For those of you who live outside of New York City today’s Foodie Friday topic may be a little esoteric.
(Photo credit: doraemon)
Then again, since I’ve never lived in an apartment in any other city, perhaps many of you can identify with it. I know the subject was one I lived with in our NYC apartment and even when we moved to the suburbs the issue persisted:
The challenges of a small kitchen.
Our apartment’s kitchen was literally a closet. A large walk-in had been changed into a kitchen. There was a small stove with a tiny oven, a narrow refrigerator, some shelves and about two square feet of counter space. A small cutting board and a bowl would cover it completely. My culinary ambitions generally overwhelmed my kitchen’s ability to produce what I was visualizing. You’d cook sequentially instead of concurrently, making one course and removing it to another room while you started the next. Two pots were tight on the stove even though it had four burners, and good luck if you need to sear something over high heat in a pan while simmering a pot somewhere else on the stove.
What cooking in a small kitchen taught me were a series of skills that I still use. First, I had to think through the entire meal – what to cook when and how to have everything hit the table at the same time. Second, I learned to be organized. There wasn’t room to have clutter nor the luxury of extraneous kitchen equipment or ingredients. In short, I learned to focus on the essence of what I was doing and to do so in an incredibly efficient manner. Which is, of course, the business point.
It’s not just start-up businesses that have resource challenges. When I work with my clients who are early and mid stage companies, I think about cooking in a closet and how those skills are critical. That said, every business can stand to think that way. Sure, your ambitions are way bigger than your business, but what’s the essence of what you’re doing? What’s really necessary in terms of tools? How do I organize everything to maximize efficiency? Since the business can’t do everything it wants to all at once, what’s needed to be done in what sequence to get us where we want to go?
I don’t cook in a small kitchen any more and I have way more silly tools than I know I need. But while you can take the cook out of the small kitchen, the small kitchen stays in the cook. I think it’s the same with small business people. You agree?
Foodie Friday again, thank goodness.
Apprentice. Man and boy making shoes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As we end the week, let’s talk about the professional kitchen, which may be one of the last great bastions of the apprenticeship system. Escoffier invented the notion of the “Kitchen Brigade.” This system is still used in many restaurants and kitchens and forms the basis of the hierarchy in which people learn. Typically, aspiring chefs take on the most menial tasks like peeling and prepping vegetables before they’re allowed to have a “real” station. What’s going on in that world is a business point as well.
Culinary schools have changed the apprenticeship dynamic. Now applicants come to kitchens feeling as if they’ve been through the grind of the line. Putting aside having never been under the stress of a real dinner service for days at a time, the reality is that they are “book-smart” and the real world is a very different place. They want to run before they really know how to walk. This from a respected chef, Mark Vetri:
I once had a young cook who used to bring in modern Spanish cookbooks because he wanted to make things like mango caviar eggs and chocolate soil. I told him, “Hey, how about you learn how to blanch a goddamn carrot first, cook meat to a correct temperature, clarify a broth and truss a chicken? Once you can do these things then, and only then, should you try to learn these other techniques.” Trust me when I tell you that José Andrés is a master of the basics. You should strive to be one too.
This isn’t limited to the professional kitchen. If you’ve ever managed younger people, many of them think they know the business thoroughly because they have an MBA or a couple of years in an office. The reality is that much of what we teach as managers are basic skills that either aren’t taught at all in schools or are given a week’s worth of attention. Listening, politicking, presentation skills, office culture, and the knowledge specific to an industry are generally not areas in which young folks come prepared. Try to tell them that!
I was managing people (some older than me) when I was 23. I was a department head by 25. In retrospect, I was lucky not to have screwed up more often than I did because I was learning as I went and much of what I was learning were basic skills. As in the kitchen, learning the building blocks of the industry and business frees you up later on to be able to do anything. Walk first!
For our Foodie Friday Fun today I want to share an article about wooden spoons from Fine Cooking magazine.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Really edgy, I know, but since we discussed a simple kitchen implement that can kill you yesterday I thought today we’d lighten up. The article reviews why a lot of chefs prefer wooden spoons in their kitchens and it got me thinking about business at the same time.
These are the main reasons chefs like them:
- It’s strong – it can stir thick things without breaking
- It’s soft – it’s not going to scratch the finish of your cookware;
- It’s insulated
- It has a high heat tolerance
- It’s wood – it looks nice, and also that it feels nice in the hand
I’d add it’s a natural material although obviously it’s pretty old – probably among the first materials used to make cooking tools. Which is the business point.
There’s a tendency to throw away older tools and technologies just because they’re old (let’s include tossing some older people in that thinking too). Often overlooked is that these older solutions might have some significant advantages over newer inventions. Plastic spoons break or melt even though they’re easier to clean and might release chemicals into your food. Metal spoons can scratch your pans and need a lot of insulation – leave one in a pot sometime and then pick it up – ouch.
Many businesses get caught up in the rush to the latest shiny object – social media, mobile apps – without thinking about their business goals or the ability of the new thing to do the job without causing other problems. They toss away the perfectly good wooden spoons they’ve been using only to find that their cooking – branding, marketing – suffers.
We’ve got a lot of wooden spoons along here in the kitchen along with metal, plastic, and silicone. We also have a dozen different types of knife and various sizes and shapes of pots and pans. Some are pretty old and some we’ve bought in the last year. We try to use the one that’s best suited for the task. That’s how I approach business too – figure out the business objective and work with the tools best suited to accomplish that goal.
For this Foodie Friday, I want to continue yesterday’s theme on the Power of Better. I’m sure we all know someone who can walk into your kitchen, look at or taste what you’re making and offer up a suggestion to improve it. This may be the same person with whom you share a recipe and when you taste it as they prepare it the dish is better than when you cook it. Inevitably you ask them about that and they say “Oh, I made a few changes to your recipe.” They “tweaked” it a bit and it’s better. But it raises a corollary to yesterday’s theme and I want to share it. Continue reading
Since it’s Friday, let’s discuss food or, actually, food prep. Say you’re opening a restaurant. Would you have an open or a closed kitchen? An open kitchen is one where the diners can see in. Sometimes it’s enclosed by glass; often it’s just open. A closed kitchen is..well..closed. Personally, I don’t think it’s really a choice but that’s based on other businesses so let’s discuss. Continue reading
The end of another week and another food-related screed on Foodie Fun Friday. We were out to dinner last evening at a Venezuelan beach food place I’ve written about before. We happened to be seated in a place (it’s tiny) where I had an unobstructed view of the kitchen. The space was minute and 4 cooks and a dishwasher were all scurrying around. The occasional visit by a server would add to the clutter. And it was hot – the air conditioning didn’t make it back to the kitchen – you could tell when you went to the register (near the kitchen) to pay. The conditions weren’t great although the food was. And that, of course, got me thinking about business. Continue reading
It’s Friday, and you know that it means today’s post is food related. OK, so it’s actually going to be a business lesson we can learn from the food business but what the heck. Well, maybe we should begin with something from Steely Dan? These lyrics summarize my thinking and the challenge inherent to any food operation: Continue reading