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Conversing when you cook

I am not a multitasker and I find it difficult to carry on a conversation when I'm cooking. I have recently been gently chided for this. I was making a mexican meal. Skirt steak fajitas with refried beans with a side of steamed veggies and of course all the requisite condiments, guacamole, sour cream, salsa cheese, tomatoes. Not terribly difficult, but for me at least a fair amount of timing. Start carmelizing onions, skirt steak on the grill, start the beans, watch the onions, check on the steaks, get the tortillas warming in the oven, take the steaks off the grill, let them rest, check the onions, slice the steaks, get the veggies steaming. My guest said, as I started this, "Does this mean we can't talk?"

I felt bad and tried, but the real answer is yes. I will burn something, over cook something or forget something entirely. It's just my curse to bear.


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  1. Same with me, unless it's just a couple close friends. That's why I do everything possible in advance and have in low oven/warming drawer or for cold items, in their serving dishes in the fridge. For that dinner I would have only done the steak once my guests arrived and put the tortillas in the oven while I sliced the steak.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BubblyOne

      Ditto! There's no reason all of that work had to be done at the last minute.....

      1. re: KSlink

        In many circumstance this is true, but this was Friday, after work and guests arrived as I was getting home at 5. We spent an hour just talking and hanging out and then it was time to get dinner ready.


    2. When I cook it is most often a full-blown circus: I am almost always drinking, smoking, carrying on conversations, conducting text conversations on my phone, watching television or listening to the radio, coordinating with others that are cooking, and running between the various cooking stations and congregations that may have developed. It is a chaotic, exhilirating affair.

      As others do, I'm sure, I try to get a number of things out of the way before the "main event," so that I can spend as much time as possible visiting with my guest/s while I cook, but my preparedness is often lacking.

      In any event, it's fun, and I enjoy cooking in this fashion. Of course, doing so many things at once often leads to mishaps, and I have the cuts, burns, occasional fire alarm and a slew of dishes that needed to be corrected, trashed or restarted to prove it. Still, I wouldn't have it any other way.

      1. I love having people in the kitchen when I'm cooking. Heck, I've taught cooking classes so that certainly requires multi-tasking. Can't imagine not talking.

        1. There are only a few people I know well enough (or who know me well enough) to talk to while cooking. We can read each other, and know when to be quiet and let the other concentrate. Otherwise - get out of the kitchen, I don't know you like that :)

          1. Your opening five words say it all: "I am not a multitasker." You don't have to make excuses for that, but if it bothers you (and it appears that it does), you can improve your multitasking ability. At it's root, cooking a multi-course meal IS multitasking, so all you need to do is to challenge and expand your already extant skills.

            You probably find that, for some meals, they practically make themselves because you don't have to think about it - you've made it so many times you hardly have to think about what to do next. So record an episode of, say, "Jeopardy", and the next time you prepare one of those meals, turn on the recording and play Jeopardy (questioning the answers, making daily double wagers, the works) while you cook. It'll force you to divert your attention partially, while continuing on track with your meal prep. As your multitasking skills improve, increase the complexity of the meals.

            Another way to work on your multitasking (if your kitchen is big enough to allow it) is to prepare two completely different meals at the same time so they'll be ready at the same time. If you live alone, you can just put the second meal in the fridge for the next day.

            1. As I teach cooking classes I must talk as I cook which can be tricky. At times I wish I could do things more quickly! At home I love to cook and converse with my husband but other than that and classes prefer not to. It is me time and I like to hum to music or just enjoy the sound of the birds and the VitaMix interrupting them.

              1. I think I could talk about cooking, especially if I'm talking about what I'm cooking, but if someone wants to discuss politics or tell you an involved story? That's where the trouble starts. Of course it's probably a mistake to talk politics when you're handling hot items and sharp knives.

                And I can cook mutliple meals at the same time. Just the other day I made salmon chowder for lunches and prepped and cooked a whole chicken on the grill at thte same time. Of course no one else was in the kitchen at the time.

                I do love Jeopardy, but to clarify, I'm only mildly bothered by this and I'm too old to try and train my brain to do too many things at once and I'm ok with that.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JuniorBalloon

                  I also am not a multitasker, plus I'm an introvert. Having to converse draws away energy that should go into my cooking. Also it seems whenever I have a talker in the kitchen they are constantly between me and the stove, or sink, or whatever else I need.

                  Quite frankly, I think your friend was rude to complain about your not conversing. You're providing a meal and companionship before and after the cooking, couldn't they graciously occupy themselves while you cooked? Of course, as an introvert I don't understand why some people are only happy when they're yammering.

                2. If I'm deeply involved in several things at once in the kitchen I don't really like for my wife to speak to me. When we have guests (usually just family) I like to get everything possible done before they arrive.

                  1. I have 2 kinds of meals I make for company: meals I make for SO because I want to make them (he has kindly learned to be a fabulous sous/commis/bartender, which makes it HUGELY more fun!)
                    Meals I make for guests: braises and such which allow me to do all (almost all?) my cooking beforehand, and genuinely enjoy guests' company while I have it. Aside from braises, I count salads as a success here, as well as risottos, most pastas, casseroles... Suchlike. Would that work for you? Not all the time but... Sometimes?

                    1. I am not very good at it either, Junior AND I am a great multitasker. Talking *intelligently* while cooking complicated dishes is something I can't do. If I HAVE- to "pretend" to talk....nod my head, laugh when everyone else does, etc.... secretly.....I am thinking..."where is the fig balsamic, this won't taste right with regular", "gawd...did I already put the salt in dough?", "I hope I have enough Gorgonzola, maybe I could sub blue cheese if not", "why the hell did I think one lettuce head was enough?"..."oh, right - duh- arugula", etc.

                      Prep massively first, then I just give them lots of wine and shush them out of the kitchen until I can finish.

                      1. I hear you.

                        I'm actually a pretty good multi-tasker, but I still like some alone time in the kitchen while I'm cooking. Especially at the critical junctures. It is also a peaceful, relaxing process for me. I love it when everything comes together at the end.... But I still need to pay attention a little to time it right.

                        We also have an incredible tiny kitchen, so 2 people can't be in it at once. So the guest "hovers"... and blocks the stove/fridge.

                        Unfortunately we recently had a guest for a few weeks who had a pretty intense anxiety disorder who talks non-stop. She would hover, and by the end of my hour or so cooking I was totally exhausted. Finally I said, "Can I just have two minutes to finish up?"

                        In party situations, I simply hand the guest a glass of wine. That seems to slow my friends down right to the pace that doesn't distract me too much from my cooking.

                        Unfortunately, the anxious guest is coming back in one month. And she doesn't drink...

                        Perhaps I will.

                        1. I love cooking and talking.

                          Sometimes I cook while posting on Chowhound.

                          1. Multitasking, like patience, is a skill that can be learned by the majority of people.

                            I have learned through the years that I do not like all the "experts" critique my technics and recipes as I am in the process of cooking dinner. I had to forcibly remove one individual who wanted to help improve the meal. A large tumbler of whisky kept her occupied and I never invited her back.

                            I have cooked for up to 75 people using a 4 burner electric range and a grill. I do not want to carry on a conversation when I am timing green beans to carrots to parsnips to poached fish.
                            Family or a few close friends are another matter, but they all get the signal when to go make themselves useful by making me a Manhattan.

                            The front of the house should keep the guests well entertained and lubricated.
                            For me, the kitchen is for work, not entertaining.

                            1. Boy, I could have written this post. In my case, multi-tasking tends to mean I flub several things (instead of just one!). But if it looks like it'll be necessary, I make myself a list and it's a huge help. My conversation still may suffer a little, but the meal prep proceeds sensibly.

                              1. I'm another (former) instructor (for kids, no less)-- so it's more or less second nature. I love to entertain, whether it's 2 or 20, so there is *always* something going on in my kitchen -- and no matter what's going on, there's always a crowd in my kitchen, talking, eating, and laughing -- doesn't faze me in the least.

                                But like monfrancisco -- I make list of the dishes I have planned and I tape it to a cupboard door right at eye level. Keeps me on track (and keeps me from forgetting the giant bowl of homemade cranberry sauce until the day after Thanksgiving dinner.....) :D

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Too funny! I've done that very thing. Twice. Plenty of crans for the leftovers, though...

                                2. Its completely situational for me. The majority of the time Im chatty, but in many recipes there are moments when absolute focus is needed, and I like to be left alone then.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: twyst

                                    Very situational. Really depends on what you're cooking. In every dish there are moments when if you neglect it, it will not taste right. Some have more of those moments than others and some less. If this ever got to be a big issue I'd look at pairing back, cooking something easier and or prep more before. In this case it was after work and there was no prep time.

                                    This is deffinitely not anything I lose sleep over. Just something I noticed. It's deffinitely related to learning more about cooking. You learn techniques, timing, combinations and then when you apply those to expensive food items, ie fresh, tasty, local, organic or what nots, I really don't want to spoil them by being inattentive.

                                  2. Sometimes we forget that our guests are here to enjoy the gathering, not just the food. If I couldn't plan to do 90% of the prep before my guests arrived, I'd have to order pizza or something. I actually can talk and work, but I've noticed that my guests are not really comfortable if I am working hard in the kitchen. It's ok to be finishing things, but outright cooking is just awkward in my group of friends.