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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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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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