Three Strategies to Create Personal Space in Your Kitchen

We continue our four-part series on How to Team Up in the Kitchen with Part 3. Be sure to take a look at Part 1 and Part 2.


Part 3: Three Strategies to Create Personal Space in Your Kitchen

Okay. You’ve decided on a dish to cook, you’ve chosen your King, and you’ve figured out how to divide and conquer the various tasks that need to get done to complete the meal. Congratulations, you’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting towards teaming up and getting dinner on the table!

However, you’re still left with a key potential source of kitchen friction which comes (both literally and figuratively) from everybody trying to get at the same counter space or use the same tools at the same time. Instead of cooking, you’re climbing all over each other and getting in each other’s way.

Once again, the crown weighs heavy, as it is the king’s job to solve this problem of too many cooks and not enough space. So today I’ll share with you three strategies to help make sure everybody has plenty of room to work in the kitchen.

1) Establish Separate Workspaces

Let’s face it: you can’t add a lot of value preparing dinner if you're waiting to use a given cooking tool, or if you’re spending all your time and energy getting in and out of the way of other people. If you are king, you must be mindful of this when you delegate cooking tasks to your team.

First, you should give each serf a dedicated workspace, even if it’s not technically in the kitchen. Second, why not lay out tools, cutting boards, or whatever equipment each job requires, in each of the separate locations for each person? If you follow these two steps you’ll right away pre-empt a lot of crowding.

Most importantly, however, you should think about how best to break down the work such that it can be done well at separate workstations. And this brings us to our next strategy:

2) Keep the Tasks Discrete

Before you dole out any tasks to your team, you should make sure each task is specific, clearly defined, and has an obvious beginning point and ending point.

Good examples of clearly defined, discrete tasks would be things like “make the salad,” “set the table,” “prepare dessert” or “wash/rinse the produce and set it out to be prepped.” These are classic dinner building-block jobs that can be divided up easily among a duo or even a team of cooks.

Granted, I know some of these tasks may seem a bit mindless, but that that can actually be a good thing, depending on what kind of serfs you have working for you. I know I have days when I really want to leave the higher-order tasks to somebody else--let me do something mindless like cutting up veggies! Therefore, be sure to think about what kind of temperament your cooking counterparts have and plan accordingly.

What you don’t want to do is allow tasks to blur into each other, or give one task to two people unless it can be easily and obviously broken down. For example, don’t assign two people to do prep work unless you have two sets of knives, two cutting boards, enough room, and an obvious way to divide up the produce that needs to be prepped. And don’t try to have multiple people washing or rinsing produce, unless of course you have two or more kitchen sinks (which we certainly don’t!).

One other thought: If your serfs already know a lot about cooking and are ready and willing to handle more complex tasks, consider delegating the entire prep work process. Give your serfs the whole job and endow them with wide latitude to complete it the best way they see fit. This is a surprisingly good example of a discrete task, although depending on the recipe it can be an admittedly big and complicated task too. See if your serfs can rise to the challenge.

Also, if you have older children who are truly beginning to display some skills and interest in cooking, delegating complex responsibility like this is a great way to engage them creatively in the cooking process.

Let’s move on to our final space-creating strategy:

3) Use “Temporal Space” If You Have a Shortage of Physical Space

In the New York City metro area where we live, kitchen space comes at a premium. If you have a small kitchen or cooking area, I encourage you to think of workspace in both spatial and temporal terms. What do I mean by that? I simply mean you don’t necessarily have to have everybody working at exactly the same time in exactly the same place.

Instead, have one serf do a task, set it aside, and then have another serf complete the next task immediately afterward. Repeat as needed. Your team does the work in the same physical location, but at different space-time coordinates (for lack of a better term). The jobs thus get done in series, rather than in parallel.

Remember the example I gave in the previous article, where one person does some of the preliminary work, another person does the rest of work, and then the king breezes in like a TV chef and finishes off the meal? That’s a perfect example of using temporal space. Each person effectively has his own workspace by working in series in the same physical space.

Result? Dinner might take a bit longer to make, but it will be ready with zero crowding and zero friction.

Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment of the "How to Team Up in the Kitchen" series: Capitalize on Your Cooking Core Competencies.

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