Lessons from the Kitchen

I now have eleven weeks of cooking for the troops under my belt, which also means a catalog of lessons ranging from hurting feet, mediocre homemade bread, and piles of dirty dishes.

I offer you my list of what the kitchen is teaching me, which are all works-in-progress in my life. I think they can apply to anyone cooking for one to one hundred:

Wear good shoes. If you’re going to be standing there for more than an hour, it makes a world of difference.

Clean up as you go. You’ll be happier and feel less chaotic. And if you’re lucky enough to have someone who cleans up after dinner – they’ll be your biggest fan.

Cook slowly. Take the time to get your mise en place ready (French for “everything in place”). Rushing helps nothing in life. There are times that call for swift action but even these should not be done in a stressful frenzy. I don’t know about you, but I tend to do stupid things when I’m in a rush, like forgetting ingredients or slicing into my fingers. Setting myself up to be organized takes time, but it also frees me up for the spontaneous creativity that can occur when I’m in-the-moment with meal preparations.

If you are going to be cooking for a long period of time, be sure to nourish yourself at set times throughout the day. Tasting and checking for seasonings does not count and eating regular meals will help you be appropriately hungry and satisfied when it’s finally time to eat your handiwork.

Keep it simple. I asked several chefs for their advice before the summer started, and each said the same thing – “keep it simple!” Let the food speak for itself, using straightforward cooking methods. If you feel like gettin’ fancy, make it happen in your sauces and dressings.

Make as much as possible ahead of time. I think this is especially important when you are hosting a party. In the past I’ve been really good at trying to do everything myself, being too busy in the kitchen to welcome and mingle with my guests, and then too stressed to enjoy any of it. What’s the point?

Which is a great lead-in to…

…Ask for help when you need it. Learn to think in terms of your order of work and then delegate it to friends and family.

And lastly, don’t be too proud to wear onion goggles!

(Just kidding on that one. But someday I hope to own a pair. Until then I’m stuck with the bread-in-the-mouth, freezing the onions, and rubbing stainless steel options.)


Your turn! What has your kitchen taught you?

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About Brie Aronson

Brie Aronson came to Polyface from southern California. During college, she was diagnosed with food allergies and had to begin asking about the source of every single thing she put in her mouth. This led to an interest in all things food and she sought out a way to learn how it can be produced ethically and sustainably. Her desire is to help people shift their focus from counting calories, being intimidated by their kitchens, and being disconnected from the land to one that experiences the life-giving enjoyment of food. Having completed the internship in summer 2010, she now assists with the buying clubs and sales building, leads school tours of the farm, and will be the summer 2012 farm cook.

9 Responses to Lessons from the Kitchen

  1. Susie Styer says:

    we run a CSA program here in Central , PA and never know how many we will have to feed at the end of the day! Great tips and wow I did’t know there was such a thing as onion goggles but I think I definitely need them!!

  2. Grace says:

    Brie, you’re such a creative woman! One thing I can’t do without in the kitchen is music. I love a good song while I prepare food! Sometimes I listen to mediation CD’s. That really puts me in the mood to make delicious meals. ALso, we do a lot of soaking and fermenting so preparation is everything for us. Enjoy the rest of the season Chef Brie!

  3. Gina says:

    Light a candle and set it next to your cutting board when you chop onions 🙂

  4. Marisa says:

    Brilliant. Sometimes it is difficult to ask for help with something creative as cooking. Also, stay hydrated and clear the palate with something like ginger or coffee. Cooking can be like creative writing so take a moment to reflect and reread or reassess what you’re creating. It helps perspective. Happy cooking!

  5. Laura says:

    I get to help my friend who runs a Christian camp. I was there this summer for groups ranging from 20 to 200. Things I learned: train and reward a few really good young helpers. Have a few go-to meals and always have the ingredients for these available. Always have a simple gluten/dairy/meat free option ‘in your back pocket’. Don’t be too upset when they don’t like your creation as much as you thought they would. There is no time off after lunch dishes are done – get dinner started, then do what you can for tomorrows breakfast and maybe even lunch. THEN you can take a little break while dinner cooks. Jesus hangs out in happy kitchens.

  6. Annie says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the SHOES and making sure to eat!! I do once-a-month cooking for my family and my cooking day I wear my tennis shoes and have snacks all ready to encourage and reward me. Also, drink plenty of water…I tend to forget that one and then wonder why I’m worn down and thirsty.

  7. debbie bundy-carpenter says:

    All great advice, in addition I also remember that I need a break every now and then. Even if it’s only 10 minutes, I’ll step away and go to the back porch for a deep breath and reconnect with why I love cooking in the first place.

  8. Lydia says:

    Something I have learned over the years – Never hurry! Boy is that a hard one! 😉 But it’s never worth it to hurry, and you could get burned, cut, or otherwise if you do. So start earlier, and go slower.
    By the way, I’ve been reading this blog for the past 2 months or so, and I have to say, Brie, you amaze me! Esp. the post about you cooking for what, a hundred(?) people for 2 days, 3 meals a day? That’s a lot of cooking! Keep it up!

  9. Persis says:

    LOL! I re-purposed my daughter’s old
    swim goggles for onion processing. I process/dice/chop pounds of them all at once and freeze them in snack sized baggies, so I can just grab them when I need them. All without shedding tears!