Thursday, April 1, 2010

Magic Tricks and Cooking

Since I was a child, I have always enjoyed magic tricks. The mystery, showmanship and, sometimes, the danger intrigues me. Even when tricks went wrong, the performers had a sense of humor and kept the show going. The same can be said of great chefs. They put on a show, bring delight and wonder and, once the order has been placed, failure is not an option.

My First Magic Trick
The first time I attempted magic I was 8 years old and attempting to change a penny into a dime using sleight of hand. The trick required that I palm the coins in just the right way all the while distracting my audience with my, “patter” (fancy-stage term for talking) and making all of my sneaky gestures seem normal. Fast forward a few decades and guess what, I’m still doing tricks. The difference now is that I can levitate, make coins disappear into unopened soda cans, pick cards out of thin air, and a number of other things that confuse and delight. And along the way I figured out how this can help me at work.

Not Only On Bring Your Kid To Work Day
One of the great things about performing tricks is sometimes they go wrong. It forces you to adjust on the fly, move forward as if things were normal, or otherwise break the tension to get back to the show. Very valuable skills if ever you are called upon to present. Kids are a great audience for one’s ego, because of their appreciation when things go right. But when things go wrong, they can be downright brutal! And that makes for an indelible learning experience! Another great thing is magic puts you in front of lots of strangers. Trust me, when folks see you doing a trick it’s pretty likely they’ll ask to see it too. These performance lessons are great skills to have when meeting new people, networking, giving presentations, or talking to the big boss about your plans.

And If You Can’t Stand The Heat…
I’ll self-identify now as a super fan of the kitchen. Having working in kitchens of one sort or another since my single-digit years, I devour any material on the subject of cooking as an industry, an art and a science. Only in recent years though, did I begin to notice the parallels between how a kitchen is organized and how business can be organized. In many kitchens the French brigade system is used to establish hierarchy, discipline and order and to maximize efficiency in the kitchen environment. Since much of my work involves streamlining workflows, this is a helpful structure to emulate. Increasingly, chefs are called upon to address the varied needs of the dining public. It’s not unusual for a steakhouse chef to be asked to cook a vegetarian entrĂ©e, or to have a seafood chef provide an alternative to a cream base for a lactose intolerant client. Flexibility, creativity and the ability to improvise are core skills drawn upon to make these efforts appear effortless. It just so happens these are darn good qualities to take into work as well.

Maybe magic isn’t your thing. Could be that cooking is just not that interesting to you. If they are that's great, let's trade secrets! If not, I bet that something you do for fun has benefits in the workplace. So what are they? What do you do outside of work that makes your working day easier? Drop a line – I’d like to know.

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