It was Chopped or an Anthony Bordain show, I don’t remember which. What I do remember is that I saw a dish that made me want to quit everything, buy a restaurant, and start cooking. It’s not that cooking was foreign to me, but to that point, I had never taken it seriously. Cooking was utilitarian and I had no intention of walking away from my work as a strategic advisor.
But that dish, with its beautiful colors and plating, triggered a part of my brain that needed to explore uncharted territory of creativity. I sat down with my family to eat dinner that night and it hit me: “I’m going to cook a gourmet meal every day for the next year.” From that day, I was going to treat my family to something unique and beautiful every single day, with a secondary goal of never cooking the same thing twice.
I started strong with vision for at least ten unique dishes. By the eighth or ninth day, however, I realized I was going to need inspiration if I expected to keep this up. I started buying cookbooks. Not the ones you find at Williams-Sonoma, but the type of books written by the chefs Bon Appétit would say represented the next generation of cooking. Then I needed new equipment. And new dishes. I also quickly realized that my kids didn’t like things like goat curry or scallop crudo, so I started cooking two meals at a time – one kid-friendly and another full gourmet.
As trivial as it may sound, the stakes (no pun intended) were high. I couldn’t just blow hours every night to make dinner. I had to maintain a reasonable schedule that took into account maintaining my full-time practice, as well as a variety of family obligations. The pressure increased over time, but I reminded myself frequently that I could stop this exercise at any time.
One day after a few weeks of cooking, I was working with a client on workflow strategy. During the meeting, I was reminded of a cooking concept known as mise en place, or “everything in its place.” A French term for preparing for cooking by having everything ready to use, I applied the logic of mise en place to my client’s workflow obstacles and we devised an efficient strategy to arrange people and resources in a meaningful configuration prior to implementing a project.
Nearing the end of the first year, I realized that I not only loved cooking and wanted to continue the process as often as possible, but that I had become a better lawyer and strategist in the process. Here are a few of the connections I found:
It’s relatively easy to fall into a coast when we commit to becoming good at something. As we gain competence in our area of expertise, we tend towards relaxation because it’s too difficult to maintain a constant pace towards growth. By changing the scenery (cooking), I created space to expand my abilities beyond my then-existing capacity. I challenged myself to something new, and in the process forced myself to become better. The energy from my growth as a home chef translated to renewed energy in my actual profession.
Prior to deep-diving into cooking, my concept of organizing resources leading into project implementation often defaulted to Henry Ford’s concept of the assembly line. Through my discovery and development of the concept of mise en place, I was able to apply new solutions to old problems, and it opened my mind to think outside of the traditional box for organizational answers. Soon after, I found myself evaluating variations of combinations of these new areas.
We often think of stress relief as only arising from zero-growth activities like trolling a Facebook feed or watching goat screaming on YouTube (yes, that’s a real thing). Cooking presented an exhilarating alternative to my “profession” that challenged me and relaxed me simultaneously. I could work a long, hectic day, and then walk into the kitchen excited to craft an amazing meal that night. The disparity in mental disposition (“working” v. cooking) enabled me to reduce stress while performing a meaningful household function and simultaneously satisfying my need for a creative outlet.
A few years later, I still cook nearly every day and still love it (my instagram feed highlights the journey here and there). My kitchen is efficient and my family is happy. My “professional” work is exponentially ahead of where it was. Cooking became an enzyme to further develop my business creativity, problem-solving, and efficiency.
How about you? Where’s your opportunity to enhance yourself in a way that helps those around you? Find that thing and go jump in with both feet.
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