More than half done with the 10 Rules for Meal Preparation Success, we’ve covered a lot of ground so far:
- The initial approach
- Planning the specifics
- Ingredients and equipment
The next rule is truly a sign of the times. While you’re reading this, do you have multiple tabs open on your computer? Are you doing something else while reading, whether it is petting an animal, talking on the phone, or something you’d rather not say in public? Your meal preparation will be a much happier experience – and the results will be better – if you keep distractions to a minimum while cooking.
It’s not rocket science. If you get distracted you’re more likely to misread, lose your place in a recipe or be lose your concentration during a step that requires careful attention. I’m not suggesting that you turn off music. In fact, the right music can often help set the stage for great cooking.
And I will admit to cooking with radio talk shows in the background. (Is there anything more soothing than Terry Gross’s voice as she interviews someone on Fresh Air?) But if you really want to listen to an interview or have to talk to someone, you’re better off stopping cooking for a moment and returning to your meal preparation once you can give it your full attention.
Multi-course meals require multi-tasking and complicated recipes may have you doing several things at once. But in those cases, your attention is fixed on what you’re cooking. If you read the recipe(s) all the way through and prepared ingredients and equipment ahead of time, you’re working according to a plan. You may need to look back at a recipe while you’re cooking (I often do) and more than one dish may be cooking at the same time, but you’re orchestrating your movements.
Like driving a car or flying a plane, preparing a meal requires focus on the tasks at hand. While inattention in the kitchen typically leads to just burned food, a mess to clean up, or a ruined pot, there can be more serious consequences. Without going into gory details, you don’t want to risk burns, cuts or a kitchen fire just because you tried to hold a conversation while cooking over the stove or cutting food.
Have you seen the AT&T “talk-and’surf” commercial that touts that company’s service over Verizon’s by emphasizing how beneficial it is if you can frantically make a reservation using your AT&T iPhone, while simultaneously talking to your significant other on said iPhone, assuring him/her that you’ve already made the reservation? Multi-tasking is considered a “must have” attribute in this fast-paced world.
But when it comes to successful meal preparation, staying focused on cooking and keeping distractions to a minimum is by far the better course. I could regale you for hours with stories of my own misadventures illustrating the importance of this rule. Whether it was turning to answer a question while pouring cake batter or the hubris to think I could talk on the phone while cooking, I’ve learned my lesson the hard way – many times. If you’re going to make a mistake, at least make your mistake a creative one and come back with a lesson to teach all of us that won’t raise eyebrows from the “Didn’t-you-read-Rule 6?” contingent.