • Should they be the size of golf balls or tennis balls?

There are some minor issues including the use of parsley and other seasoning but the above are the main elements.  Every family has their own answers and even within a family there is disagreement, especially if there are two grandmothers involved.  Which brings us to the business point.

There are few things more simple and yet as complex as these little dumplings.  The risk one runs when just assuming they can make them without careful thought to each of the above is that the debate rears its ugly head at the table and a familial brouhaha ensues.  The same problem happens in business.  We often look at seemingly simple issues without a fully thinking through the many complex underlying issues that can affect how well the final product fares.  That can be a huge mistake and it’s always worth a few minutes thinking through those issues before jumping into a problem.

Floaters with a nice “chew”, by the way.  Yours?

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