How to Team Up in the Kitchen

The purpose of this four-part series of posts is to help you collaborate in the kitchen with your significant other (or even your entire family) with a bare minimum of friction.

Let me start by stating my personal qualifications on this matter. Like most married couples, Laura and I have had our fair share of turf battles. And in years past, our kitchen was a truly unique theater of war on which we've had some of our greatest fights. I'd tell you some war stories, but in the interests of time let me summarize by saying they mostly had to do with me being a micromanager and Laura chasing me out of the kitchen with various sharp objects.

Fortunately, we emerged from this dark era of conflict with a healthy awareness of how to team up in the kitchen. We learned to decide who's in charge, how to share work and divide up the workplace in a sensible way, and how to take advantage of each of our individual cooking skills and interests. Cooking suddently started to require a lot less effort, and it wasn't long before it grew into something we actually do for fun.

Cooking is one of those activities that the whole family can get involved in, and there is no pleasure greater than spending quality time with your family creating and enjoying great food.

Over the next two weeks, I'll share the four key strategies that have helped us team up in the kitchen.

Part 1: Choose Your King
Part 2:
How to Divide and Conquer Your Cooking Labors
Part 3:
Three Strategies to Create Personal Space in Your Kitchen
Part 4: Capitalize on Your Cooking Core Competencies

I hope this series of posts will encourage you and your family to team up in your kitchen too. We'll start today with Part 1.


Part 1: Choose Your King

The fundamental problem most kitchen collaborations suffer from, and the fundamental problem Laura and I always had in our early days, was a battle for control. Maybe we'd successfully agree on what to cook, but once we actually began cooking we'd both attack the recipe full-force, giving out instructions and orders to each other. It was chaos. Two kitchen Napoleons simply cannot coexist in the same kitchen at the same time.

Eventually, one of us would win out and start controlling the direction of things. And of course the other person would usually be annoyed and feel like a second class citizen. Nobody was in charge, there was no succession plan, and we wasted a lot of energy fighting out a battle for control before we ever got down to cooking.

Finally, after staring one too many times at the business end of a paring knife, I came up with the "King" idea. "Hey," I said, "let's decide ahead of time who's the boss here. And don't worry, I'll just be King for a day. We'll take turns and you can be king the next time we cook."

What exactly does it mean to be "King" then? Think of the king as a kind of all-powerful general contractor for dinner. The king decides what to cook, and how it's going to be cooked. The king is responsible for completing the dish satisfactorily at a time agreed upon in advance with his or her subjects. The king also gets to delegate some of the work involved (but only some, as we'll see below), and figures out who should do what task and when.

We’ve found that allocating nearly complete powers to the King works well for us, but of course you can delineate the powers of your version of the king in a way that works best for you. The key point is that you should always choose your king together before starting up a recipe. You'll be stunned at how much smoother things go once that decision is out of the way.

And certainly it goes without saying that you need to take turns being king. We've settled into roughly a 60/40 split favoring me with kingly powers, but that’s only because I tend to do more of the cooking in our home.

Another king-related rule we have is this: if you come up with the meal idea, YOU get to be king. This makes being king a reward for dinner idea generation, as well as a reward for initiative. Of course, the king still typically ends up doing much of the work too, and that's deliberate: you want the pleasures of royalty to only slightly outweigh the burdens of command. You don't want the king to live off the backs of the serfs in some kind of kitchen feudalism. Thus, being king is a good thing, but not so good that you won't share the title next time around.

Another compelling idea would be to let your kids be king once in a while (after they’ve developed the basic skills of cooking of course). Imagine being a teenager and getting to order your parents to do prep work! Who knows, not only will this give your kids an extra opportunity to appreciate cooking, it could help them develop skills in management and leadership.

I'll be back in a couple of days with Part 2: How to Divide and Conquer Your Cooking Labors. Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

sounds quite interesting - Martin and I have the same kind of quarrels while cooking. Perhaps we can learn from you!

Daniel said...

Hello Martina! Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I have trouble imagining the two of you ever quarrelling. :) But if you DO, hopefully this series will be of use to you.


Anonymous said...

I'm fortunate in that my husband does the grocery shopping, prep and cooking. Our collaboration is in the eating! He really is king.