In a work environment in particular, we can “tailor” our responses to best meet the situation, and what we would really like to say or do is not really what we actually say or do. Maybe it’s political or just for the best in any given situation.
For the novice cook the high pressure, fast, hot, unfamiliar and potentially dangerous environment of a professional kitchen – combined with our real desire to impress others and succeed – can strip away the ability to hide our true thoughts and feelings. We tend to do or say more of what we want to do or say, rather than how we think we ought to express ourselves.
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You can imagine the opposite of this, the disorganised cook – untidy workspace, unmeasured ingredients, no sign of a recipe and lots of dashing about collecting things as and when they are needed, not finding them, panic, inventing “fixes” ...It’s no wonder things boil over, get burnt and can generally taste rather strange! Having said that, this is where inventive cooking can happen, quite by accident. Consider wonderful salted caramel – was this an intentional and well planned culinary invention, or simply a case of mistaking salt for sugar?
Process oriented people read recipes. This can be most helpful for the final outcome. For example, they don’t get to the end of preparing a soufflé only to realise they haven’t yet beaten the egg whites to stiff peaks! Sometimes, however, people will follow recipes to their detriment, omitting non-verbal logic and reason to blindly follow each instruction to the letter. These are the people who will point out a minor spelling error in a recipe method, but not ponder why one should crunch up dampened greaseproof paper into a ball and place over a breast of chicken in a tray.
Introverted people who prefer space to think and process their thoughts will typically seek out a quieter workspace, away from the hustle, bustle and general noise of the team discussion. Head down and focused, they will get on with the challenge preferably alone, without distraction. They will typically ask advice of one or two people rather than a team huddle.
It’s all about direct feedback in the kitchen – ‘Yes Chef’, ‘No Chef’. There is no time for anything else. If you do something wrong, you will be told to do it right – often to do it again. This is the culture. No mincing words, soft speak or sit-down meetings with cups of tea to discuss strengths and weaknesses. We are not talking blatant rudeness here, swearing and throwing pans a la Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Tom Aikens, but even a mild mannered professional chef will say it like it is to his or her brigade. Now, imagine the more emotional person who takes things to heart, take things personally. Imagine them carefully chopping up a tomato, and being told by the chef that it is not diced correctly … not even close. Instead of just re-doing it , they may spend valuable time head bowed at the station, considering what it is about them “as a person” that resulted in the failure of the tomato dice (or concasse in kitchen speak). Hopes are crushed, confidence shattered, and performance inhibited while precious moments are taken to compose oneself. Other more driven, competitive, thicker skinned personalities would be galvanised by the feedback, and re-do that tomato faster and better, proud of the rework...tick in the box.
Some people are so motivated by results and getting the job done quickly, they fail to get it done right. They are so anxious to get the dishes cooked in the time-frame, that they forget the quality of the dish entirely – throwing in a bit too much flour, olive oil, vinegar, not tasting at all. They may put up dishes that are technically finished but look entirely messy on the plate - a real no-no in the professional kitchen. Yes it is about speed, but quality too. The opposite are those personalities who decide (three quarter the way through) to change the dish entirely because the new idea will be better! Imagine these two personalities working side-by-side!
Some people are just different... like the guy who literally could not be in the same room as an uncooked bulb of garlic; another who was so inhibited by cooking he couldn't even get it together to do anything (thankfully his blind work colleague was there to console him and show him how to do things). The woman, a senior manager in a global corporate telecoms company, who did not know what a rolling pin was; Finally, our favourite – the super-strict vegetarian who didn’t even want to be in the same area as the meat, but when it came to dessert, shunned the fruit platter for the panna cotta, happy to eat it with gusto, even though we informed her clearly it contained meat based gelatine. Apologies to anyone reading this and thinking "hey, that's me".
So I suppose the bottom line is, decide carefully who you invite into your kitchen to cook with you - be aware of your own style, and theirs and it will give you some idea if there will be saucepans at dawn or a nice calm cooking experience!