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kitchen anxiety disorder

Does anybody else have a kitchen anxiety disorder that surfaces when they are cooking for others? I am a good, albeit somewhat freestyle, home cook and whenever I try to cook for people that are not in my immediate family, I mess up big time. It is just odd, things never taste the same; as if when I try more, my food tastes worse. Any resolutions from people who might have experienced this?

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  1. My suggestion, always a good thing when looking to entertain, is make ahead as much as you can, including prepping ingredients for anything you plan to cook while guests are present and cleaning the kitchen.

    When people arrive, have them help, especially when the kitchen is a gathering point. Someone else can put the salad together, etc. even if it isn't exactly as you would have done it.

    It also helps to write down what you are going to do to get the last minute dishes done, step by step. This helps you remember everything in the excitement.

    1 Reply
    1. re: EdwardAdams

      I agree with doing as much as possible ahead of time. Most desserts can be made in well in advance, as can salad dressings and soups. I also think it's wise to stick to recipes that you know backwards and forwards - never try something new on guests for the first time! Keep things as simple as possible - maybe a braise or lasagna in winter and some simple grilled meats and veg in summer. I used to go all out trying to impress but it was very stressful for me so now I simplify so I can enjoy my guests and our time together.

    2. I can relate, somewhat. I'm fine as long as folks aren't standing over me and talking and trying to engage me. I need to be in "the zone" and there's no room for chatting. When I try to talk and cook... that's when things go wrong. Ideally, I would have a kitchen that is closed off from the living room. Unfortunately, I don't.

      1. Try going by some simpler dishes that are going to be easier to prepare, maybe make some things ahead of time before people arrive. If you're worried about being consistent then go by recipes and techniques you've practiced with when you cook for others. Make sure your ingredients are as fresh as possible also.

        Then when you're free to experiment another time, definitely do that! And make up your own recipes when there's no pressure.

        1. Yup. As you described, when I'm cooking for myself, I'm "freestyle" but when I'm cooking for someone else I feel like it has to be perfect and fabulous. Even when my guests seem happy with something, I'm often dissatisfied because it fell short of my own expectations. That said, I rarely "mess up big time" (at least, not since the time my duck with 40 cloves of garlic went flying across the room when I tried to carve it, and I ground the beans too finely for my French press coffee pot and got sludgey coffee!).

          Absolutely plan ahead and make as much as possible ahead. I'm big on lists, and often go through a recipe and mark exactly the point where it can be done in advance without losing quality. I actually had a dinner a few months ago where I finally achieved a long-time goal of not having a huge pile of pots, pans, utensils and dishes filling every surface of my kitchen halfway through dinner from last-minute prep. Of course, no one cared but me, but I considered it a major victory.

          1. You don't mention this, but I learned the hard way never to 'guinea pig' guests on an untried recipe no matter how easy the prep seems and fabulous the presentation looks. Have a repitoire of 'foolproof' meals for company, got to a good bakery for dinner rolls and dessert, and do what EdAd says..do ahead whatever you can.

            The probability of messing something up is directly proportional to the importance of the guest.

            1. Cooking in quantity can be problematic. That's where I can get in trouble. Even doubling a recipe can change everything. I think practice makes perfect so a dry run might make sense. You can always bring it to the office!

              1. YES! I love baking, but when baking for others, espeically cakes, I over think the steps and end up messing it up. Since I am a beginner, I get nervous with the type of feedback I will recieve so I try hard to make sure I get all the steps right, particularly with over or undermixing. It kills me when my best stuff is when I bake for fun or when an interesting recipe pops up.

                1. Not saying this is the case, but... Have you considered the possibility that just the simple everyday anxiety of cooking for guests may put your taste buds off?

                  And then there's the very real possibility of Thanksgiving Dinner Syndrome. By the time you get the meal prepared and on the table, your tastebuds are so exhausted that nothing tastes good to you. My most flavorful Thanksgiving meal for the last forty years has been the turkey sandwich after midnight when everyone else has zonked from overeating.

                  A good basic rule is never ever apolgoize for a dish OR say it doesn't taste right to you. And then listen to the reactions and comments of those you know will be rock solid honest. If they don't say it's good, work on it for next time, but do not apologize!

                  Oh. And relax!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Caroline1

                    I think there is a possibility of taste bud shift. I guess I also become too critical that little flaws that would otherwise not bother me stand out too much. For example, I made some spicy brownies for a friend yesterday evening. In the morning when I tasted them before packing, they tasted not so good. So I decided not to take them with me. Just a few minutes ago, I decided to try them again, with a cup of coffee. I didn't see any of the flaws that I had identified before. I know brownies need some rest, but I think it was more than that; there is some sort of performance anxiety affecting ones perceptions going there.

                    And like cakesncookies, I think many kitchen anxiety disorder sufferers overthink the steps, become too cautious like an overprotective parent. They lose touch with the food and that is a disaster in most cooking.

                    My friend today said something like "you cook. if it doesn't work, it doesn't work". It should be that easy, but I have to find a way to truly relax to feel like that.

                    Thanks everyone for the suggestions.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      You are Oh So Right, as usual Caroline1.

                      My rule is keep it simple. Plan the menu diligently and make dishes you are familiar with. No experiments. Although, I have been known to break my rules regularly but, thank goodness, not to any great disaster.

                    2. I have a similar problem with driving. When I'm alone in my car, I am a perfect (nearly) driver. When I have a passenger, no matter who it is, I can't stay in my lane, almost run red lights, etc. I think it has to do with distractions. Same in the kitchen. So if you're trying to cook but the table isn't set, or you haven't figured out which serving bowls to use, those kinds of things, part of your mind will be on the cooking and the other part on these other issues. Then somebody comes into the kitchen and wants to help, but it's another distraction. So, in addition to keeping the menu simple, making lists, etc., it's also important to either get the other issues resolved before you start cooking or assign those other tasks to someone else. Then decide if you want help with the cooking, and if so, determine what someone else can do, and if not, chase them out. I'm known for shouting "everyone out of the kitchen!" at family gatherings, because it's such a distraction that I invariably mess up if I don't chase everyone out. Of course, I wouldn't yell at non-family guests, but having simple tasks for those distractors to do keeps them out of your field of distraction. Hopefully the anxiety will lessen as you entertain more often, and everything will flow more easily as you develop your own routines.

                      1. All this is great advice. Something I do is focus on one "showpiece" dish (usually the main) and keep everything else simple. An example is during crab season this year I had my former boss, my current boss, spouses, and my mom for dinner (8 for dinner is a lot for me). I made a big pot of cioppino base the day ahead, bought nice salad mix, fish, great cheese, and great bread the day they came. On the evening they were about to arrive I heated up the cioppino base, "bowled" the salad into the fridge, put the cheese out to come to room temp, put out some nuts. When the guests arrived, I opened bubbles, added the fish to the cioppino base, enjoyed a little socializing. We set down to cioppino only and bread (and of course, Zinfandel). Once that was winding down, I tossed the salad with extra-virgin olive oil and a tiny bit of lemon juice, and served it with the gooey cheese. Cleared that and had coffee and some homemade meyer lemon sorbet (made the day before, it was lemon season) and homemade pecan sandies (ice box cookies, I keep rolls in the freezer, then baked up in the morning). I had lots of time to socialize, the food was delicious, and I was completely stress free. My kitchen wasn't even a disaster.

                        Where I used to get in trouble when I was younger was in trying to have every item on the table "breathtaking", now I figure that is just overwhelming, both for me and for the guests. Since I don't have "staff" I can't hope to compete with the French Laundry.

                        Other hints -- make the table pretty (flowers, nice linen, etc.), splurge on wine, never apologize or explain, relax!

                        1. Don't try anything new that you haven't already tested out & make as much as you can ahead of time!

                          1. Yes, yes, yes. When it's just for me, whether an experiment or an old standby, it's usually great. When it's for others, something's often off, whether it's a major disaster or it's just not quite as tasty, whether it's a batch of cookies or a whole dinner. My imagination? Too many more distractions while cooking? Murphy's Law? Self-fufilling expectations? Who knows?

                            Isaac Mizrahi talked about this very topic this week on the The Splendid Table. He said he loves to cook for himself and his partner, and the results are great, but when others are included, he gets "kitchen performance anxiety".

                            1. Dating a great 'new' guy at the moment' and I can't believe how nervous I am cooking around him...
                              He loves what I cook for him and he just raves to all his employee's and friends, which is really nice but sometimes I just freeze up and wonder if I don't have 'KAD'..that would suck since I am a great hostess and chef!
                              I look forward to your responses emerilcantcook!