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Bonnie Aeschliman: Cooking a great team-building exercise

  • Published Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, at 10:29 p.m.

Cooking is hot — the kitchen really heats up when a creative employer books a team-building cooking event for employees. My kitchen was smoking last week as we hosted two culinary team-building events for corporations.

Now you may be asking: What do team-building exercises have to do with cooking? Everything! There are many components of a meal — it may be simple or complex, depending on the corporate objectives. Skills are involved in the timed event. The team must develop a plan, negotiate the variables and execute it within the allotted time and then present it to the judges. Everybody gets in the action, and the payoff is a great meal at the end.

Culinary team-building is a fun but innovative way to bring departments together, build camaraderie and boost morale as everyone’s efforts are appreciated and showcased in the culmination of a fine meal. Senior managers and junior members of the team are all on the same level when a pot needs to be stirred or an onion chopped. During the process, the teams chat and joke while cheerfully competing to get the best work done in the allotted amount of time.

Most professionals came in smiling and filled with anticipation. However, there were a few who arrived dreading what their boss has arranged for their group. A few were definitely out of their comfort zone, but they soon were drawn into the action. One gentleman was from Texas, and it was apparent he was more comfortable out on the ranch instead of in the kitchen.

The group was divided into teams, and tasks were assigned. In the course of the evening, I stopped by Tex’s station. I observed as he good-naturedly whisked together a vinaigrette for the salad, making a perfect emulsion. Was he ever proud of his creation: He reached for a spoon for me to taste it. He had his whole team sampling the dressing. He declared it the best dressing he had ever had. He was sure that delicious vinaigrette drizzled over their beautiful salad would give their team the winning edge. Other team members were just as adamant that it would their entree that would take it over the top.

When it came time to present their plates before the judges, guess who was the team spokesman? You guessed it: the reluctant Texas rancher. Food is a great vehicle for bringing people together, whether it be co-workers or family.

One question arose that evening that I frequently am asked, and many of you had a question from last week’s column.

Q: What is the purpose of slowly drizzling in the oil and whisking when making a vinaigrette dressing?

A: When the acidic ingredients are combined first, and then the oil slowly drizzled into while whisking, you are creating an emulsion, as the droplets of oil are held in suspension. It creates a thickened mixture that will coat the greens nicely.

Q: What is limoncello, and where can I purchase it?

A: Limoncello is a lemon liquor and is available at liquor stores.

If you have questions about food, ingredients or holiday entertaining, please email me, and I will be happy to address them.

Bonnie Aeschliman is a certified culinary professional who owns Cooking at Bonnie’s Place in Wichita. For more information, call 316-425-5224 or visit cookingatbonnies.com. To submit a question to Bonnie, e-mail her at bonnie@cookingatbonnies.com.

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