Tag Archives: cooking

Art & Science

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?

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Filed under Consulting, food

It’s Time For Comfort Food

It’s Foodie Friday and I can’t think of a more appropriate topic for these times than comfort food. I suppose that what’s considered comfort food varies from person to person. Generally speaking, I always think of it as some food that brings back wonderful memories. It’s the stuff we eat when we’re stressed, and if you’re not stressed even a little bit at the moment you’ve obviously not been paying attention.

I wrote about comfort food way back in 2008, even before Foodie Friday became a thing. I’d actually forgotten that I had done so until I saved the first draft of today’s post and WordPress attached a “2” to the title, to let me know there was already a post of the same name somewhere on the screed. 

Anyway, here is what I wrote then. Enjoy it. Please stay home and cook something comforting this weekend.

Everyone has something they eat that evokes happy memories.  Something that makes you feel warm and safe even if you don’t quite know why.  It could be something your Mom cooked for you when you were sick or down.  It could be something you associate with a meaningful experience.  But everyone has one or two or maybe more.

One of mine is beef flanken – I know – you never heard of it.  Basically, it’s short ribs cut across the ribs instead of in between the ribs and cooked in a mushroom vegetable soup.  Butchers would call this “English cut” and it’s also how the Argentines cut their short ribs.  One eats the soup and meat separately – I love to slather the boiled meat with horseradish.  Hey!  I didn’t say YOU had to enjoy it or find it comforting.  That’s kind of the point – the unique memories and feelings each of us associate with the item.

Given all the positive feelings evoked by comfort food, the question for me is always how can I get my clients or business partners to feel about me as they do their favorite comfort food?  If each of us can click with someone that deeply, we must be doing something right.  Implicit in that is that a “one dish fits all” approach won’t work.  Every partner is unique.  Each one needs to be dealt with on an individual basis according to their tastes.  It may not be easy to figure that out, but once you do it’s incredibly rewarding.

What’s your favorite comfort food?  Do you have any idea how to become someones?  Leave a comment!

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Filed under Consulting, food

Tajine

This Foodie Friday, let’s investigate tajine. Those of you with some knowledge of middle eastern or northern African food and cooking will recognize that a tajine is both a dish and a cooking vessel. You probably aren’t aware that it makes a great business point as well.

The dish, as one might expect, varies quite a bit depending on the location and culture. Generally speaking, a tajine is a stew that’s cooked slowly. Depending on the culture, it can have meats, fish, regional spices and broth. Some cultures add fruit and nuts. In Tunisia, eggs and cheese are common additions, making the stew more like a frittata.

What most of the cultures have in common is that the dish is cooked in a pot with a pyramid-shaped lid that does most of the work for you and produces consistently moist results, condensing and redirecting steam back into the food. Technically you don’t need a tajine to cook a tajine (see what I did there?) but because the pot is made from porous terra cotta, it gets seasoned and infused with flavors over time. Yes, very much like a great cast-iron skillet. Yes, you could use a slow-cooker which develops a similar cooking environment and yes, some tajine pots are enameled so they don’t really absorb flavor, but no matter which way you go, the business point remains the same.

A tajine is very much a product of a specific environment. The flavors reflect the culture and what the pot does so well is to create a condition that keeps the product inside in an optimal state. I think that’s what great corporate cultures do as well. First, they select “ingredients” – people and processes – that reflect who they are as an organization. Next, they create an environment that allows those ingredients to combine while protecting them from burning or overcooking. It’s a slow, gentle braise.

Think about the best places in which you worked. I’ll bet it was a “braise” environment and not “broiling”. I’ve worked in the latter and the staff tended to be overcooked quite quickly.  It’s like one lovely description of tajine cooking says:

Fill the pot with your layered ingredients before it has fully heated, either at room temperature or when barely warm. This helps to mediate overall temperature and prevent any scorching. There’s no sautéing necessary—simply layer ingredients and add liquid all in one go. A moist and saucy tagine comes from the trapped steam, not pre-cooking.

As you’re creating your corporate tajine, think about both the dish and the pot. Keep the staff from scorching and the environment so it creates optimal conditions for success. It’s probably simpler than you think if you have the right tools!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

New Year, New Protein, Same Problems

Happy New Year and Happy Foodie Friday! I hope you all had safe and enjoyable holidays. I did and I used the break to do some experimenting in the kitchen. If you’re like me you probably have a dozen or so stand-bys that you cook a lot of the time. For me, these tend to get repeated with some frequency as I’m planning the menus for the week.

One “resolution” for this year is to try to be less meat-centric in my cooking so I used the holidays to try a few new things, one of which was a tofu recipe. While I do have a daughter who’s a vegan and an expert tofu preparer, I’m certainly not. Because of that, I was more dependent on the recipe I found that I might be with many other proteins. I bought all of the ingredients and followed the directions carefully.

Here is where the problem arose and it gets to the business point I’d like to make today. The ingredient list was very specific about using Sambal Oelek, which the recipe termed a “spicy garlic sauce.” That’s what I bought. I didn’t take the time to scroll through the comments on the recipe (an error I won’t make going forward) or I would have seen this exchange:

Commentor: sambal oelek doesn’t contain garlic. i’m looking at the ingredients and it’s ground chilis, vinegar, salt, and preservatives. is it possible you mean huy fong chili garlic sauce?

Author: AHH omg, you are right!!! That is exactly what I meant. They’re so similar in packaging that I just thought they were interchangeable names 😦

So I bought the wrong stuff. That’s not my issue, however. The date of the post was September of 2018. The author has known for over a year that the recipe is wrong and hasn’t corrected it to reflect the proper sauce. That’s what got me thinking about a number of points this illustrates.

First, we all know to be careful about things we read on the internet but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that we need to delve more deeply into everything we read. Don’t take what you’re reading at face value. Find other sources. Dig more deeply. This reminded me to use my cookbooks as a source more often rather than the internet. I know the cookbooks have been vetted by people who cook everything carefully to assure the recipes are right.

Second, if we create content, I think we have an obligation to make sure what we post is accurate and if we find out that it’s not, we have an obligation to correct it. We should also point out the correction. Legitimate sources do that. If you want to be considered a trustworthy source, you need to do it too.

Third, the young woman who runs this blog (which is very nicely designed) seems to be trying to run it professionally even if it’s a side-gig from her regular job. My issue isn’t that her style is very light and fun. It’s HER style and every business should have their own. The problem is that light and fun can’t mean posting smiley faces when there’s an error. You need to take action. I can almost hear the “whatever” in her response to the above comment and this exchange which comes from the recipe saying to brown all 4 sides of the tofu cubes:

There are 6 sides to a cube, not 4…..

Yes, someone has always pointed that out to me. I haven’t gotten around to changing it in the recipe; it doesn’t affect the recipe in any way that I can’t get my shapes right 😉

A minor point? Sure. Is she right that it doesn’t affect the dish? Probably. But it does affect her audience’s perception of her professionalism and maturity. These two corrections would probably have taken her under a minute to make.

Make a resolution be accurate in everything you post in 2020. More importantly, promise to correct your errors. There is just too much misinformation out there, isn’t there?

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Filed under digital media, food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Pots And Pans

Happy Foodie Friday! Have you recovered from last week’s massive food fest? If you were the host of the festivities, at some point you hauled out some pots and pans. Cookware is the most basic kitchen equipment besides a great chef’s knife (you have one of those, right?) Other than when you’re outdoors cooking on a grill or smoker, you pretty much need a pan or a pot or several of each to get the job done.

This isn’t going to be a “how to equip your kitchen with cookware” screed. The reality is that my favorite sizes and types of cookware may not be at all appropriate for you. I mean, I cook on a gas cooktop which means that I like cookware that can handle high heat and distribute it evenly. You may cook on an induction stove which means your pots and pans need to be a “ferrous” metal – meaning a magnet needs to cling to them to work properly on an induction cooktop or range.

I often will start something on the stove and then move it to the oven. That means I want pans that have handles that can go in the oven without melting as well as pans that won’t warp in the oven heat. In fact, thin, insubstantial pans may be less costly but single-ply cookware does not heat evenly nor does it retain heat well. This means that you are likely to burn things. Thin pans warp easily as well and if you’ve ever tried to maintain a thin layer of oil or butter for sautéing in a warped pan, you know it’s damn near impossible to get it right in that case.

You might insist on everything being non-stick or you might have concerns about the surface leaching into food. You might love ceramic pans while I don’t like how they discolor over time. To each his own, right? But what’s important is that you THINK about what you cook and how you cook before you invest in cookware. Ideally, it’s something you’re only going to do once for each pot or pan you buy.

The same holds true in business. What’s right for my business may be totally wrong for yours and, like a non-ferrous pan on your induction cooktop, might not work at all. You need to do requirements planning with input from all constituencies (all cooks weigh in!). You need to evaluate all the options and costs, while always important, can’t be the primary criterion. I generally buy my stuff at a restaurant supply place that sells to the public – it’s high-quality, will stand up to my home use since it’s made for much heavier use than I give it, and it’s less expensive than the stuff you find in the “consumer” stores. That is a great guideline for anything you’re doing in business as well. Plan, research, evaluate and buy for the long-term. You’d be surprised where the best solutions can be found!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Harder Than It Is

Happy Foodie Friday! I was menu-planning the other day (an absolute must before the weekly trip to the grocery store) and I came across a dish that I know to be pretty easy to make yet which appears way more difficult. I’ve served it before and people are always all “oh, that must have taken hours” about it when it’s really about a 15-minute prep. As an aside, there are many other dishes I know – really good Bolognese sauce, for example – that take way more time than you’d think even using a pressure cooker to speed things up.

Seeing that dish got me to thinking, in a roundabout way, that we humans have a tendency to think things are way more difficult than they are in many cases. In fact, I think some of us go to great lengths to make it that way. I’m not talking about a particular type of person I’d run across in business every so often. You know the one – they create problems so that they can solve them and be the hero. No, what I’m talking about is that we love to make things harder than they actually are.

Think about it. What things did you do today that purposefully made your life more difficult ? It was probably so small a thing, or something so ingrained in you, that you didn’t even notice that you did it. Maybe you didn’t set your alarm to allow for enough time to be someplace. Maybe you sat on a task until right before a deadline and you couldn’t get it done on time because something unforeseen happened.  Or maybe you just enjoy the drama. It’s sort of the same thrill as riding a roller-coaster, right? You put yourself in danger and when you survive, you feel a thrill.

Here’s my take. Life can be like some seemingly-fancy dishes – much easier to pull together than meets the eye IF – and it’s a big if – you have the skills required, leave adequate time to complete the task, and don’t make it harder than it has to be. All of us make our lives both in and out of business harder than they have to be at times and unless and until we recognize the times that we’re doing it, nothing much will change.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

The Dead Of Dining

I came up with today’s Foodie Friday topic this past week as I was dining out. Which of course leads to The Grateful Dead. If any of you are Deadheads, one thing you know is that when the band was on and in full flight they were magnificent. They could take you with them as they soared musically. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening on any given night were not close to 100%.

It’s the thing that frustrates most of us who listened to The Dead. You could go to a show never knowing if you were going to walk away uplifted or disappointed. The experience was inconsistent. They were the musical personification of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

OK, back to food. I took a little mini-vacation this week to an island just off the North Carolina coast. It was lovely but because it is a relatively small island, there are limited dining options. One of these options was a place that serves Mexican food. The first time I dined there I had a lovely skirt steak but what struck me was how good the accompanying rice and black beans were. The beans were perfectly textured with a little smokiness coming from a piece of smoked pork tossed in the pot. The rice was billowy. I made it a point to return on another night.

The second night I dined there, the beans were bland and tough, as was the rice. In fact, the rice had a crunch to it, not like the lovely socarrat that forms in paella but from being undercooked and raw. Everything from the drinks to the entrees seems to have been tossed together with a minimum of care and thought.

It reminded me that one thing we need in business is consistency. Whether we’re serving food or figures, customers need to know that they can count on our product meeting a high standard each and every time. Employees and our team need to know that everyone is treated fairly and using the same standards. Unlike The Dead or this restaurant, we can’t miss the mark as often as we hit it. The only times we miss the standards we set should be those occasions when we move those standards up a notch. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Music