Life lessons from cooking

I have lived in India most of my life. Growing up as a kid and then as a teenager and a young adult, I never had the need to learn to cook. I lived with my parents in Mumbai and we had the most amazing people who cooked for us. My mom, a home science graduate is also a wonderful cook. So I did what I love to do, eat! Then I moved to Hong Kong with my husband and I decided I am going to show my love (!) by learning how to cook. And here's the thing by ordering online, I feel you are missing out on some of life's most important lessons :

Preparation Cooking, like most things in life , improves dramatically with homework and preparation. Searching for recipes, having all the right ingredients, measuring spoons, kitchen tools, utensils, soaking stuff the night before when required. It is like preparing for a meeting or a presentation for a client or an interview : having the content, creating slides, writing a pitch, getting competitor information, doing a mock interview with a friend, presenting in front of a mirror. Preparation and homework are absolutely essential foundational blocks for success. Miss an important ingredient and the outcome will not be optimal.

Mindfulness Usually when I am cutting my vegetables, when I get distracted and my mind wanders, I will end up needing a band-aid! It is such a great lesson in mindfulness and this lesson is what Buddha and Lao-Tse and all the great minds have been asking us to focus on : being present. Like Buddha said, when when we walk, we walk, when we eat, we eat and when we sleep, we sleep. Today's mind has been battered with left and right swipes, likes and claps, thumbs ups and downs. Being aware, practising awareness especially with family our team members, our customers and ourselves and giving them the one thing money cannot buy : undivided attention, can lead to a richer and more interesting life.

Timing I can do all the homework and prepare really well but once the cooking starts, timing takes over. Let the spices stay in the hot oil for a few more seconds and they will burn, drain the pasta too soon and its chewy, too late and its mushy. Similarly, I have to be there for my parents when they need me, sometimes before they do, know when to listen and when to talk. Similarly with friends, peers, there is a time to be quiet and just be there, there is a time to give space. With clients, there is the right time to call them and then there is the right time to back off. Timing is a never ending learning journey : an art and a science.

Patience When a recipe states cook for 8-10 minutes, I always feel after 5 minutes, that's enough. Well, it is not. I need to be patient. I need to enjoy the wait, it will be worth it. Impatience extracts revenge. In this day and age, when being patient is not always seen as a virtue especially in corporations, I like to remind myself that human beings are more important than corporations. People want to be heard and understood, whether partners or clients. "In the long run, a short cut never is"

Following Instructions When I am new to cooking it pays to follow the instructions of an expert, completely. It pays to call my mom and get advice and follow it. It pays to be humble and learn from those who are better. True in life, true at work. Reminds me of how as facilitators delivering a new training programme we would strictly follow the facilitator guide the first 3 times ( :)). When you are assembling a new piece of equipment or doing anything that comes with instructions, like washing a new dress, just follow the instructions, to avoid regrets.

Experiment and have fun And then with time and patience, and the increase in confidence, I start experimenting with recipes and ingredients and instructions. Add a dash of red wine, instead of red vinegar, caramelise the onions instead of light browning them, bake the potatoes instead of frying them, have some fun! Life and work should be like that too. As you keep practising and following the rules and build confidence, take some calculated risks : recommend competition to a client where the returns are better to build more trust, stray from the facilitator guide and encourage a meaningful debate. Be kind with the experiments, they all don't work but lots to learn, from all of them.

Feedback Before you serve the food, as you cook, you taste your own cooking, mid way and then at the end to know whether you are on track. When you eat your own cooking or a loved one does, you observe the feedback as much as you listen to the words. My husband will always say "Hmmm, yummy" but I am observing whether he goes for a second helping and a third, whether he scrapes the bowl with the spoon. If he does not, I know I need to improvise. Tasting your own cooking early in the process, is like human centered design, you get feedback before it is too late and before you fall in love with your own dish! And of course with family and with clients, listen to the words, then observe the body language, the tone, the actions. As my father says "Listen with all your senses"

Marketing I can cook a great meal but if I just lump it on a white plate, that does not show love and an eye for detail and marketing. So I choose a nice plate with pretty design, place the vegetables in a corner. Then cut bright yellow and red bell peppers and place them next to the vegetables with lemon hummus in a small blue bowl. So much better! How the slides look, how the borders are justified, does not change the content but they matter. Just because you make something, it will not sell, it needs to be smartly marketed. You don't get a second chance to create a first impression.

If you don't cook, do start, for so many reasons, other than the obvious ones!

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