We constantly come across things we haven’t seen before, or get challenged by things we have no idea about how to solve. A part of competence is being able to break this down, analysing what is going on, and figuring what (if anything) to do about it. Too often we just start working on a problem from the start, without considering if we are going about it the right way, and if it is even a problem or challenge to be solved.
Stop to think, and see the whole picture
The competent human being is able to provide for themselves and for others. This can be understood in many ways, and of course the most direct one is via food and nutrition. But don’t forget the overarching theme of providing. Not only providing but for both one self, and for others. Many people struggle with balancing the two, becoming either very self centred, or very pleasing and not paying attention to one self.
Recognize what the problem really is
The engine needs fuel. To be able to move, think, rebuild your body, and be at your best, you need to put gas in the tank (no pun intended). Make sure you get your macro and micronutrients. If you get it wrong, you can start to feel tired, gain or loose weight, not think clearly and loose you spark. Learning and acknowledging what your body needs, and what your family or friends need, to make the whole system work better, will make everyone better off. It should help you avoid too many unhealthy choices, and if you’re really good at it, you can be aware of why you are eating, so that you differentiate between what you need and what you feel like.
What does the problem solve
But food is not just that. Food can also be a show of love and appreciation. It can be a work of art and an amazing creative outlet. Cooking a meal for someone, maybe even just for yourself, is a very meaningful way to show care and love. In some ways it can even align with the concepts of “Write a sonnet” and dip into “Butcher a hog“. When you decide to double down and learn how to cook the best pasta dish, or grill a steak, or even make the most amazingly perfected omelette, you can keep improving, caring and challenging yourself. The whole thing has to work in unison, from the ingredients through to the plating. You could even challenge yourself to learn how to create the perfect version of your favourite drink.
Do you know and have what you need?
Start thinking as food as one or the other. What purpose are you serving. Understanding this will enable you to double down on what the purpose of the meal is. With the climate in mind, it also means that you focus on getting the right stuff, instead of getting large amounts of the wrong stuff. Learning to fast for 14-16 hours because you understand the purpose of what you put into your body instead of giving into hunger pangs etc is extremely healthy for most people as well. Of course it’s always great to be able to hit both the creativity and fuel source parameters, but you should always try and focus on at least one of these. To begin with, make it a habit to ask yourself when you start a meal, or do your shopping…. “Is this fuel, fun or formidable” ? And then double down on getting the right value out of it.
What can be understood as Analysing a problem?
We always try to look at these skills as placeholders or catch-alls for the outcome of knowing a skill. What could be meant by cooking a tasty meal? Of course there is the logical part, of being able to take ingredients and turn them into a meal. That though, is pretty hard to measure and improve. So let’s look into some different interpretations.
- An actual meal – Yes, straight forward and to the point. You can get the ingredients and turn them into a fantastic Carbonara that pleases the eaters
- Providing care – Providing what others and the individual needs. This is a difficult balancing act indeed, but none the less, very important
- Providing nutrition – You know what the body needs, and provide that in a tasty and healthy way
- Baking – Not easy at all, especially when you get into the more difficult breads such as sourdough. But being good at baking a bread or few kinds, totally satisfies the concept
- Drinks – Again, combine ingredients in the right way to turn them into something fantastic. But make it about caring that the ingredients and final product are a work of art (this doesn’t really fall into the nutrition part of cooking)
- Wine – a whole chapter in itself, but it’s one of those things where you can always learn more and you can learn to enjoy and appreciate on a new level
- Gardening – Getting into the fringes here, but gardening your own herbs and vegestables, with pride, and then using them is next level
- Following a recipe – Not to kill creativity, we all need to be able to follow a recipe. Once we understand it, we can modify, or expand, but it’s a very important life skill, and it even benefits other skills like Taking Orders
What skills can attribute to problem analysis?
We always trying to simplify things into their first principles, and cooking is definitely not a difference. To really enjoy a skill or trait, you should aim to not be held back by struggling with the basics. Of course you should also not get held back by trying to completely master each and every skill before diving in, but it does help to sometimes take a step back and “practice your scales”. Some of the skills that are practiced when cooking are listed here:
- Knife skills – All the way from knowing what knife to use and the importance of keeping it sharp etc, to elegantly dicing that onion without getting hurt. Knife skills will just make your cooking endeavours easier and more enjoyable
- Growing and selecting ingredients – Back to gardening. Even if you do not grow your own food, you should learn how to choose the right tomatoes and go for the good chicken instead of the huge but cheap one. Less is more. That’s why I have always enjoyed the Italian and Lebanese kitchens… just a few ingredients, but they have to be good
- Planning the meal – Like planning an invasion, you should learn to both figure out what goes with what, both as in what desert goes with the main course, what wine goes with what, and just as important, what should you cook first and how do you make sure that all elements of the meal are ready at the right time etc
- Developing your palette – Learn to distinguish herbs and pick apart how that great dish was prepared. Get a feel for what pairs with what. And most importantly, learn to enjoy the subtleties of a dish (or anything else in life)
- Measuring and being precise – Some food can just be mixed together, but too much or too little of an ingredient can ruin the meal. Having that loaf of bread rise an hour too little or too much, or not letting the steak rest, can take your meal from amazing to average (or worse)
- Understanding who you are cooking for – When we do something for others, such as cooking a meal, we should remember who they are, what they like and what means something to them.
- Local kitchens and why they are like they are – As you progress on your journey, you will get to know a lot of different local kitchens. Get to know why the French use onions in so many ways, and why scandinavian food was so salty. Know what’s in season and what kind of ingredients go with what kitchen. You’ll soon find that you align more with a couple of specific ones than you had thought. Italian food is not just italian, there are many local kitchens, even if you simplify to northern and southern you will have learned a lot.
- Clean up after yourself – A life skill in and off itself. Feel the pride in cleaning up before you start cooking, and while cooking as you are done with pots and pans. It will make the whole experience much better for everyone
- Work clean – Aligned with the one above. Make sure you prepare your space, have what you need at hand, and not have things in the way that shouldn’t be there. This skill is just as relevant when building a wall or analysing a new problem
- Preparing ingredients – The other day I found a video showing four ways to dice an onion… and it wasn’t even complete. When do you press, dice or slice garlic? Knowing these details will make you appreciate the whole process even more
How are you doing now?
Can you cook? Can you clean? Can you plan? Do you know how to plate? While there are many skills and sub-skills and attributes, it’s a good idea to start by taking inventory of where you are at currently. Do you have a dish or two that will always do the job? How aware are you of the types of incompetence? Do you think you’re amazing, because you don’t know how much there is to learn? Are you aware, but constantly improving? Try and sit down and sketch out what you know about cooking, and what skills you have. For your favourite few dishes, try and do a mindmap of what you know, and what you could learn more about etc.
How to set learning goals
What to do next? Well, you have to get started. And you should start simple. The classic example is learning to perfect an omelette or fry an egg. What ever you decide, I suggest that you choose 1-2 dishes that you really want to learn how to cook well. One could be in the “fuel” category, and one in the “love” category but that’s up to you. You might also choose a drink, or a certain type of bread to bake, or an amazing salad that will always create joy.
Next up, map out what you need to get started. Do you have the ingredients and accessories? Read up on the dish or project. Carbonara, one of my favourite italian dishes, was workers food, so keep that in mind as you are preparing it. And do you use cream or not (of course, you do NOT!)… when was the cream version invented and why. Get an idea of why the dish is what it is, and use that as background.
Now, find some recipes or online tutorials for example, and get going. If you REALLY want to get good, I suggest that you are exact in measurements and timing, and maybe even take notes. Don’t turn it into something that will take the fun out of the learning experience, but it does pay to be able to look back and see why the version you created this week wasn’t as creamy is the version you created last week etc.
How can you learn
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