Is Cooking a Secret Key to Productivity?

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For an hour I was in my kitchen engaged in a frenzy of synchronized motion, focused solely on cooking dinner. Just a man, his knives and a frying pan. Everything else faded into the background. It was a Blue Apron night and I tackled fresh linguine pasta with roasted fennel and garlic breadcrumbs.

First, I prepped the ingredients. Slicing an aromatic fennel bulb into thin slivers, I readied it for roasting. I zested and deseeded a lemon, then minced and mashed fresh garlic. The last step was chopping castelvetrano olives. I am in perfect harmony with my knife and cutting board intoxicated by the sounds and smells.

No fingers were lost in the preparation of this meal.

Then, the cooking began in earnest. The fennel roasted while I browned butter to make garlic breadcrumbs. Once the breadcrumbs were toasted to a nice golden brown I prepared the sauce, combining the lemon juice and zest with olive oil. My fresh linguine finished boiling on the back burner. Coating my al dente pasta with the sauce, it was ready to plate.

While I cook I never fail to disparage the dish until it all comes together. At the last moment I realized how good it would be. When I nestled a hearty dollop of lemon ricotta atop the pasta and garnished it with chopped green olives and homemade breadcrumbs, I knew it was a home run.

Minutes later it was gone. We destroyed it.

I love cooking, but life and kids and work and chores and more kids pretty much get in the way. My go-to approaches for meal preparation are either something frozen from Trader Joe’s in the microwave or something else from a menu delivered to my front door. Sure, I might get fancy and make real food on the weekend, but burritos take just minutes from freezer to plate to my gaping maw, so the stove doesn’t get much action.

Then, my beautiful fiancée scored me three nights of Blue Apron per week. They do the hard work of getting the ingredients to my kitchen along with a recipe. It’s up to me to slice, dice, roast, stir, sauté and beat those fixings into something resembling dinner. In just four months I have rediscovered the sheer delight and serenity of cooking.

The process of creating something delicious while under pressure to pull it all together is an adrenaline rush. Hammering through the prep work while whisking a sauce and caramelizing onions demands perfect timing. One mistake and my hard work could end up in the compost. I love making it happen and seeing the results.

After a few months of stretching my culinary abilities (as well as my gustatory limits) I realize several things I demand as a cook also ring true in how I maximize my productivity in life and at work.

No Distractions. I am at my best when I can concentrate fully and put all my focus into the task at hand. I don’t mind quick conversations or interruptions, but I’m working. Cooking demands full attention or food burns, sauces curdle and dinner suffers. I want to be fully engaged and immersed in preparing the best meal I can.

Clear Space, Clear Head. Some thrive in a cluttered space. Not me. The kitchen island must be empty, the dishes washed and the counters clear. When I can chop all my ingredients, arrange them in bowls while I am preparing everything with ample workspace and plenty of clean dishes, that is a little bit of heaven.

The Right Tools Matter. I want the right tools for the job. Sharp knives, good pans, utensils within reach, all sizes of measuring spoons and a full set of measuring cups. Plus, I want my tools organized and always in the same place. That’s all.

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The Best Christmas Gifts Ever

Preparation, Practice & Repetition. Prepping ingredients is key to a successful meal. The sight of several colorful bowls of vegetables, herbs and other ingredients all perfectly chopped is so satisfying. A few months ago I worked slowly and meticulously. The details matter and I wanted to do it right. Through sheer repetition my skills have improved and now I speed through the process. I have a long way to go to master the kitchen, but I’ve begun to deploy my growing proficiency on non-Blue Apron nights.

Prioritize. This is the balancing act, the make or break part of the cooking process. The more I sauté, stir and roast, the more I learn to juggle several tasks simultaneously. The rote functions have become instinctual and I have it down to a science (with occasional laboratory explosions). Some days it all flows and I can push all parts of the dish forward without missing a beat.

Presentation Is Everything. It might taste great, but if it looks terrible I’ve failed. This is why focus on every step to get to this point matters. All my work is wasted unless that dish pops off the plate and says “Eat Me!”

Clean Up Your Mess And Do It All Again Tomorrow.
Sink, soap, sponge, drainer. Leave no trace. Need I say more?

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