Every time I sit down to write the opening paragraph for this essay it sounds snarky. I sound like I hate fancy kitchens. I’ve just never had a need for “Chef’s/Cook’s Home Kitchens”, even though I went to Culinary School and even though I worked as a chef in my twenties. I love cozy small kitchens where I can reach every thing I need with ease.
Although professional and commercial kitchens can be really expansive, as a chef you are allotted a tight work station. Besides the quality of your food, you’re measured on how quickly, quietly and efficiently you work. Spreading out is frowned upon.
When I went to Culinary School we often shared work stations in the mandatory classes, they were crowded. My pastry finals week taught me the advantage of working small and being kind to those around you. For our pastry final we had the option of spreading out and getting our own table. During the quarter my partner and I had grown accustomed to sharing a table and had produced good work together and separately, all while working closely. We opted to continue to share our table, asserting “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. We worried that if we got a bigger table we might spread out too much or we might have also been a little superstitious. Within a space of about 3 feet deep and 2 feet wide I made 2 cakes and some crepes in a few hours. I finished early and had plenty of time for plating and final review, both of us did well on our exam.
Learning to cook efficiently started long before Culinary School. I grew up in a small house, my mother grew up in a small house and my grandma grew up in a really small house with a wood burning oven that took up a quarter of the kitchen. There has never been a notion in my head that I could do more in a bigger kitchen.
Think through your plan before you start, gather everything you need, clean up as you go and be mindful of your timing, were all skills I learned from my grandmother. She took it one step further and was big on things being stored where you need them and use them most often. It is for this reason that I store appliances, large platters and fine linens that I use once a week or less somewhere other than my kitchen. Yes I know that means bringing up my Kitchen Aid from the basement instead of storing it on my counter. It’s very heavy and I am lucky to be strong enough to carry it up and down those stairs. From a practical sense I don’t like things on my counter that I can splash raw meat on when I’m preparing meals. Open and clear countertops are easier to wipe down and keep clean.
All of these lessons that my grandma taught me served me well, when I went to Culinary School. But more importantly she taught me how to curb my craving for excess. Not through long lectures about living with less or tiny house blog stories, because well, those didn’t exist in the 1980’s. She taught me through example. She could cook big delicious meals in a tiny space. She made beautiful quilts out of up-cycled clothing that people brought to her. My fondest memory is her whipping a piece of homemade bread out of her purse, finding some sausage at a deli and making a wonderful impromptu picnic in the park. She taught me to find joy in the little things as the world around us got bigger and more complex than any either of us dreamed it would .
So if you are feeling like you don’t have enough to start cooking, maybe try redefining what enough means to you, and remember you can do a lot more than you think with a humble start.
P.S. I know that an Ode is a poem meant to be sung, and so I do encourage you to reread this post in a lyrical manner if the mood strikes you.