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When the holiday season approaches, one thing is for certain: Your kitchen will be getting a lot of action. The holidays are a time when families come together to eat, drink, and be merry—and did I mention eat? If you’re hosting any holiday meals or parties at your home, then food is a quintessential part of the planning process. And if you have a big family like mine, then getting help from other family members is highly encouraged. Even if you’re a micro-managing perfectionist, when your family members ask to lend a helping hand in the kitchen, say YES.
Not exactly sure how to divvy up the work since you’re used to flying solo in your kitchen? The 2,500 square foot test kitchen at America’s Test Kitchen is occupied by more than three-dozen full-time test cooks that share kitchen space, ingredients, and equipment on a daily basis. This may sound like the making of a hectic and messy atmosphere, but this is not the case at all. I sat down with Assistant Test Kitchen Director, Leah Rovner, to learn how America’s Test Kitchen stays on top of its work with lots of cooks in its kitchen.
Leah explained that everything that goes on in the test kitchen is very planned, just as holiday cooking should be. The kitchen is comprised of three teams that work together to reach a common goal, which is a foolproof recipe. While test cooks work separately on developing new recipes, they collaborate on taste tests and give feedback to their co-workers when needed.
If a test cook needs assistance, it’s a kitchen intern to the rescue. “Interns provide extra work support for the test cooks who are each in charge of their own recipe development,” said Rovner, “One of our kitchen interns recently helped Lisa McManus, our senior Tasting & Testing editor, with a coffee tasting. She assisted Lisa in brewing and portioning the coffee and setting up the tasting for all of our in-house taste testers.”
The bottom line: Apply this to your holiday food preparations by assigning parts of a recipe to each family member who wants to help out. Your mother-in-law can make the icing while your sister makes the sugar cookies, and they can decorate together when all the baking is finished.
To make sure everything runs smoothly in the test kitchen, each test cook has his or her own work station and storage space. Aside from setting up their station in the morning with a cutting board and any utensils they might need for that day, test cooks must also sign-up for an oven by tagging it with their initials. Rovner also noted that the test cooks are always helping each other out. When they notice a teammate’s station is piling up with dishes, the test cooks will take some of that person’s dirty dishes to the dish room. “Working in a kitchen is always about offering a helping hand,” said Rovner.
The bottom line: To avoid any confusion in your kitchen during the holiday season, there are a few helpful and easy things you can do. First, try sketching out a map of your kitchen so everyone knows where they should be working. You can also label all of your drawers and cupboards so your great aunt doesn't ask you where the measuring cups are—five times.
“I was actually making pies with my family this weekend. I made the dough, my older sister made the filling, and another family member did the dishes. So, no matter what we had a clean workspace, we got the pie done quickly and efficiently, and it was fun,” reflected Rovner.
Although America’s Test Kitchen does not have any recipes that are meant to be in tandem, many recipes can be broken down into steps that you can share with family members that are offering their helping hand.
The bottom line: This holiday season take “the more the merrier” approach in your kitchen. Assign jobs and workspace to family members who ask to help out and your delicious holiday meal will be ready to eat in no time. And hey, who could refuse help cleaning the dishes?
This week’s Twitter contest giveaway: Tweet the link to this blog post with the hashtag #ATKschool for a chance to win a one-year Instructor-Led Membership to the Online Cooking School by Friday, 12/7/2012 at 5pm.
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