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Eggplant Parm And Your Business

It’s Foodie Friday Fun time again, thank goodness.  Today I want to write about a dining issue we had here and how it made a great business point.

Eggplant Español: Berenjena

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My family has very diverse meal preferences.  We have a vegan, a vegetarian, one who won’t eat eggs if they’re discernible (but loves meat), and an omnivore (that would be me!).  Even though two of the four are not usually around for dinner, finding dishes that the vegetarian and I can share is a challenge.  I avoid most pasta these days but since we both love Italian food I thought eggplant parmesan might be a good choice.  That’s when I was told that eggplant is on the “slimy foods I don’t like” list.

My solution was to alter the preparation method.  Even though I was taught the dish in the traditional way (slice the eggplant and fry it first), I changed it up.  I salted the eggplant, which is not unusual, but I did so to condense it a bit, not to make it less bitter (which I think is a myth).  I breaded it and let it dry on wire racks before baking the slices in a minuscule amount of oil.  They came out of the oven looking as if they’d been fried as usual.  From there it was just sauce, a couple of kinds of cheese, and a little more oven time.  She loved it – and it’s now a favorite meal although it takes a lot of time to make.

That’s what cooking – and business – is all about.  You listen to your customers and try new methods to adjust the product or service to their needs.  What I heard when she said “slimy” was “greasy” and “oily.”  That comes from the frying and isn’t inherent in the eggplant.  What happened when we removed that impediment?  Total bliss.  That’s what we need to do as businesspeople as well.  Listen carefully and hear what people mean, which may be different from what they say.

I’ve made adjustments to many other dishes – kale and white bean stew to which I add the sausage (definitely NOT vegetarian!) later.  Using flax seeds and water to replace eggs for thickening (and it’s vegan!).  My job at mealtime is to keep my family happy and fed and I’m willing to think differently and to work a little harder on the meal to do so.  Your job is to keep your customers in that same state.  Are you prepared to change your thinking to do that?

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The Equipment

For our first Foodie Friday post of the year let’s talk about kitchen equipment.


(Photo credit: CRYROLFE)

I’m very fortunate to cook in a kitchen that’s equipped with just about every tool for which a cook can ask. Some of these things are designed for a specific purpose (boning knife), some are improvements over an existing tool (a Microplane vs. a box grater) and some are just silly (cherry pitter).  The appliances are the highest grade of equipment available to a home cook.  When friends or family come over I can usually serve them something which they enjoy and of which I’m proud.

Sometimes, however, I cook elsewhere.  The stove is usually electric, the oven temp is often off, the knives may be dull or only serrated and small, the pans might be flimsy.  The expectation from those folks whom I’ve served before and for whom I’m cooking now is that they’ll get the same sort of meal they received from my own kitchen.  Frankly, that’s the expectation I have too.  Which is the business point.

We can’t blame the equipment.  How many writers don’t write because they lack screenplay software?  How many times have you heard a budding director say they’ll make their movie when they get better equipment?  Can’t exercise because there’s no gym?  What about in business – would you accept a subordinate’s excuse that they couldn’t complete an assignment because their computer failed?  As a consumer, are you mollified when a restaurant fails to honor your reservation because “the system is down?”

Part of being good at what we do in business is accepting responsibility and not allowing impediments to become excuses.  I’m embarrassed when I serve what I deem to be less than my best meal even if I’m cooking in a strange kitchen with rudimentary tools.  I’m sure most of you feel the same way.  Yet we often don’t translate that into our business lives nor enforce it as a standard on our teams.  We can’t blame the equipment – we play the hand we’re dealt.  The test is to see who can produce consistently great work in any environment.  Even if it lacks a cherry pitter!

You with me on this?

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Most Read Posts Of The Year – 3

Since it’s Foodie Friday I thought I’d add the most read food-related post to our list.  This one comes from the Friday before the Super Bowl and it’s not surprising that like most things Super Bowl it was widely viewed.  I’m not sure too many other writers put together food, business, and football but this was my take last February.

Many of you will be cooking something for Sunday’s big game and so this Foodie Friday we’ll think a little bit about what recipes to follow.  Actually, it’s more about how one follows any recipe, and what that has in common with business.

An example recipe, printed from the Wikibooks ...

Image via Wikipedia

As I think you might know, my feeling about cooking is that it’s more like jazz while baking is more Baroque music– far more structured and precise.  Given that, the way I see recipes might differ from how you see them and how that perspective carries into business.  Let’s see.

A recipe is a guide, not an edict.  I look at them as outlines of the dish, but it’s up to me as the cook to insert the flavors I want to present.  For example, if I’m making chili for Sunday’s game, I know that most of the folks who will be at the party enjoy fairly hot food so I might change the spice mix accordingly.  Cooking veal cutlets for 20 can be expensive but turkey cutlets in the same recipe can be just as tasty.  With a vegan and a vegetarian as members of the household here, I often modify recipes to accommodate their eating styles too.  I have a sense of the destination and the recipe is the map, but there are often many routes to get to where I’m trying to go.

Business is the same.  There are some basic road maps – take in more than you spend, treat customers and employees well – but every business is different.  Sticking to the recipe isn’t always possible, and sometimes the road we wish to take is closed, but with a good understanding of fundamental techniques and enough knowledge of the building blocks (ingredients), one can cope with changing market conditions and take advantage of opportunities (I was going to make snapper but look at the fresh grouper on sale!) that might arise.

So as you’re whipping up that pot of gumbo, maybe try thickening it with okra instead of your usual file powder.  If you’re not having much luck using SEM for online commerce, maybe social media can be more efficient.  It’s jazz – learn to improvise – oh, and Go Big Blue!


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