It’s easy to underestimate the importance of focus. This point was brought home to me recently as I experimented with our new camera lens. It is incredible at capturing minute details so that the iridescence of the fragile shell of a bubble of frothed liquid can be captured in all of its glory. The downside is that it’s not an easy lens to use. It can only focus on something very close up and our camera, which can be manual or automatic, acts differently with this lens attached. It becomes more temperamental. If I’m not careful in my adjustments the focus keeps pulling inwards until everything becomes an unrecognizable fuzzy haze. It has become a common practice to take a step back and check my light and my positioning before settling in to finalize my focus and shoot my pictures. If only I could become more adept at this technique in other areas of my day.
Cooking actually has a built in focus. There are recipes and services. You are usually concentrating on preparation for a particular menu or meal. Focus is inherent in the prep list that becomes an outline for you day. There is always a time factor and a smart cook knows when it’s time to ask for help. Unfortunately, the further away you get from the range, the harder it is to focus on the tasks at hand. People think cooking is all there is to do in kitchen, but those people are wrong. But there’s no convincing them, so most of the time I don’t bother to try. In their minds cooking is all we do. The reality is just a bit more complicated.
Here at KG, we have a myriad range of responsibilities such as creating menus, finding suppliers, cooking food, staffing a kitchen, coordinating with the dining room, training your staff (hopefully an ongoing process), paying bills, cleaning everything, checking in orders, storing food, maintaining the wine cellar, updating the wine list, taking care of room service, writing advertisements, playing catch with the GM, working on packages for the hotel, jumping on command for marketing & PR, writing website copy, booking special events, chatting with customers (it may not sound like work, but it often can be, especially when you’ve three hundred other things to do), keeping up with new regulations, preserving ingredients, dealing with inspectors, killing hornets, the list could go on forever. What’s interesting to me is how few people can see the scope of other people’s lives. If you were to ask the person next to you what they do every day, I’m sure they would give a list with several items, much like the one above. Ask the same person what the person next to them does every day and you would probably get a one or two word answer. He or she is a (blank). Somehow everyone else’s lives fit into a box. My goal is to look beyond the box and try to appreciate and respect what other people do in the same way that I wish certain people would do for me. That’s one small focus for me.
Years ago we were catering an event in Westchester. It was s somewhat swanky cocktail party and the hostess was obviously nervous and on edge. She was buzzing around the house as we were setting up, fussing with the flowers, checking on the bar. At one point she stopped short in the middle of the room and said sharply to herself, “Focus! Finish your task.” The room actually went silent but she never noticed. She visibly pulled herself together and finished what she was doing. It was humorous in a not so humorous way. There have been many occasions where I’ve been reminded of those words and invoked them myself, albeit silently.
So what is our focus? It’s a question that has been discussed today at great length. What are we trying to accomplish here? There’s no easy answer. We want that elusive dream of job satisfaction. We want to feel good about going to work every day. We want to come home at night feeling as though we’ve accomplished something, or at least made some progress toward achieving something. We want the thought of cooking in our kitchen to bring a smile and not a frown. We want to be successful, financially and spiritually. We want to be recognized by our peers for the work that we do. We want to share what we learn every day with others. We want to have fun cooking. We want people to leave our tables satisfied, dreamy and content. We want people to walk through our doors anticipating an amazing morning, afternoon, or evening and leave through them feeling that anything is possible. We want to create an amazing dining experience and the memories that live long afterwards. That last statement is our actual focus, the rest is just gravy. That’s actually not true, that’s just what we’ve been telling ourselves. We need all of the things listed above to happen in order to create true job satisfaction, hell, we need it to create life satisfaction. Now we just have to figure out how to make that happen.