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Alone When Cooking?

Recently I have been wondering whether my preference to be alone in the kitchen is something peculiar to me or pretty normal.

If I have guests over, then I am quite happy for people to pop into the kitchen - it's part of the socializing and if they pop in, I do not miss out and so I am quite happy for the company.

But day to day, I very much prefer to be alone when I cook. There is something about being able to focus on the cooking without any distraction that I find really satisfying. And in a strange way, even when I am doing prep that I really do not care for (like peeling shallots), I am content to be alone.

My wife has more or less given up trying to help, unless I am doing something major and can use a hand. Even then, if I am having a great time being in the thick of things, she'll get shooed off to watch TV.

Given that food is a pretty social thing, I'd really like to know how others feel about this.

CPla.

http://www.chefpla.com

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  1. I prefer to be alone. That way I can dedicate my total concentration to the food I'm preparing. I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to get something going on the stove, burned vegetables I was cooking in a small amount of liquid or cut my fingernail because one of the kids came in talking to me or trying to get a drink, snack, etc.

    If entertaining, I try to get everything except the finishing touches done early so when guests arrive, I can give them my total attention.

    1. It's not just you... In general I do not like to have other people in the kitchen while I'm cooking, partly b/c my apartment kitchen is small and there just isn't room for 2, and partly b/c for me cooking is an intimate experience and I don't want to share it with just anyone. There are a few people in my life that are allowed in the kitchen while I'm cooking, primarily the people who taught me to cook in the first place - my mom, aunt, and grandmother - I guess I'm used to having them in the kitchen since that's how it's always been.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mpjmph

        I agree. We socialize over the food, but my kitchen if off limits. My mother is the only person I'll allow in my kitchen - rummaging through the cabinets, rattling my pots and pans. But that's how it's always been in my family...the kitchen is the Lady of the House's Domain and it's considered rude to tinker around in her kitchen...unless you were special enough to be invited in. My mom and I discussed this a long time ago she said that it could be a Southern thing for us - since that's where we're from. She recounted that it was like that between the black cooks and the white familiies that they cooked/served for. The white family may have been in control of a lot of things but their kitchen was considered the domain of their black cook.

        Even my children know better. Except for grabbing something out of the fridge, washing the dishes (don't touch my cast iron!) or some other specific mission like warming something in the microwave, they ask before they do anything in my kitchen.

      2. The enjoyment of the food is definitely a social thing. But... the preparation is a solo thing for me. I do NOT want anyone in the kitchen when I'm doing my thing. My guess is that most cooks feel this way.

        1. I enjoy having others in the kitchen when I am cooking, luckily we have a big kitchen where people can be in there without getting in each others way.

          Perhaps since I did alot of cooking in restaurants with lots of fellow cooks, and even pesky waiters and waitresses milling about, having people in the kitchen does not bother me.

          2 Replies
          1. re: swsidejim

            Maybe that's why I don't mind people around. After several years in a professional kitchen, I'm used to people around me. My DH (also professional) and I manage to slide around each other quite well in out little space. I even catch myself calling out 'behind' when passing him, even though in such a small space, it's obvious where I am.

            1. re: Sooeygun

              I agree,

              Cooking is a social event in my life, and the least stressfull thing I do in my life. I like to share food, cooking tecniques, ingredients, and their sources with others. I would not want to be sequestered away in kitchen with no human canotact, or interaction. That seems pretty odd, and kind of control freakish to me.

          2. you know, recently I've found I get a little irritated if some one is watching me prep or cook- I'm not sure why. It's not like I'm unsure of what I'm doing, or that it's too distracting necessarily. Maybe it's just that it takes away from the visceral enjoyment of working with the food, kind of like a painter or a sculpter who's "in the zone"? I'd rather my family (or guests) have the full experience when eating whatever it is I've prepared, and not know all the "mystery" behind it's production....

            1. im firmly in the "no, but thinks for asking" when someone asks if they can help. The time when I am doing all those menial tasks that everyone seems to think are tedious, is the time when im revising dishes in my head, going over how I want the meal to come together, In what order I need to do certain steps, making sure I have my Mis. in order, etc....
              usually my standard response is something like this "help, sure!...see that bottle of wine?good, now open it, pour yourself and I a glass, and go relax.......dinner will be ready in 45min or so!"

              1 Reply
              1. re: nkeane

                When my sone was home (he is now in college) cooking was a family thing and one preped while the other cooked. Now that he is gone, I tend to do all the prep work (she hates chopping stuff) and let my wife cook if I don't do the cooking. However, I like having her in the kitchen while I'm cooking since we both work it is a good way to wind down and talk a little before dinner.

              2. I prefer to be alone (unless the person with me is also involved in the preparation of the meal). But what usually happens when I entertain is that folks get their drinks and appetizers in the kitchen and just stay and hang out. I'm not crazy about that, but the the impetus for my dinner parties is the company of my friends, so I'll put up with it. I just make sure that *I* am not drinking too much or too fast, so that I can pay attention to the food.

                Because folks want to hang out, I usually do as much prep and cooking as possible before my guests get here. But sometimes last-minute cooking is unavoidable. Still, prefet that my guests stay out of the (cooking) way!

                1 Reply
                1. re: nofunlatte

                  I have a tiny kitchen, but it's open to the living room. I much prefer to cook on my own, and my husband has a knack for "needing to do something" just while I'm in the middle of something but I've learned to bite my tongue and let him get whatever it is done with, and then I move on. When I entertain, I do as much as I can ahead of time, and then just putter about as needed. So, bottom line, I like to cook by myself.

                2. I definitely prefer to be alone when cooking. At Thanksgiving (the holiday I dread like no other) Dh and I cook and it stresses me out on many levels. Two years ago he had a stomach virus and could not cook and our daughter commented at how much less stressed I was even though I did everything.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                    I can definitely understand how sharing the kitchen at Thanksgiving can be a major source of stress, I'm the same way when it comes to other big events, but oddly enough I really look forward to the kitchen-sharing process of Thanksgiving. I think it's b/c I'm sharing the cooking duties with the women who taught me to cook, so we have similar rhythms in the kitchen, and all know what needs to be done, when, and how without having to consult one another. But woe be the cousin/uncle/outsider who tries to mess with our kitchen between 8am and 2pm :)

                  2. In my own kitchen, I prefer being the only one. My mom will often sit at the table and chat with me, but she knows if I just hold up a hand, she waits to chat until I'm done figuring out what I need to figure out.

                    I do enjoy, however, cooking in several of my friends' kitchens, as several of us have a "rhythm" together and two of us in particular love to cook. The rest of the group of friends know to stay out of our way, unless we ask his wife for something (usually a pot or something I'm unaware of where it is located in his kitchen). Or if at another friend's house, I know where things are and help pull things out for him. I'm always the sous/helper in these situations, which is fine with me, as he's a much better cook.

                    So for me - it depends on where I am.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      Cooking is like Meditation, I prefer it alone too.

                    2. I find it interesting how many people prefer to cook alone. I usually enjoy company in the kitchen but only to visit, not really to help out. I have a seating area in the corner so I'll pour us some wine, put on some music and we'll chat while I'm cooking. If it's someone who really knows what they're doing in the kitchen (like my mom), then they can help out but otherwise there's no need for them to do anything but relax and enjoy themselves. I hate it when everyone is watching a movie or tv in the other room and I'm in the kitchen all by myself!

                      1. A very interesting question. The truth, for me, is that cooking alone or with others in the kitchen are two very different experiences.

                        Cooking alone is, as someone wrote, almost meditation. It is me and the food, alone. I can control what I do; I anticipate the happiness the finished product will give both myself and loved ones. It is one area where my obsessive compulsive self can give way to my creative, freethinking side. It is never work, never a chore and always an experience of great satisfaction.

                        On the other hand, I am comfortable with others in the kitchen. I work quickly and efficiently and am happy to share with others. In some ways, I communicate better cooking than verbally. In our family, food and cooking is communication and love. It is no coincidence that my daughter and daughter in-law have professional chef training and one is also a registered dietitian. Most of our happy family experiences revolve around food and cooking.

                        On a somewhat less reflective note, my wife's husbands, version 1.0 and 2.0 (me), did all the cooking. When he was young, my stepson believed that only men cooked.

                        1. It took me quite a few years of cooking when I was first starting out before I could comfortably pay attention to dinner guests while actually doing the cooking, but eventually I got to a point where I could, and found that it's one of the things that most impresses friends who don't cook that much themselves.

                          1. I'm a group cooker. I invite everyone in as long as they don't kibitz. If they have an opinion, they get tossed an apron and told to help out. :)

                            But I dislike having everyone in another part of the house when I'm cooking. Solitude is for other times, when everyone's away at school or events. In the meantime, Castle Ranger's gathering and socializing area is the remodeled kitchen area. There are lots of seats and elbow space, wine is available for those enjoying such, and conversation is more fluid than the wine. :)

                            1. I prefer to be alone in the kitchen, but not because I get distracted. It's because I have the annoying habit of interrupting whomever is helping me cook so that I can show them the "right" way to do it. I'm working on it.

                              1. I get a little cranky and opinionated about what I want in the (*MY*) kitchen. I think it all comes down to this: is someone going to entertain me, or do they expect me to entertain them with my cooking. If someone wants to pop in and keep me company while keeping out of my way, fine - they're welcome, often heartily. If someone wants to pop in and lurk and watch and pester, so sorry...not welcome (Note to that ilk: I am not a cooking show!) . I have guests and relatives populating both categories, and I definitiely know which I prefer.

                                Yep, still cranky...and those dang holidays are around the corner! I shall have to hone my boundary-drawing skills.

                                Cay

                                1. On a day to day basis, I want to be alone in the kitchen. DH is my prep chef and dish washer when we are in Mexico. I set out the things that need to be chopped and he goes about the business of chopping. Then I return to the kitchen and create or probably more correctly recreate. Cooking and baking is recreation to me and I'm not into group sports. For parties, I try to have everything done ahead of time, because even though the kitchen is relatively large, someone is always in my way and I can't think.

                                  If we are in the states, we have holiday and family dinners at one of our daughter's houses. The 2 daughters and I always cook together with husbands, in-laws, adopted friends, children and pets wandering through. Chaos but I love it. In our new, super-tiny apartment in the states, there is only room for one, so help is not offered or required.

                                  1. Put me in the greta garbo school of cooking. I attribute it to not having sisters or a mother so I did not grow up cooking with others. Cooking for me was self-taught and an escape of sorts, so I am uncomfortable with others in my kitchen. I am usually alone in the kitchen so it does not come up often. I remember one thanksgiving when a friend came over early and I was really annoyed that she brought raw ingredients to cook her contribution to the meal in my kitchen. I kept it to myself because realized that I was not being rational. This friend had three sisters and a mother who cooked, so she was used to a crowded kitchen.

                                    1. I live alone and I rarely cook for others. Half the time I cook naked!

                                      1. I prefer cooking by myself, but not necessarily alone.

                                        1. For me, and i realise that this will sound a little OCD, when I'm cooking for other people I generally like to do it alone as I have a small kitchen, and a particular way of doing things. On several occasions when at their insistence friends have helped their technique has been somewhat underdeveloped (dicing and onion and slicing potatoes apparently at random) that it leads to a more uneven result and I'm not keen for them to practice on my meal. Having said that I have no problems cooking with family (or the one or two friends who share my passion for cooking) as we all share the same techniques and methods.

                                          I also always happily help other friends prep and cook food at their house and appreciate being cooked for without being being judgemental (well maybe a little in my head but usually only when the salad has been dressed with vinaigrette hours before being served). I guess when I'm hosting friends I like to do it alone so that I have ultimate control on the outcome and don't have to monitor what someone is doing or find a polite way to say 'no this is how you dice and onion' (... and probably for the credit too!).

                                          Oh the other reason why I like to cook alone that I really care about my cooking tools and there's no way to tell someone that 'scraping the metal spatula on my enamel pot is damaging it', or that 'its a cook's knife not an axe' without sounding a little deranged or like one of those strict, humourless adults whose children's friends never want to stay over (not that I have kids).

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: irisav

                                            >Oh the other reason why I like to cook alone that I really care about my cooking tools and there's no way to tell someone that 'scraping the metal spatula on my enamel pot is damaging it', or that 'its a cook's knife not an axe' without sounding a little deranged or like one of those strict, humourless adults whose children's friends never want to stay over (not that I have kids).<

                                            Amen.

                                            Cay

                                          2. Love cooking for people, love entertaining, but want to be alone when I am actually cooking. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and i prepare the meal and the the pies. WE have two table in the dining room, and the "kids'table in the kitchen (we are a big group!), and when it is time for me to get everything readly,I kick everyone out until all the food is in the serving bowls, and then they are allowed back in to put the bowls on the tables while I prepare the 15-20 pounds of mashed potatoes!

                                            1. i definitely enjoy cooking alone. as someone else here said, it is a meditative activity for me, self-soothing.

                                              and i don't really like help either. i will let people help if they want, but they are usually slower than i am, or they don't do it exactly like i would have . . . and then of course i wish i had not let them help. i'm used to professional kitchens were it is fine manners to just tell people what to do without being all sweet about it - but i've hurt my partner's feelings on many occasions by doing this. i don't even think about it at the time - i'll just look at what she's doing and i'll go, you know, there's a faster way to do that, or, could you make those all the same size? or, i need that right now. she gets all sad. i'm all, hello? i'm busy! it's not like i pressed you into service, here!

                                              i also hate it when people pick at ingredients that i am using. hands off!

                                              but the truth is i like having people around while i cook. just not involved. i don't really want them to watch me either, i just like to hear them or know they are there. because i like cooking for other people, i really do.

                                              wow, i didn't realize how neurotic i am!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: pigtails

                                                "but the truth is i like having people around while i cook. just not involved. i don't really want them to watch me either, i just like to hear them or know they are there. because i like cooking for other people, i really do."

                                                This is exactly how I feel!

                                                I love this thread... I am notoriously anti- cooperative cooking. I don't necessarily like to be completely alone, but I don't want any help, and I don't want to feel like people are in my way or constantly peering over my shoulder. I'm glad that I'm not the only one that feels this way... my friends definitely think I am crazy.

                                              2. My favorite kitchen scenario is just me, the kitchen, the food, and Pavarotti on the cd player.

                                                1. I think cooking is such a wonderful experience if you have the right attitude - and that means for me I can enjoy cooking for friends or when I'm alone.

                                                  There is nothing better than treating yourself to a comforting meal when things are tough, or celebrating with others by eating together. I like to cook something special for my pals when they come round to watch sports, but if they are not available I love to cook alone and have some wine in the evening.

                                                  http://www.internetkitchenappliances....

                                                  1. I prefer cooking alone too, actually when someone else is with me I tend to get distracted, annoyed or bothered and then things go wrong.
                                                    I don't mind SO in the kitchen but it can still be distracting.

                                                      1. I love to cook and make food for my friends, but I don't love to have them under foot while I'm working. I can be a bit clutzy outside of the kitchen, but not in it. They also don't have a real understanding of knives and different techniques. Well, they mostly get nervous around Chef's knives and such.

                                                        I also have a small kitchen set up the way I like to work and don't need someone else moving things.

                                                        So, I went and got a kitchen stool with a chair, so if anyone wants to hang with me, they get the chair. I get to work :)

                                                        1. Partly due to the layout of my kitchen - it is also a corridor, always a big problem - it's very hard for more than one person to work there at a time, or for me to move around properly if anyone else is in there at all, because that person will always be between me and the fridge, the sink, or the cooktop. That said, I am not generally a happy collaborator when cooking anyway. I have one good friend, though, with whom I have very much enjoyed cooking both in his kitchen and in mine, whether just with him alone or in the company of his nephew, who is a professional chef but perfectly happy doing prep or washing up. The friend's in Nashville, and the nephew is now out in Oregon, and I'm in SoCal, so the days of our cooking together are probably gone forever, but that was almost the best fun I ever had in a kitchen. I think that was due to both Jerry's and John's ability to concentrate clearly on the job at hand, which helped me to channel my own concentration instead of scattering it as most kitchen-company tends to do.

                                                          1. Either way is fine with me. If I'm alone, I do just fine. If there's someone in the kitchen with me, we work together. I spent a summer two years ago with Mike's grandson in the kitchen with me. We were sometimes on opposite sides of the counter working on the same cutting board. He'd be at one burner on the stove and I'd be at the other. We worked quite well together.

                                                            Mike, however, is another matter. He comes in and says, "Why did you..." and starts criticizing me or generally getting in the way. I kick him out of the kitchen.

                                                            My absolutely favorite person to have in the kitchen with me, and it doesn't happen real often since we live about 400 miles apart, is my mom. I suppose we have similar styles, and we play off one another and get really creative. She was here two weekends ago. The first night we made fish (actually had my dad in the kitchen for awhile, too, and it went just fine) with fried okra and I can't remember just what else. My dad was making jalapeno poppers, and eventually he and Mike went out to cook the fish on the grill.

                                                            Another day while they were here, my mom and I got to looking at a carry-out menu my dad had in his truck, from a Greek pizza joint in Tulsa, and we decided to make Greek pizzas for supper. With a vast array of fresh produce at hand, we just improvised madly till we had a couple of really amazing pizzas. It was great fun.

                                                            My folks cook together all the time in their little bitty kitchen. They're pretty much back-to-back, one at the stove, one at the counter. We're a foodie family--both sides of the family--and cooking is as much a social activity as eating. I don't mind cooking alone, but it's more fun with others there.

                                                            1. Just a quick thank you to all who posted. I think I am in pretty good company.

                                                              1. Hey! I'm a grouch, okay? I don't want anyone in the kitchen when I'm cooking. I don't want them chatting with me. I don't want them telling me I forgot the salt. I don't want them asking why I put that in. I don't want them asking me what my spices taste like. My kitchen is my hermits cave and STAY OUT!

                                                                ANNNNNDDDDD....

                                                                I don't want ANYONE who sat at the table to share the meal (guests) helping clear the table or do the dishes or clean up the kitchen. These are jobs I despise, but even worse, I despise breakage or things put away where I can't find them. But most of all these are things I DON'T WANT TO DO AT SOMEONE ELSE'S HOUSE! So if I don't let people do these things in my house, I don't feel a bit guilty about not even offering in their houses!

                                                                But otherewise, I'm a good person... '-)

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                    Thank you (really) for your second paragraph, most specifically the second half of it. Someone has to say it! I also try to be a nice person (unsuccessfully sometimes,) but the line has to be drawn.

                                                                    Alone when cooking, alone cleaning up. That's the baseline of expectations while hosting. I'm certain I will whine endlessly in future about irritations that refute what I just typed, but so be it.

                                                                    I think of this as the Caroline1 Doctrine.

                                                                    Cay

                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                      Dishes are for doing LONG after guests leave! That's why the gahds allow dishwashers.

                                                                    2. For me it depends on whose kitchen I am in. At my apartment I hate it when others are in the kitchen with me while I am cooking. My BF tends to nibble on my ingredients, our roommate tries to cook at the same time, and together they talk about work. Yes company is nice, but distractions are not. But when I am in my SIL's or my mother's kitchen I enjoy working together and like the help/company. Usually it's a holiday and there is so much food to get cooked.

                                                                      I don't mind it when someone else cleans the table, but I hate it when they do the dishes. Improperly loaded dishwashers is a pet peeve of mine as is putting away dishes that aren't clean. And I don't know how many times I have found my hand wash only dishes/pots/etc. in the dishwasher.

                                                                      When my BF moved into our old apartment a few years ago my 5' 6" mother and my BF's 5'1" mom decide to "help" by unpacking the kitchen and putting things away where they thought they belonged. Good intentions, but since both my BF and I are 6' everything ended up being in the wrong place and we spent hours rearranging. It is amusing when they visit since they can't reach anything and either have to jump or ask for help.

                                                                      1. I agree. I need to be alone when cooking...however I am ok if someone is sitting at my table reading..but if people are hovering over me, or if kids are running around, its very unpleasant and also distracts me. I wish some people would understand that when they visit me. However, one very good friend of mine knows her place and knows how to help me, this she is my sous chef and is allowed in my kitchen!

                                                                        1. Typical converstion.
                                                                          Guest: Can I help?
                                                                          Me: Sure, take out the garbage.
                                                                          Guest: What?
                                                                          Me: No thanks, I'm good.

                                                                          Seriously, it depends on what I'm cooking, and who it's for.
                                                                          One thing I HATE, is someone offering me advice while I cook.
                                                                          One thing I like, is someone saying, "Oh, so that's how you do that".
                                                                          Reading that back kinda comes across as, I'm happy if you are impressed, and I don't give a damn how you do it.
                                                                          Oh well.

                                                                          1. I think the majority of times I prefer to be alone. I'm a very social guy, so I don't mind people milling around, but if I hold up a hand or gesture, I need them to pause and let me figure out my situation. I consider food very social like many of you, but if company is over I'd rather have the smells entice them right until dinner. Instead of them standing there watching what every piece of their dinner come together. Baking on the other hand, I love to bake with people.