Friday, October 3, 2014

Tips to handle cooking failures

images courtesy of and

Julia Child reportedly said that she never apologizes for her cooking failures. I always wondered if that quote might have been taken out of context, because I know damn well as a cook - professional or just mucking about, you care if you fail. A lot.

It matters that the dish you make is a success. So, I made a list of ways you can cope for all those times a dish you created might have flopped like a caught fish on the bottom of a boat. Although there is no way to take back your mistakes, there are ways to handle it like the cooking pro I know you are.

Here's what you can do:

1. Laugh. The easiest and frankly, the best way to handle a cooking nightmare. Laugh. You know you will make it again, and succeed. So is it really the end of the world that your soufflé didn't rise? Well, yes, but laugh about it anyway.

2. Cry or Yell. A big one. Yes, you can admit defeat and yes, you can shed a few tears that something you took hours to make was a disaster. You may do this silently, or you can scream or swear. Another option is to go full out nuts. Do all the previously mentioned emotions, and add in punching a pillow or bag. Then, dry your face, bandage your hand, come back to earth, laugh (*Tip number one is first for a reason) and move on. You'll feel so much better.

3. Ignore. Well, this is a tough one. It's hard to ignore mistakes. It's hard not to think about something you took the time to create that did not go the way you intended. Ignoring it means not acknowledging your mistake. If you can honestly do that, I would personally love to meet you and read your tips and secrets to handling mess. Or, tell you to quit fooling yourself and learn to laugh about it.

4. Anthony Bourdain-it. Watch him and learn from him. He personifies someone who really looks like he couldn't give a shit what you think when he messes up, but looks are deceiving. That image probably took years of self-confidence to build, but lurking behind it you know he has the capacity to crumble, and then laugh about it. Maybe. When I mess up, I think of him and what he'd do to handle it. His reactions to things just make me think there are bigger things in the world to deal with than a stupid chicken dish that was way too dry to be edible. It works. Then I laugh.

Cooking is nutty for nutty people. There are a lot of rules and regulations in place designed to make sure a raw item turns out good, if not great, and won't make you sick. You'd have to be insane to want to dedicate the time to make sure what you make follows the rules to the letter, and most people in this business are happily certifiable. Me too.

But, being responsible to make something tasty, and ensure people don't get sick or worse on what you make is like being placed and left in a pressure-cooker. I've said it before and I'll say it again - cooking is not easy. Allowances for the occasional failure is fine, but when it does happen, try to keep tip number one in mind. Your failure will be memorable, whether you like it or not, so you gotta learn to laugh about it.

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