No Shortcuts

I started this year with a resolution in the form of a mantra: “No Shortcuts”.[1]

It’s an idea that mainly spurs from my reading in cookbooks, but I’m finding it’s applicable to all aspects of my life and not just cooking. In the food world, this aspirational idea comes in many forms and phrases. In Daniel Humm’s kitchen at Eleven Madison Park there’s a large sign that reads “Make it Nice”. When you read their book you realize that this represents one of the core philosophies: the striving towards something great through making each individual detail “nice”.

I mentioned the inspiring and often mind boggling FΓ€viken Book in The “Perfection” episode of Beats, Rye & Types. Chef Magnus Nilsson sums this up pretty eloquently:

“The questions you must ask yourself about every detail are these: does this make the end result better, and do I have the time or capacity to do it at the moment? […] The important idea is not always to do things without compromise, but with thought-through attention and decisions that lead, little by little, towards creating a better end result.”

I wouldn’t in a million years compare myself to these extremely talented, driven, and respected chefs. Rather, I’m starting from what I consider zero, and slowly improving.

For the past couple of months I’ve been cooking a lot and I’m always driven to take on new recipes that are increasingly more challenging. Even in the most basic recipes, though, I started to see my lack of consistency - I started to slip and make stupid mistakes. It took a while to realize (and through reading more and more) that this wasn’t from lack of skill or bad recipes, this was just me not paying attention. It was me making small split doeskins to take a shortcut here or there (not rinsing this, not using the right pot) and that having the exact opposite effect of what the chefs described above - it made the overall result worse.

Most of these things, I realized were completely subconscious or at least not something I was recognizing in the moment. It has some of the same results as being lazy, but this is slightly different - this is about self-awareness and being present enough to do the “nice” thing.

Now I’ve gone from being generally aware of the situation, to being aware in the moment. It’s taken a huge amount of effort to put my own momentum behind living in a “No Shortcuts” world. I’ll be cooking or writing and I’ll have to catch myself, “you’re rushing, you’re skipping steps”. I’ve found myself working on a project and about to consider it done when I ask myself , “Is this good? Did I do all I could to make it better?”.

Nothing I do is anywhere near perfect, but every time I try a little harder and try to really think through the steps of something, I find myself becoming more present. Maybe more importantly, I’m getting better at the things I care about - I can make a really good pizza[2].

  1. In my house I’m notorious for yearly resolutions and frequent proclamations. When I told Kat about “No Shorcuts” she laughed and said, “well my resolution is ALL SHORTCUTS”. We’ll see how that works out for her.  ↩

  2. In case you haven’t heard, MRB and I are working on a book about Pizza. See  ↩

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