Saturday, February 21, 2009

10,000 Hours

That's the magic number, as far as brains are concerned.

Even before diving in to Outliers, I'd heard the number before. It goes something like this: in order to master something (and I mean You are the Shit, the Bee's Knees, recognized for what you can do) you need to practice it for ten thousand hours. That's when the brain flips a switch and says "Ok, this? We've got it." The difference between good and great isn't just practice. It's many, many hours of practice.

Ten thousand hours works out to be about eight hours a day, seven days a week for four and a half years. Without a vacation. For most people, though, it works out to doing something for about ten years. Nine, if it's chess and you're Bobby Fisher. I wonder how it falls out with chefs, though. And I do mean Chefs - the real thing. Because yes, I imagine that if I am still at this job after four more years, I will be pretty well set in my laminated dough skill set. Less that that, even, because well, the crazy hours cooks can keep. But what about the rest of the products? Menu creation? How does 10000 hours translate into the development of one's palate? Do you need to taste things for ten thousand hours before you can really tell what is sublime? And then do you need ten thousand hours of plating techniques?

All I know for sure is I've been cooking professionally for five years now. I still have a lot to learn. But I think I've got scooping cookies down.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Some days, I find myself at work thinking about the cool things I can cook when I get home. Some days I find myself exhausted at the prospect of cooking at home, but do it anyway.

This industry is filled with crazed alphas who devote seemingly every pore of their body to the food they make. That's what it says in the magazines anyway. In the face of this, I don't see myself as particularly ambitious. I don't have the zeal to go work at another restaurant on my days off just to stay in the game. I may think about spending a vacation by staging at some great restaurant, but that would require me taking time off. Hell, I can't even give myself the freedom to collect debt by eating at the best restaurants around because I'd rather cook out of a cookbook at home and save the money. Maybe its an age thing. Maybe I started too late in this game.

I've been getting myself worked up over someone else's recipes. I've been pushing myself to come home and do a lot of baking after baking all day. My sweetheart has pointed out, somewhat rightfully, that I can take a break, that it isn't my recipes I'm working so hard on. I countered that these recipes are the work of a baker that has influenced me, and now I have the chance to help him inspire others. That its worth it because I'm getting a glimpse at a process I wouldn't otherwise see. I say all these things, but I'm not sure that's really what I'm feeling.

It's much more personal.

It's about promises I have made to myself about finishing things I start. It is about knowing that I can damn well do better than THAT and I'm going to keep trying until it comes out the way I want. You learn something from even the idiots out there, and sometimes the idiot is you. There is always room for improvement. You're only as good as the last work you did.

You're only as good as the last work you did. And you know that could be better.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

On Paying Attention to National Events

It took five of us to figure out what a football looks like so we could decorate cookies accordingly.