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Too many cooks spoil the broth - or - Many hands make light work?

At worst, it is the road to realising you are the sort of person who cares about how others crush garlic." Gwendolyn Smith/The Guardian

"actual conversation, team building without an obstacle course, and less time ‘til dinner. Priorities, right?" Hello Fresh

I think I've mentioned that we have a family feast on Sunday with a baker's dozen of people. And it's going to be very, very hot so we have relocated to my son's house which is bigger and has a pool. But the menu is basically salad and I have said I will do the food, bar a couple of tiny things. But I am now wondering whether I should take over like this. Should I let others participate in the food production?

I confess I am not very good at sharing cooking. As an example - well I can give you a few - my recent accident with my broken wrist, meant that initially I really couldn't do much in the kitchen. So David had to step in and help. I tried to do as much as I could, but some things I just couldn't do - like peel and slice things, lift things. David only has a couple of dishes he can do on his own - well so he maintains anyway. Secretly I don't think this is true. Anyone can cook from a recipe can't they? (Maybe that's a question for another time.) So he willingly agreed to be a sous chef and do the things I couldn't. It worked pretty well, but I have to say I had to hold my tongue at the way he sliced onions and peeled potatoes for example. Now I'm not saying that he was doing it wrong - he was just doing it differently to me. I was being "the sort of person who cares how others crush garlic", although to be fair to myself I didn't explode.

Which reminds me of another occasion on one of our holidays in France. We used to take it in turns to be in charge of the evening meal and the other ladies - why was it only the ladies I now wonder? - chopped and sliced. It was my turn to be Chef and I had chosen to make a pasta salad. Midway through the proceedings when most of the work was done, I left the kitchen for a moment or two. When I returned I found that one of our group had taken over and changed it somehow from my first idea. Now it was probably a good idea on her part - she is French by birth after all. Nevertheless I took umbrage at this and I think words were spoken. If they weren't I certainly simmered with rage. Shameful. I do vaguely remember that my displeasure was noticed somehow.

I also remember another occasion when there was a row over whether strawberries should be washed or not, and another involving asparagus - not me this time. But yes, there were plenty of tense moments

Do I remember as many good experiences?

If I'm involved I don't think so, for I have come to realise I am not really good with people cooking with me. I'm too set in my ways. I always refuse offers of help, which I now see is potentially hurtful. It's not being old, however. To my lasting regret I don't think I was patient enough with my own children and so I never really taught them to cook.

The next generation as shown above has rather better parents I think. These are the two mums of our family, with the two oldest children - move the children around and each would be next to their mother. This was taken on the big family holiday in Port Douglas in 2022. I think they are in the middle of preparing a fruit platter for us all. Sure they were told to smile for the photo, but I'm sure that all would have been co-operating and enjoying the experience. And not just because it was a holiday. Well only partly. Maybe if it was just their own family there might not have been so many smiles.

And seeing this picture makes me wonder whether I should change what's happening on Sunday - which is currently that I shall be preparing virtually all of the food here and, at most, assembling some of it there with perhaps a little bit of help. Now I know that my daughter-in-law loves cooking, although I also know that she has other commitments just before the get-together. My other daughter-in-law - in spirit if not in fact - is more diffident I think, but very capable. Does she mind not participating as much? Maybe I have made her feel she is not up to the task, or is she just not interested? Should I ask if she would like to make one of the side salads with her two sons? Would she be pleased or feel put upon? After they all have very busy lives. I, on the other hand, do not have much else to do.

Then there are the kids - all capable, some less sure than others, some losing interest, some very keen. But they can all be cajoled into working together on something. So should they do one of the salads? Beans for some, avocado and corn for the others, assembling the grilled veggies and greens ... Here they are - or some of them - on a previous occasion cooking together and simultaneously being very concentrated on the task but also having fun.

You read a lot about the wonderful bonding experience of cooking together as a family, but honestly there are a lot of barriers to this ideal. If your kitchen is small, people get in the way and tempers fray. Even in my luxuriously large kitchen and when there are only two people in it, there are mutters if someone is in the way of opening a drawer. Until you mix with others, you have no idea how many different ways there are to chop an onion for example, which leads to the potential for argument. Someone does more than another, someone wants to boss the others around, those arguments about crushing garlic ...

They say there should always be a boss or chaos ensues. And I guess that's true. If you have someone with an overall view then it's easy to designate tasks. You just need to find some tactful way of recognising who is in charge - even designating someone doesn't always work as my French experiences have shown. Perhaps there is always a dominant person who automatically takes charge. Which is not me really. And on Sunday there is the extra fact that it's not my kitchen. The Guardian quoted someone as saying that the ultimate rule was:

“You are head chef in your own kitchen, sous chef in anyone else’s kitchen.”

Oh dear.


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