Sunday, November 22, 2009

Time Management and Confidence

Chef Kang said it again, and again, and again, almost all last week, and the week before: “Cameron, you gotta work on your time management!

Well he didn’t just say it to me. He said it to lots of us who have trouble juggling eighteen separate little tasks and completing our 2-3 dishes per night in a more timely fashion. The basic setup is this: You listen to the lecture and watch the demo. He has the recipes there, so all you have to do is follow them. Once he’s done and we get to work, we ‘go shopping’ and gather up all the ingredients, then start prepping them for our dishes.

And this is where the time management thing comes in. We could prep everything, then go about making one dish at a time until we’re done. Or we could prep for our first dish, get it started, then while we’re waiting for, say, the chicken to braise (20-30 minutes), we prep and start our next dish. The idea is that our work overlaps, and we complete our 2-3 dishes in much less time.

The only problem is, it’s hard to know just what steps you can do ahead of time or while overlapping something else when you’re still just figuring out what you’re doing! I have a hard time with retention of the demo, so I tend to re-look at the recipe several times as I go. Some of the steps I’m more familiar with (we covered them before and have done them a few times already). But a lot of stuff is still relatively new, so getting what stages can be overlapped with others is more difficult.

So what I think it boils down to is confidence. I tend to get stressed that I’m going to get too many things going on at once and will end up screwing something up. It won’t be the first time that I over-reduced a sauce I had going on the stove while I was running around getting other elements of a plate together.

But the more I do this, the more familiar I’m getting with the basic techniques: grill some meat, start a braise, make a pan sauce, etc. Knowing how to fit those steps into production in a way that reduces any wasted time is a little difficult, but I’m getting the hang of it. Practice makes perfect.

These past weeks were pretty fun. Week One of class was beef, which was really rather easy:

This is my grilled steak with gratin potatoes underneath and creamed spinach on the side. While I may have had some difficulty getting everything in on time, Chef never complained about the doneness of the meat, which was near-perfect every time.

Week Two was poultry. I certainly needed more practice in breaking down a chicken, but we also broke down and cooked a duck, including confit (cooked in its own fat). I missed turkey night (out sick), but since Thanksgiving is coming up, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come.

Above is a simple grilled chicken breast, marinated with some oil, garlic, salt & pepper. We made some tossed greens and surrounded the plate with a delicious fruit salad, which was really very easy:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew
  • Pineapple
  • Red bell pepper
  • Jalapeño
  • Red onion
  • Rough chopped cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • Salt

Just cut all the fruit and vegetables the same size, proportioning them how you want them. Throw in the cilantro, squeeze half a lime over it, toss in some salt and balance out the flavor with a little sugar or honey if it’s too acidic.

Tomorrow starts Week Three, which is fin and shellfish, including things like oysters and shrimp. I’m a little nervous since I can’t really stand the taste of most shellfish! But hey, I ain’t tried it all yet, so we’ll see.


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