As a cook, you know that the line between zenful, meditative cooking and carelessness can be razor thin.
It happens to us all – from time to time. Blades slicing gracefully. Pots and pans humming, sizzlingly and hissing along. You are, to borrow the phrase, cooking with gas. And bam! Something goes very wrong.
Thankfully, “very wrong” doesn’t often involve serious physical injury – although that’s a real enough risk when your in a kitchen (and why at The Kitchen School I insist on proper clothing and footwear for all guests). But even when it’s a “just” a scorched-this or a boiled-over-that, it can really knock you off your stride.
Serenity Now: Three Steps to Regaining Your Kitchen Calm
When that happens to me, I always do three things:
- First, breathe. Every problem has a solution, but you won’t find the answer if your brain is busy being stressed. When we are stressed, it triggers the animalistic fight or flight response in our brains. Neither running away or fighting with a piece of equipment (or a spill!) helps solve the problem though. Problem solving can only come with a calm approach to the situation so that you’re mind if free to find the most creative and appropriate path. Breathe.
- Second, react. Take the pot off the heat. Turn off the oven. Wipe up the spilled what-have-you. Sweep up the broken this-or-that. Before you can course correct, you have to stop what ever is causing the problem.
- Third, find. It’s unlikely your original plan is going to work at this stage. You are going to need a new plan of attack – and you need it now. That means you need to say goodbye to your first plan. It’s not happening, and mourning it changes nothing. Second, survey what you have and improvise. It’s time to unleash everything you know as a cook. Emulsion broke (or the bowl broke all over the floor)? Come up with a new sauce idea. Protein hammered in the broiler or grill? Consider a vegetarian or vegan substitute. The key is to to keep your new plan simple – for example, a bit of olive oil, Dijon mustard and lemon is a great (and quick!) sauce. Nuts or quinoa can be vegetarian protein alternatives (and quick!). The point is, get creative but keep your solution simple and clear.
When the Teacher (or Cook) Is the Student
Earlier this week, I was making a yellow carrot puree in the blending. The color was beautiful. The flavor was spot on. I was admiring the sauce swirling in the blender, thinking that I’d wished I had set up the camera to film it for The Kitchen School. I turned off the blender, took the lid off for one last taste and then started to take the jar off the base – and bam! It happened.
I was so focused on what I’d made, I’d forgotten to unplug the blender. I hit the “on” button as I was taking the jar off and you can guess the rest. Without the lid on, there was nothing to stop the carrot sauce from coating everything in the kitchen. The walls. The counter. The floor. Me. Carrot everywhere.
Step one: breathe.
Step two: wash off the walls, the counter, the floor, me.
Step three: find a new path. I had been working towards a carrot vinaigrette for a mixed greens salad. That was certainly not going to happen now. But, I had enough carrot puree left that I could make a quick sauce. Pivot from a composed salad with scallops to scallops with a carrot sauce and side salad dressed with peppery olive oil. Not what I planned, but pretty darn good nonetheless.
Don’t let frustration ruin your meal. Or your patience. When a problem comes up – and problems will always come up when you’re a cook! – breathe, react and find a new path.
Sometimes, that new path is even better than the one you were on originally. Breathe. React. Find. And cook on!