Cooking can teach you all of the life skills that you need to know. When I started my career as a green, gauche 19 year old I just loved to cook. (And I loved to eat too!). Cooking was all about me. I didn’t give a thought beyond what I was creating in the moment. I didn’t realize the effect that cooking was having on me. While I was standing for hours peeling 30 pound bags of carrots, waiting for the stove to pre heat and burning my fingertips I was also practicing patience, learning life skills and training for parenthood. Here’s a glimpse of what I have learned from standing by the stove:
Patience: It’s not just about waiting for the water to boil and the ice cream to freeze and the bread to rise. It’s about learning that some things cannot be rushed no matter what your schedule is or what your needs are. This is a basic primer for parenthood.
Resilience: The grocery store is out of celery root and you need to make your famous remoulade. What do you do? Freak out? Yell at your spouse? Try to substitute some other ingredient? Or maybe you make something completely different. Whatever you do, try to take a deep breath, exhale and release your white knuckled grip on the chef’s knife. Remember, it’s only one day and one dish.
A Sense of Humor: This goes hand in hand with resilience. We all have our public and not so public kitchen disasters. My personal favorite was trying to make a chocolate rice pudding. This was a great concept that does not translate so well in terms of food style or design.
Forgiveness and Acceptance
You just had to try that new complicated dish to impress your in-laws or boss, huh? And on the way to the table with said dish you realized that you forgot a crucial ingredient or accidentally seasoned with salt instead of sugar. When you cook, your mistakes are right there—out in the open. There is no hiding these mistakes and no one to blame but yourself. We all make mistakes. And we all have accidents. The only thing to do is to take responsibility for our actions and handle them with as much grace as we can muster. The next step is to forgive yourself. If you can start to forgive yourself for the small things, you can work up to forgiving yourself for the big screwups in and out of the kitchen.
The best action that you can take when you do screw up is honesty. Do you really think that you can shrug it off and play it cool? ‘Of course, this is supposed to be flat like a pancake, burnt and salty.’ ‘That’s the way the locals eat it.’ Uh huh. At best you will turn an entire table against an entire cuisine. —believe me I have seen it happen. At worst, they will see right thru you. It’s much better to fess up and say hey guys, let’s order take out.
Prayer is huge in the kitchen. I cannot count the number of times I have said a little prayer as I sent out plates of food. Sometimes I pray for the little things. For the rice to be done on time, to have enough gas to finish cooking the steaks on the grill or to have enough food to feed the three unexpected guests that just showed up. Mostly I say a little prayer that everyone is able to relax and enjoy themselves at least for the duration of the meal.
One of the hardest things for me to do is to ask for help. As in I can’t cook and serve a 5 course dinner for 60 people by myself. Please help me. Please. The second hardest thing is to admit that I can’t do everything at the same level of excellence. Some people are born to decorate wedding cakes. I am not.
Time Management Skills or Learn how to say no.
Timing is crucial in the kitchen, whether you are setting up for a buffet or cooking for a weeknight dinner. Part of timing is knowing your limitations. Try to be realistic about what you can do in your unique circumstances. Don’t sacrifice yourself only to be miserable at the end of the day or an event. There are only 24 hours in a day, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise. Don’t skimp on sleep to try and get the job done—it won’t work.