Tag Archives: cooking

Mageirocophobia

It’s Foodie Friday and today we’re going to address what for some people is a debilitating problem: mageirocophobia. I know – how can I think about something I can’t even pronounce? Well, hopefully, it’s not something you think about at all, but it might just get you thinking about something that goes on in your business life, so read on.

Mageirocophobia is the fear of cooking. Yes, such a thing exists. It can take many forms and even experienced cooks might have a little of it. For some folks, they’re fine cooking for themselves but the thought of cooking for a large group – a party, a large family gathering – can become a problem. Maybe that’s when they opt for a caterer, telling themselves that they’ll be busy preparing the house when in fact they’re afraid of failing. For some people, they’re afraid to cook for others or their children, worried that they’ll poison them by serving undercooked food. In other cases, it’s a simple fear that what they’ll serve will be inedible, or at least bad enough to cause ridicule. Some people are just afraid of the entire process – sharp knives and hot pans can cause cuts and burns (I know that from personal experience!).

As with most fears, a fear of cooking is really a reflection of other things going on such as a strong need for approval or a fear of failure. It can cause people to do odd things such as never serving chicken to guests or insisting on overcooking pork. Some people I know are terrified by sharp knives and the blades in their kitchens are always dull which, as any good cook knows, causes more accidents than sharp knives do.

Some of us do the same thing in business. A decade ago I wrote a post that asked each of us to consider if our fears in business are rational? Fear of failing is not irrational but it can be debilitating. We listen to the negative voice in our head that tells us we can’t do something and we’ll be a laughingstock when we fail. We play it safe. We take the safe route and don’t push to scale quickly, avoiding new markets or products. Ultimately, as with the fearful cook, we miss out on pleasure as we avoid pain.

I’ve made my share of mistakes in both the kitchen and the office. I try to learn from each one and move on. We all have a bit of fear in new and difficult situations – we’d not be human if we didn’t. We need, however, to push through our fears if we’re ever going to achieve our goals, don’t you agree?

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Old Bay Bacon

It’s Foodie Friday! A friend of mine made some bacon a while back that might have been the best bacon I’ve ever had. It wasn’t so much that it was a nice thick cut nor that it had been perfectly cooked although both were true. Something had been added to the bacon that enhanced its overall porkiness (bacon fans know what I mean) and threw in some extra flavors for good measure. I was smitten.

I asked what was done and the answer was Old Bay. Yes, that Old Bay, the one you have hiding in the back of your spice rack to add to the shrimp and crabs you never quite get around to boiling. While the chef used the same technique I do for bacon (400-degree oven, bacon on a sheet pan for 20 minutes or so, maybe on a rack if you’re feeling ambitious about clean-up), they had sprinkled the raw bacon with Old Bay. It was transformative.

You might not be familiar with Old Bay if you don’t live here in the eastern U.S. It’s a spice blend long associated with Baltimore. Invented in 1940 by a German immigrant fleeing the Nazis, it became ubiquitous in the Chesapeake area and is one of my favorite spice blends. Celery salt, mustard, pepper, bay leaves, cloves, pimento, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, and paprika – 18 spices in all – make up this magic dust.

There’s a business point or two to be made here. First, we can’t be afraid to try new uses for old products or people. I would never have thought to put Old Bay on bacon but it’s magic. Maybe you haven’t asked a senior member of your staff to do UX testing on your new digital presence, but why wouldn’t you? If someone who, in theory, is less adept at the digital world can appreciate what you’ve done, odds are that your real target will like it as well. Or take an old product like a tape that was invented to keep ammo cases dry, change the color, and voila! Duct tape. Or maybe a heart medicine that had an unusual side effect in many men and suddenly, Viagra.

Second, to my knowledge, Old Bay’s recipe has never been changed. There’s always a tendency out there to tinker with successful products through line extensions or even wholesale revamps of the product. Resist it. Look at Craig’s List – it’s still pretty much the same as it was when it launched 23 years ago. No bells and whistles, no streaming video, just classifieds and a whole lot of success. Create new things but don’t dilute the brand and don’t ever jeopardize the cash cow. There is Old Bay flavoring in many products, but the core product – the spice blend – has never changed.

Sprinkle a little Old Bay on something – bacon, a Bloody Mary, popcorn, almost anything – and remind yourself that greatness can endure even as we find new ways to incorporate it into our businesses.

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Copycat Recipes

This Foodie Friday we’re contemplating the field of endeavor known as copycat recipes. If you read any food sites, at some point you come across recipes which attempt to replicate some of the more popular dishes from chain restaurants. Yes, you too can have unlimited Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits and Chick-Fil-A sandwiches at the same time!

There are books of these recipes and I’ll admit to having tried a couple over the years. While I’ve come close to duplicating a few dishes I’ve enjoyed in restaurants, the results were not exactly the same. One wouldn’t expect that though. I’m not using the same ingredients (the bacon I buy may not be what McDonald’s uses) nor do I have a commercial convection oven or deep fryer. Still, they were enjoyable enough and in a couple of cases, the experience inspired me to create my own variation that I liked even better.

I think these recipes can be fun for some but they miss a fundamental point. Making Girl Scout Samoas at home, besides being incredibly time-consuming, doesn’t support the Girl Scouts. When I want a “hot now” Krispy Kreme, I don’t want to wait a few hours for my homemade versions to rise and fry. What makes some of these dishes so good, in part, is that you don’t have to cook them. They’re risk-free, they’re ready when you want them, they’re always available, and they’re consistent. And of course, that’s the point today.

It’s quite possible that someone will try to copy what it is you’re doing if you’re doing it well. In the case of recipes, the cook can’t turn to the copyright law to protect the dish. Recipes aren’t subject to copyright. Mp3 players had been around for several years before Apple “copied” the recipe and improved it. One could argue that Apple was the victim when Microsoft “copied” the graphical interface that became Windows from Apple, who had “copied” it from Xerox. Sure, you can file a patent to protect you but that immediately makes how you’re doing what you’re doing available to anyone. They can then produce a variant on what you’re doing. Each of the folks in my examples made the recipe their own. That’s the point. You protect your secret recipe in either of two ways and the law has little to do with either.

The first is never to make the product public so no one has a chance to duplicate what you’ve got. Obviously, that’s not a great solution. The other way is to make sure that you produce the end-result to a consistently high standard which is risk-free for the customer, and that you provide that customer with an unrivaled level of support and service. That’s why copycat recipes will never be as good as what you get when you dine out. You copy?

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Taking The Temperature

Foodie Friday! As much as I’d like to write about Pimento Cheese on this Masters’ Friday, I have a business thought that comes from an article I read on whipped cream. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated, about which I’ve written before, have a science page as part of their website. On it, they present the results of their ongoing tests into food preparation and one of the things they investigated was the old saw that you have to start with cold cream if you’re whipping the cream to stiff peaks.

The short answer is that yes, temperature matters and the colder your cream (and bowl and beaters) the better. You get much better results that way – a higher volume and much less whipping time to get the results you want. In fact, cream at room temperature never really got to stiff peaks at all. As I read the piece it occurred to me that the kitchen isn’t the only place where the environment matters.

You don’t have to look very far into the business world to find companies that produce excellent results because the management creates optimal conditions for the team to do so. I’ve worked in places where I’ve seen two similar departments produce very different results based on how the managers treated the staff. I wouldn’t say that one department had very different levels of skill or intelligence but it did have some managers that created the best conditions possible for success. They outlined the group’s goals clearly. They were supportive and encouraging. They didn’t hesitate to praise great work (and publicly!) and they very quietly made sure that the underperformers knew they were not meeting the standards of the group. The people in the group weren’t impersonal names on a page. They had personal relationships with each person and communicated effectively with each person. They led by example and didn’t hold themselves above the group or to a different standard of behavior.

Creating the right conditions for success really is the only job a manager has. Much like making sure the cream, beaters, and bowl are cold, they make it easy for the team to produce the best possible outcomes with the least effort and drama. Doesn’t that sound like a plan?

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Dishing On The Holidays

As seems to happen so often after a decade of blogging, I find that a post I wrote some time ago says what I want to say today. Of course, it’s Foodie Friday and it’s also Good Friday, the start of the Easter weekend. This post, originally titled “Tsimmes,” captures the food and business themes. Enjoy the post, enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate, and enjoy the weekend!

This week’s Foodie Friday coincides with the start of Passover. As with most festivals of any religion, certain foods appear for the Seder that rarely show up at other times during the year. One of those is Tsimmis, a combination of sweet potatoes, dried fruit, and carrots. I use a recipe written down by my mother years ago (from her mother) and as with many family recipes it requires some interpretation and local knowledge. It calls for a “large can” of yams (how large exactly?), a box of prunes (which is how many ounces?) and a few other equally vague references. Of course, my inclination as a cook is to use fresh ingredients. Fresh sweet potato instead of canned, fresh carrots in place of the bag of frozen ones called for, etc. I don’t, however, and the reason why I don’t is a good business point too.

If I were to serve the dish made with fresh ingredients my family, who have been eating my mother’s recipe at seders for decades, would notice a difference.  Holidays are built around traditions and those traditions contain expectations.  Would the dish taste better?  Probably.  It would be more healthy as well – canned yams in syrup are not the best thing.  But the folks around that table aren’t looking for healthy or better.  They want the comfort of the familiar.

We often forget that in business as we’re always trying to make or products or services “better.”  History is littered with products that represent good companies making bad decisions by making the very familiar different.  New Coke, the Arch Deluxe burger, and others represent variants on successful products that seemed the same but resulted in an experience that didn’t match consumers’ expectations.  Of course we need to improve but we need to do so in a way that brings our customers along for the ride.  Presenting them with a dish that they expect to be one thing but which is very different probably isn’t going to have a great outcome.

It can be done.  Another Foodie Friday example.  After years of roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving I wanted to switch to frying them (it freed up my ovens, was quicker and they taste better too!).  I didn’t just switch them one year.  I did both and let the family come to their own conclusions.  My mother was able to answer her “darling, won’t they be very greasy?” question by comparing the methods side by side.  Now, we only fry.

As brands, we can cajole, request, and demonstrate.  We can’t impose.  We need to meet expectations with the dishes that live in their memories and for which they keep coming back.

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Side Dishes

It’s Foodie Friday and today I’m inspired by a friend of mine who loves side dishes. Anytime a meal is discussed, the only question raised is “what are the sides?” Beef Wellington that took hours to prepare? Meh, but what kind of potatoes? You slaved for five hours over a perfect Bolognese Sauce? Interesting, but what veggies are we having?

I suspect that many of us think in an opposite manner. Side dishes are a throw-in – a starch of some sort, maybe some roasted veggies and a salad. When was the last time you just tossed a steak on the grill but worked for hours over perfect Pommes Dauphine? I suspect the next time will be the first since it’s much easier to put a bag of tater tots in the oven. Even when one goes to many restaurants, while the main proteins often have lengthy descriptions of each dish, the side dishes are generally just a listing of the vegetables and starches available.

I’m starting to pay a bit more attention to the sides. As it turns out, many businesses are too. What do I mean? Take the airlines. Originally, “ancillary revenues” such as baggage fees, change fees, advance boarding fees, and all of those horrible nickel and dime items the flying public hates were just side dishes. The main business was in filling seats. Today, airlines make over $80 Billion on these sidelines, and in many ways, they’re the entire profit center for the business. In other cases, what began as a side dish became the business. Groupon used to be an online fundraising site and only sold stuff as a sideline. Nintendo sold playing cards and making video games was a sideline. Twitter was a side project within a podcasting company called Odeo.

When was the last time you thought about the side dishes contained within your business? Maybe there are folks out there who love the sides more than the main and would be willing to skip the main altogether?

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Deglazing

This Foodie Friday I want to talk about deglazing. It’s a very basic technique for sauce-making but it’s also a word that scares a lot of people when they see it in a recipe. As it turns out, it also has something to do with business.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, deglazing is nothing more than using some sort of liquid to loosen the bits leftover in a pan (called fond) after you’ve cooked something in that pan. Say, for example, you’ve made a roast and after you pour out the accumulated fat and juices, you see a lot of crispy bits clinging to the pan. You would deglaze the pan by heating it and pouring in a liquid. It can be as basic as water but wine or stock is preferable because you’re going to use the resulting liquid as the foundation for a sauce or gravy. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t deglaze your pans!

I suspect some of you out there just toss the fond – you scrape the remnants into the trash. Well, as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that’s where the business thought comes in. How many businesses have been built around taking what someone has discarded and finding a new or better use for it? The entire recycling industry is built around that notion. While we’ve been recycling things for centuries, especially during shortages of raw materials created by war, the modern industry is just about 50 years old and is a $500 billion enterprise.

The point today is to get you to ask yourself what might be incredibly useful and productive in your business that you might be discarding. It could be a person, it could be a product that’s underperforming because it’s not sexy and no one wants to work on it, or it could be an unexplored portion of the data you gather. These things might just be fond, and with a little deglazing they can be transformed. What do you think?

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