Monday, June 29, 2009

A lesson from before - slowing things down

This is probably more about personal operation in general than it is about cooking. But I think cooking is a perfect way to get my point across.

Ideally I'd like more time to build dishes at work, nigiri, rolls, sashimi...but we need to move faster. A few weeks ago, I felt like I just reached my max and yet I wasn't at the clean, smooth operation that I wanted to be at. It was getting really frustrating, because I just couldn't keep up, at least to my own expectations. To everyone else, it was business as normal.

My violin teacher used to stress playing things slowly and in irregular patterns, like clustering notes together, and playing them in odd patterns. This would help in an overall increase in the upper speed limit. Obviously I didn't appreciate it at the time, being in high school and busy resisting change in general (aka being a nerdy idiot). Taking this back to food work, I reexamined all my roll and nigiri techniques, asking myself if each movement was absolutely necessary. My goal was to reduce the overall movement, losing anything of little value. After that I'd practice in parts, each remaining movement. Ideally when making nigiri (fish piece on rice cluster), you'd touch the fish as little as possible. Real professionals do it around 3 contacts, depending on how you count, with a perfect arch and a well defined head and tail.

After a lot of practice, and visualization when not around fish and rice, I was able to get it down to three contacts. While this last part happened inside a month, the overall technique has taken a few years. Some might think it's stupid to work on something as simple as a piece of fish on rice. And yes sometimes I get bored with it too, but then if I weren't willing to spend time on a critical technique as nigiri sushi, I'd be missing a key point of Japanese cuisine and it's draw to chef's of different backgrounds. The key point being simplicity. Another being, the respect of "original flavor" as our master chef, Jason calls it.

I realized this had more significance than just for nigiri. Frequently I find myself confused, sitting down, not knowing what to do next. So then I default to urgency and recency, which of course may be an effective way to sell, but not a great way to run your life. I realized that while I spent all this time on my hobbies, I wasn't spending enough time with friends. I had to tell friends that I could see them in a few weeks. It's taken me far too long to realize the shortcomings of this. And now looking at my activities, I've begun to dial down activities that use a lot of time but aren't the most important right now. For example, I used to go to the rifle range a good bit, now I've had to reduce it enough to just maintenance sessions. I wish I was still active competitively since it's so much fun. But, food being the focus now, I opted for reducing the practice.

Obviously there are systems that can support decision making; I will go into the various methodologies I use, GTD, Carver Matrix, Mind Mapping, at a later date, but all these methodologies tie back to simplicity and ease of comprehension. The Carver Matrix assists with deciding which targets to pursue, Mind Mapping assists with understanding the root issues, and GTD (Getting Things Done) assists in execution.

Now being able to prioritize among only a few things, it's much easier mentally and on my schedule. With the extra time on my hands, I'll be able to do the things I'm used to doing, but with more time, and more intensity, which for me results in more quality, and satisfaction. And surprisingly it does wonders for speed too as your technique and behavior become cleaner, faster, and tighter.

Credit for the photo goes all to Brad Herman, who stepped up some black and white game at a recent dinner party.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Well written... I made similar decisions recently by setting priorities and dialing work down :)