10 Tips From My Lockdown Kitchen To Cook Your Way To The Corner Office (Sanitized Of Course!)

Working in the kitchen left this author with some truly delicious learnings, on what it takes to get to the top of the corporate ladder!

Working in the kitchen left this author with some truly delicious learnings, on what it takes to get to the top of the corporate ladder!

The amount of time I spent in the kitchen during the two months of lockdown was a time of self-observation, and I could not help but notice how many of the workplace philosophies became simpler when viewed through the lens of kitchen encounters!

This is a light take on those  Top 10 Aha ‘moments’ ! I must warn you, every day more pearls of wisdom popup from my kingdom as I cook up a storm.  If I don’t get to office soon, there is a clear and present danger of me writing a 165 page self-help book on this topic and I might even host a few workshops and panel discussions for executives of large corporates in my kitchen…and add a few TedX speeches too, while at it…

Now read on!

1. You’ve got to pay the dues and get your hands dirty

I have gone through nearly 25 YouTube videos, all explaining easy, under 10 seconds garlic peeling. Nope, tried them all including another one that compares four types of easy peeling. They all start at various points – microwave them, pound them in a mortar, but end in the same place – you’ve got to peel it with your own hands! There are no short cuts in the cooking google map.

2. Know when to quit

So you are grating the coconut, the rhythm and the fluffy white snowflakes take you into a trance, your mind wanders, you don’t even pay attention to how the sound changes subtly to a screech…and before you know it, you have grated it a tad too much and the brown shell scrapings are staring at you on top of the snow pile!

Bottomline: Leave when it is still good, don’t cling onto that comfortable role and organization until things turn sour.

3. Stay humble

It’s a standing joke at home and gets enacted with gusto by the hubby and darling daughter when guests are around. I hesitatingly announce on a Sunday morning that it’s Pongal today for breakfast; hubby and daughter exchange meaningful glances and open the Zomato/Swiggy app as contingency measure! Confession: I cannot make Pongal.

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7 out of 10 times, it’s a side-bet worthy nail-biting finish to see if we are going to get this divine dish called Pongal or just some rice-and-moong dal floating in boiling water!

This is baffling to me. Restaurant quality layered handi biriyani ? Yes – my specialty; perfect flavourful Shahi Tukda? In a jiffy; but the simplest of all recipes that a first-time cook can ace – humble Pongal – can bring me to my knees. Remember that and stay humble.

4. Don’t be too self-critical of yourself, leave some of it to others

At work, you don’t need to talk about the small accidents, frustrations and failures all the time; it makes you come across as inexperienced. Complaining about them constantly makes you look like a whiner. The burnt, butchered first dosa need not make it to the hot pack, big deal! A snip with the knife, fingertip brushing against the milk pot – it’s all part of the process and counted as occupational hazards.

I observed that every time I brought the dishes to the table, I send out a pre-emptive warning/declared in self-defense to the family, “Sambar might be a little more spicy today” or “Rice got over-cooked, adjust please” etc. Don’t!

Being self-critical and setting a high bar for yourself is all good, but no one notices when they are polishing off the sambar by the litres.

5. Sport your war wounds and badges

On the contrary, make sure you ‘humbly’ mention a few significant near-death experiences with a practiced nonchalance to earn some appreciative nods and some awe…(but only after a successful Sunday special brunch with dessert!)

6. It’s all about positioning

Let’s say you slept late (no no, not judging you – I watch Netflix too!) and it is well past your breakfast time at home. What do you say? “So sorry, breakfast is delayed, I should stop watching Netflix?” Nope. Put out cut fruits to calm them down and say, “We’ll have a straight brunch today, let’s spread some picnic sheets!” It’s all about the messaging, darling!

7. Don’t let anyone steal your thunder and undervalue your success

The one thing that is making the rounds on WhatsApp food picture circles is “making it from scratch”. Let me tell you, it is highly overrated!

You make a killer pav bhaji with store bought masala and post a pic in the daughters-in-law WhatsApp group and someone says, “I do all my masalas from scratch”. Let’s face it – no one does it from scratch. I mean did you grow the carrot yourself, leave alone the cloves and cinnamon?

In the real world, you always inherit what someone has done halfway and run with it – a deteriorating business unit, a project in deep-red and you don’t have the luxury of starting from scratch! You have to put together the good, bad and ugly from 10 different people, choose the ingredients wisely, pick a few, discard some and make something wonderful out of it. Now that’s a real skill and not starting from a clean slate!

Note: In corporate lingo, it is called ‘COTS’ – Components Off The Shelf. And why is this ‘from scratch’ always with the baking and continental cuisines, and not with Indian recipes? Come to think of it, I should start saying “I made idli from scratch.” By definition, there’s no difference! It’s the outcome that counts.

8. If you think you do it better than everyone else, you will end up doing it always

In the initial weeks of the lockdown, when I washed the dishes I felt that I do it way better than my long time domestic help and later, I used the dishwasher less and less because it’s not as good and gleaming as when I do it!

I told my hubby and daughter the same when they jumped in to help, “Wash the edges, it’s not yet clean.” It’s no surprise they snapped one day: “Ok then, you do it yourself!”

At your workplace, being derisive about how much better you would have organized the sales conference or written that contract/product presentation does not help. You upset your team, isolate yourself and end up having to prove every time that you do it better than everyone!

9. Take care of your A team (with all their idiosyncrasies!)

Do you have that broad ladle with a slightly twisted handle that is perfect for turning the most stubborn potato fry from the kadai/wok? And that mixer jar with a broken lid which brings out the perfect chunky onion chutney? Take care of them as long as you can, preserve them but be ready to let them go when it is time.

10. Take the spotlight, don’t feel guilty to enjoy the fruits of your hard work

It is Sunday morning – you are making the crispy golden ghee masala dosa. Wafer thin round of batter, a drizzle of ghee, a not-too-much-not-too-less-just-right amount of the potato stuffing strategically placed to make a perfect fold for a half circle, with a twig of coriander on top. You plate it in your best china with the red, green and white chutneys to the eager mouths at the table and take that insta-worthy picture! How do you make yours? Thick dosas quickly made and eaten with the scraps of stuffing on the side?

Do me a favour: Make one or few for yourself with equal care and sit down to enjoy them. The happy glow will dim a little if you feel you are self-sacrificing. Be ready to accept appreciation gracefully for your leadership just as naturally as you give all the credit to your team.

Footnote :

You might be wondering why all the references to Indian food in this article. For the record, Parvathi Viswanathan can make fairly delicious Thai Green curry and Tomato-basil spaghetti too (from the scratch of course!) but is at her best with Indian recipes. It is called Sticking to your core competency and Playing to your strength!

Image via Canva

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About the Author

Parvathi Viswanathan

Parvathi Viswanathan is a seasoned business leader with more than 25 years of impactful presence in the Indian IT industry. She has had significant stints as Vice President leading Financial Services Market Units at Capgemini read more...

4 Posts | 7,189 Views

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