My Life Lessons from the Kitchen

“Hmm.. not sure about that one..”

I was hesitant to try the mix my girlfriend had made.

“Aww.. come on – you’ll love it!” she said unconvincingly.

Well, here goes. Bracing myself for the gag factor, I took the spoonful and..

kitchen life lessons

photo:  via Unsplash

Like most of us my earliest memories of the kitchen growing up was mom cooking. Maybe the dishes are slightly different from culture to culture but we all have some comfort foods that stay with us through life.

Coming to this country opened up my parents to things they had never experienced back in Taiwan and China. I still remember the shock and confusion when our family discovered that what looked like ice cream was in fact yogurt!

Cheese – the pungent smell took some getting used to. But being a kid I took to it like a happy duckling playing in the rain, and pizza became one of my favorite foods.

Occasionally, mom would need a break from the kitchen, and I stepped in as sous-chef to cook what I liked and what the rest of the family had to learn to appreciate.

For some reason Italian food was my passion as a kid. So much so that in sixth grade I even wrote a 137-page treatise (er, did someone forget to read the memo? it was supposed just be a geography report..) on Italy. Years later, I would actually travel to Rome, Venice, and Florence with my family. Let’s just say that I raised my expectations so high there was only one way to go..!

Later in college I went out with a girl who opened me up to what Asian food had to offer. Up to then my idea was Chinese food. Suddenly, I learned there was Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, even Laotian (her culture).

We would make some unbelievable dishes using just a very illegal hot plate and some utensils (some from home and others “borrowed” from the cafeteria).

Nope. No generic ramen for this homeboy. We cooked noodle dishes using all types – rice, pasta, thin, thick.. boiled, stir-fry.. you name it! We made egg rolls (that does require deep frying, right? .. er, yup!)

While I never saw myself as a chef or working in restaurants, my love and passion of food only grew through the years. Sometimes I looked for excuses to work with the hard-working folks that sweat out the details to provide amazing experiences.

With the rise of celebrity chefs I’ve noticed that slowly there is a greater appreciation of what happens in the kitchen. It’s something that I have carried with me into other areas of my life – whether as an author or entrepreneur, here are some key lessons:

  • Follow recipes.. before improvising – success leaves clues. Any musician knows that mastering the chords is needed before playing jazz or “jamming.” Unless you understand which ingredients work well together and “how” to bring out their flavors, you’ll either go hungry or have to stomach a lot of failed experiments!
  • First, master the basics – whether it’s how to chop and prep ingredients or understanding how to let dough rise before baking, anything we do requires fundamentals. This is true in flying – where you need to learn how to take-off and land before trying aerobatics, and this is true in work – where any profession has core competencies.
  • Good ingredients are essential – unless you’re Jesus, don’t count on making water out of wine. It’s really difficult to make an appetizing dish out of less than quality ingredients. That said, while fresh helps out a lot, you can take an old banana and make a decent smoothie, as the ripeness actually enhances the flavor. But that whole thing about the sow’s ear – yeah, don’t try this at home!
  • Taste, taste, taste – one of the most shocking things on Restaurant: Impossible with Chef Irvine is when he asks the restaurant owner to taste their own cooking, and they are surprised. If you don’t know how it tastes, how can you serve it to others? Learning to test how the world responds to you is another key life skill.

  • Passion is everything – we’re not machines, and I’ve learned that even the best intentions lead to that proverbial road to hell.. UNLESS you have the commitment that comes with passion. Do we need to make adjustments to our plans depending on the feedback we get? Absolutely. But if faith without works is dead, then intention without passion isn’t too far behind!

Hmm.. not bad. It was actually edible.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked expectantly.

“I’m still alive,” I smiled with a hint of sarcasm, feeling my chest in mock testing.

So, these are lessons that I’ve found to carry over not only to work, play, relationships but life as a whole.

What about you? Are there things you’ve learned from the kitchen or other crafts that stay with you?

Join me in talking with Chris Hill on Cinco de Mayo Tuesday, (05/05/15) about his personal journey from the corporate world to the kitchen.

https://plus.google.com/events/caq14vlfsue2q4k1c1utapctq8k