Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Inside the Chef's Brain

A few weeks ago, as I was preparing for the Great Grapes event, I started thinking about exactly how the brain of a chef works. For the GG cookoff, I had a couple of weeks to plan, which gave me a little insight - on a very small scale - into what it's like to create a menu for a restaurant.

My first step was to brainstorm, then to shop, then to start testing, which involved not only flavor, but also timing. This is the schedule that I worked from the week leading up to, and during, the event:
I recognize that I am a crazy person when it comes to cooking and Excel - I love it and I especially love color-coding. Before every party we throw, I create a similar spreadsheet that details what needs to happen and when. It works for me.

But you just don't see many executive chefs slaving over their laptops, trying to work out how to manage their kitchens. Since they can't predict exactly how many of each menu item will be ordered, and when, color-coded spreadsheets wouldn't be that useful anyway. Which means that all of that exists in their brains.

I'm kind of fascinated by that. I know that some chefs aren't great businessmen, but they're still able to balance the creative side of food development in their minds with the logistical side of getting food out of the kitchen and onto diners tables. That's kind of amazing when you think about it.

And it makes me wonder - in the best chefs, which is the dominant trait: the ability to create or the ability to organize?

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