The walk up Mount Tabor has become a familiar old friend, and like an old friend it has it’s own moods. Normally, when I go walking through the park, it’s with an audiobook in my ears. The walk is for the fresh air and exercise, the book for entertainment and distraction- especially if I’m in a foul mood and need to clear my mind.
That was the case this afternoon as I decided I needed to get out of the house and write this blog, but not go to a bar or cafe. Money has been tight lately, so I need to find other spaces to be creative in. The weather is perfect, and the park is free. Walking up to the top of a little hill near the summit, I have an Earthsea book in my ears. The breeze was blowing, kindly cooling me under the heat of the sun.
In my meditation lately, I’ve been trying to build on focus and mindfulness- being in each moment, and appreciating where I am and what I’m doing. As I walked, I pulled the headphones from my ears.
A deep breath. A quiet moment between heartbeats. The smell of warm cedar, and someone practicing a bamboo flute nearby. Distant traffic. Bird song.
I kick aside a few fir cones, lay down my blanket, and start to feel everything.
The kitchen has been a bit of a wild ride lately. There’s been some confusion and careless errors. It’s partially been for lack of clarification and process, which will be my job to sort out and deal with. Far too many have just been classic cases of trying to hurry through things and not realizing that if you don’t have time to do a task right, you surely don’t have time to do it over.
I’ve always believed that the culture of a business comes from the top down. The leadership sets the tone of an enterprise and decides what is or is not acceptable. The first thing I wonder, then, is whether I’ve accidentally been encouraging hasty, “just get it done” behavior.
Most of my staff is new to the industry. I remember how many mistakes I’ve made (and sometimes still make) out of impatience. Cooking and baking are processes. Things take their own time, and the best you can do is arrange those things to your benefit. There’s no way to make a pie bake faster without changing the outcome.
It took me a long time to learn the concept of “festina lente”- “make haste slowly” and that patience is one of the best skills a cook or baker can have. If things are finished the way they need to be, when they need to be, and in the places they need to be, how fast the task was performed is meaningless.
Good things take time. If I never have to correct a hastily-crimped pie crust or throw out a tray of meat pies that were left out overnight, I don’t mind how long it takes to fold them perfectly or clean up at the end of the shift.
Homebrewing is very much like baking. Most of the actual work of making mead or beer- namely, fermentation– is actually out of your hands. All you can do is create the best environment for what you want to happen to happen… then wait.
I’m very much an amateur and don’t expect to ever sell my mead or even make it for more than myself and a few friends. It’s one hobby I have that I don’t really want to make into a “side hustle”- that way it stays fun.
As soon as something becomes a business, one is obligated to replicate consistently. All the pies that I sell to people need to look and taste the same, regardless of whether it was a bad year for berries or what time of year it is when they order.
Meadmaking is my opportunity to embrace spontaneity, because I only do wild ferments. That means I don’t add in any yeast to do the fermentation- I leave that up to the yeasts and cultures in the air and honey. When it works out, I get some of the cleanest, freshest, most floral mead I have ever tasted. When it doesn’t, the mead may be sour or just dead-end.
While I write down my formulas with as much accuracy as possible– including which apiaries I got certain honeys from- there’s no guarantee that I’ll wind up with the same taste or quality of mead from year to year.
It forces me to be patient, do my best with what’s there, and appreciate the moments as they are. In Japanese, the phrase “Ichigo ichie” means “Once, only once.” Each moment that passes will never come again.
It feels antithetical for kitchen workers to keep that in mind. We’re taught mise en place, after all. We are trained to be prepared, be ready, and always look to the next minute then the next.
We can keep that in mind, of course- but being present and mindful of what we are doing right here right now can keep us from making silly mistakes or developing tunnel vision. It’s the soul of focusing, and of appreciating our work- making sure each moment is spent fully and well.
I’ve done a lot of thinking after writing my post last week. Realizing that those “moments of quiet” I craved for so long are always there and always available (and possibly finally limiting my caffeine intake) have made me re-appreciate taking my time with things, enjoying them and going slowly.
The fact that I have new bakers to train is also teaching me that, appropriately, I need to be patient in teaching them to be patient and mindful. The work will get done, the moment will vanish- no point doing a crappy job on your way to doing the next crappy job.
It’s taken me a long time to learn that, in and out of the kitchen. Hopefully now I can teach it.