What tasks do you excel at in the kitchen?
I'm not talking about a specific recipe. I'm talking about tasks.
I consider myself a very good cook and baker, but I excel at food prep and cleanup. I believe this is because I worked in fast food for a couple of years as my first job at 16 and then went on to waiting tables for many years. When prepping for a recipe, I chop, dice, measure, mix, etc. everything (very neatly I might add) and have it all ready. I've done this for years; way before I ever heard of the phrase "mise en place." Then, I clean as I go. This part is ABSOLUTELY attributable to my days in fast food and waiting tables. By the time I am done cooking, almost everything has been either washed and put away or rinsed and in the dishwasher. All I have to clean after dinner is a stray pot or pan and the dinner dishes.
I also excel at prep and it is actually one of my favorite parts of cooking during which I feel very focused and in control. What makes me really good at prep are my knife skills. I have never taken a class and never worked professionally, I but somehow I have honed excellent knife skills. Also, I suffer from adult ADHD, so I think there is something mentally satisfying about being able to deeply concentrate on a particular task, finish it, then the next, etc. I always thought my enjoyment of chopping veg was a bit odd about me - figuring that prep is a hassle to many. I also am very efficient as I go and like the feeling of having almost everything cleaned up by the time the dish goes in the oven (or on top of the stove) to do is own thing.
Ocassionally, DH likes to take a swing at cooking. He is a good cook, but is far less methodical than I am. His style is more laissez-faire and I don't think he has ever used a recipe. But he has a natural gift for creating flavors. HOWEVER, sometimes I ask him if I could at least do the chopping. I cringe a bit when I see the chunky uneven pieces of onion floating in what will end up being a very tasty sauce. And, of course...I always end up having to clean the kitchen after dinner, when he cooks. It looks like a tornado went through it. But, even though I would rather plop down on the sofa after our meal (which I can do when I cook, because the kitchen is already clean), it's okay. I am never going to complain about having a nice meal prepared for me.
With both of us having cooking training (Mr. S still currently in the biz, me, not any more), we share a lot of the work.
He likes the meditation-like tasks of chopping stuff and I often give him a list of the veg, etc needed for dinner or he'll measure out stuff for a recipe if I have to do some quick after work baking. I feel like I'm on a cooking show sometimes, with all my ingredients ready. He's also better at things that require stepping back and being patient...I'm always wanting to flip things too soon or toss the pan too frequently.
I do the majority of the baking (and altering recipes), although Mr. S does love to make cookies. I'm also the go to for imagining flavour combos. He can do it, but tends to the traditional.
both of us are good at tidying as we go, but not washing dishes as we go. That's from working in a professional kitchen, where clean as you go often means, clean your work area, but throw the pots, bowls, etc in the dish pit for the dishwasher or stewarding dept. to deal with. When we're done cooking the stack of dishes looks like it was for 3 meals instead of 1.
"I feel like I'm on a cooking show sometimes, with all my ingredients ready."
I know what you mean. Which reminds me, when I was a young boy cooking on my own (and even in my later years) I used to make believe I was doing a cooking show. This was way before the Food Network. I guess all those years of watching Julia Child and Graham Kerr got to me!
Over the years I have had dozens of people turn to me for gravy lessons.
I'm called into the kitchen at holidays to make the gravy for the turkey. I recently helped a friend duplicate his deceased mothers gravy, a quest he had been working on for 10 years. He was so thrilled to be able to have this taste of "home" again. He knew the seasonings and style, but had been unable to master the technique and understand the ratios and when to vary from them.
I guess the traits used are patience, ability to see subtle change and rudimentary understanding of the ingredients and how they interact. I'm also able to break down processes visually and verbally to help the "student" learn what to watch for and why.
Two skills come to mind:
Perfectly even dice, slice, whatever cut is needed (inherited ability from my Dad).
Packing leftovers - I am a savant at looking at a pile of leftovers and knowing exactly what size container it will fit in to. Probably also in my genes, as Grandpa had a moving business, so packing stuff is in the family skill set.
"Packing leftovers - I am a savant at looking at a pile of leftovers and knowing exactly what size container it will fit in to."
This skill eludes me. I am okay when it comes to some meager leftovers after a weekday dinner for two. But after a holiday or dinner party? I cringe if someone wants to take something home. I always wind up mangling the food being packed and always choose the wrong size or wrong type of container.
I slice and dice better than anyone I know. I won't rave about my knife skills, because I am totally self taught and not super fast. But I do like to pre cut my ingredients into pleasing bits. If I am cooking with family, I am always assigned the slicing and dicing.
And like BZ, I can usually tell what size container to get out for whatever quantity is in the pot.
Also, I can generally hit the trash can from across the kitchen with whatever I choose to toss.
My other skill is knowing when the boiled eggs should be taken off the stove. I don't know how I know, but I always know.