This is not my beautiful house...
Tiny bubbles slowly begin to rise to the surface of the pot, the hiss of the frying pan becoming steadily louder. Beautiful, fragrant smells hit my nose as my stomach begins to quietly rumble. The symphony that is my dinner is about to hit its crescendo! It's time to reach into the cupboard to do some last minute seasoning. This is it; I can feel it coming together now... this is the easy part. Like clockwork I can reach from spoon to spice. Mix. Stir. Taste. But wait... what is this... DOGFOOD? What! Nothing is where it should be? This is not my kitchen!
And you might ask yourself - well... how did I get here?
As you probably know, this past week Dan and I had been house-sitting for some friends of ours while they were away. We were pretty excited because they have a great kitchen, especially in comparison to our tiny place! They have gas burners, plenty of counter space and ::gasp:: a dishwasher! (Which here in Bermuda is a bit of a luxury.) The other night after burning some garlic while searching for the salt, we started talking about what a funny thing it is, to be cooking in someone else's kitchen. I don't think that I had realized the importance of such little things like knowing where the strainer is kept, or in which cabinet the cumin is hiding, because in cooking, timing really is everything. While watching Top Chef the other night, I had a whole new respect for the contestants as they frantically flailed about in a foreign kitchen filled with strangers and a strict time limit! But really isn't this what all chefs do on a nightly basis? No matter how long a chef has been working in his or her kitchen there are always going to be some unknown factors that could cause chaos in a place that requires such precision.
So how do they do it? What is the key to this flexibility in the kitchen all the while maintaining the high level of accuracy needed?
Now I'm no expert, by any means, but this past week taught me something about cooking in a strange kitchen. Something that I think applies to all cooking in any kitchen. To borrow a rather cliché phrase made famous by the boy scouts, one must "always be prepared". This point may seem blaringly obvious to some, but I think it's worthwhile none the less. Gathering up all supplies before beginning the task at hand is infinitely important. To quote a personal hero of mine, Tony Bourdain, "as a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system". I don't think I could possibly have said it any better. Organizing your pots, pans, utensils, ingredients, and any other necessary preparation is referred to as your "mise-en-place". And this is, I think, one of the keys to success in the kitchen. So whether you're in your very own home preparing the simplest dish, on an adventure in a foreign kitchen, or even a professional cook in a restaurant, I think that properly setting out your work area before cooking commences is vital, or else things are gonna get hectic real quick. Once Dan and I had located everything we needed in the kitchen we could just enjoy the cooking (and the puppy) and not worry as much about finding the whisk.