Happy Foodie Friday. I usually post the Thanksgiving Foodie Friday screed on the Wednesday before the holiday but it’s really the only food topic on my mind today. I’ve also made it a habit to repost an item I wrote a dozen years ago (can you believe I’ve been at this since 2008?) about the three “F”s of this holiday. Given how unusual 2020 has been (I’m being kind) so far, I thought I’d revisit the topic again.
Back then I wrote that “F” number one is Family. It’s the thing for which I am most thankful. That’s still true. If anything, I’m more thankful now because I’ve not seen my family in person for almost a year. We’ve lost folks who used to attend our dinner every year and others have moved far away. It’s an old truism that you can’t choose your family and for that, I’m thankful because I would never have chosen so well. Facetime isn’t face-to-face time and you can’t hug over Zoom. Let’s all hope this is a one-year abnormality.
“F” number two is Feasting. It’s weird not cooking for 25 and honestly, it feels less like a feast than it does a regular dinner. Still, I’m thankful that there is food of any sort on the table when I see pictures of many people struggling. Hunger is a problem here in the 12th richest nation. I’m not going to fry a turkey this year in the spirit of this year being totally different (let’s hope so). Buttermilk brined and spatchcocked, it will roast relatively quickly in the oven and what used to be days of prep and cooking will be greatly condensed.
“F” number three is Football. That won’t change although it’s weird listening to pumped in fan noise when the stands are mostly empty. It’s great that we have sports on this and other days to keep us amused but I worry about the athletes and the virus. I love the annual ritual of gathering to watch the games. I don’t love that the always-present risk of injury athletes live with is compounded by the risk from the virus.
This is how the original post concluded. Hard to believe that a dozen years later and in the midst of a pandemic not much has changed in my thinking.
Our family has been challenged this year by many of the same things that millions of other families face. Illnesses, the economy, wacky weather, and the other day-to-day events that keep it…interesting… Even so, we’re very fortunate and tomorrow will be a day to remember that. If anything, the adversity has pulled us even closer.
I’m very thankful, among other things, for those of you that take the time to read the screed every once in a while. I appreciate your comments when I hit home and even more so when I miss the mark. Have a great holiday!
Foodie Friday and it’s time to plan out the weekend. I’ve got some friends arriving during the week and they’ve already asked for some very specific things to eat. Not because they’re picky eaters but because I’ve served them before and they seem to consider these things as signature dishes of mine.
If you watch “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network, the heart of the competition is when a chef names his or her signature dish and competes against Bobby who tries to improve on the chef’s version. Sometimes Bobby does just that, usually by making it his own. He’ll add some different spices or honey. He’ll plate it more attractively or top it with a relish that brings out the dish’s flavor. When you think about it, Bobby is altering the chef’s signature to make it HIS signature. It’s not forgery; it’s uniquely his.
That’s something each of us should be asking ourselves about our own business. First, what’s MY signature dish? What do I make in a way that is truly mine? No chef walks on Bobby’s show and announces some dish that the chef has made up. It’s always something standard – bouillabaisse, green chicken curry, veggie burgers, or any one of hundreds of things you can find on many menus. The chef is known for cooking it in their own unique way. What are you known for that may be done by others but not as well or as uniquely as you?
If you can’t really answer the question, that might be something you want to spend some time and develop. When you’re basically a commodity, you have very little room to compete on anything but price. If market demand is overwhelmingly high, you’re fine. When it’s not, you’re in trouble.
Your signature dish is you. It represents your style and identity. It becomes a part of how others see you. If your business doesn’t have one, you need to get in the proverbial kitchen and get to work developing one. Sooner rather than later, please!
This Foodie Friday I’d like to spend a moment thinking about what one commentator on this blog called the “cult” of Kenji. Kenji, of course, is noted food writer Kenji Lopez-Alt. He got his start working in food under some noted chefs in the Boston area, having graduated from MIT with a degree in, of course, architecture. That’s right, and to me, that makes perfect sense given his place in the food world. More about that in a second.
Kenji went on to work for Cooks Illustrated. I’ve written about Cooks before and I’m a huge fan. The way Cooks does things is very much reflected in Kenji’s work, especially in his book The Food Lab. The magazine and Kenji’s work are the result of applying the scientific method to cooking. Come up with a hypothesis and then test rigorously with skepticism about what you’re seeing until you either prove or disprove your theory. Now I realize that figuring out if you need to brown meat before you put it in a slow cooker isn’t the same sort of science as finding a cure for the coronavirus, but the process is sort of the same.
I’m a fan of this. If you’ve read more than a few of these screeds you know that I’m very much into a fact-based world. Most of Kenji’s work doesn’t involve preference although obviously when it comes to “what tastes better” it’s impossible not to be subjective. Objectivity, however, should be our goal, both in food and in life and in business. That’s why Kenji’s background in architecture makes sense to me. It combines the science of what’s “buildable” with the art of what’s beautiful. Great food is like that. It’s the art of combining flavors with the science of cooking ingredients to perfection.
Your business needs to be the same way. You can’t rely on opinions when there are facts available. You may think the pasta water needs to be salted “like the sea” until you test ziti cooked in varying levels of salinity for taste and texture. The facts say that’s too much salt, no matter what the opinion of your Italian grandmother might be. The opinion of your marketing director that a campaign is terrific is not as good as the results of A/B testing that shows what moves the needle.
We do, however, eat with our eyes and taste with our mouths. Art counts. What Kenji and his compatriots have done for cooking – combining art and science – is what you need to be doing in your business every day. You with me?
Filed under Consulting, food