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All You Can Eat

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August 1, 2011 at 2:34 PM

“Get out of my kitchen!” You got a problem with that?

“Can you talk and cook at the same time?” Eater Jennifer Bundy asks. She can’t, and that inability is driving her bonkers. “I’ll invite friends over for dinner and at least one of them will always want to come in the kitchen and chat with me while I’m cooking, and I’ll finally have to say, `I can’t talk to you right now.'”

Jennifer’s far less tactful with her partner (aren’t we all) and feels free to pull a Greta Garbo and kick that intimate interloper out. Which, by the way, is exactly what my husband does when he’s cooking and I come in, grab a tasting spoon and say, “Hon, don’t you think this could use a little salt?”

Don’t ask (“Does this need a little salt?”), don’t tell (me how to cook, says my husband). “And can you please stay out of my kitchen?” begs Jennifer Bundy.

Jennifer insists she loves to cook and hates to be a curmudgeon, but she’s unable to concentrate on a conversation while trying to get dinner on the table. Worse, she says, “I have friends and relatives who make cooking look easy, and it’s never easy for me — it’s stressful.” She’s prepared to chalk her problem up to her age, noting “I don’t remember being so reactive about it when I was younger, but I was a much less ambitious cook then.” And what she wants to know is this: “Do other people have that experience?”

So, I thought I’d throw her question out there. Do you find it difficult to be interested and polite while you’re chopping garlic, sauteing vegetables or doing what ever it takes to get a meal on the table? When a well-meaning friend asks, “How can I help?” Do you say, “Get lost!”? Or do you fake a smile instead, then grind your teeth and suggest they grind some pepper into the pasta?

Meanwhile, for those who can’t get it together with an audience, here are a couple tips. Remember these words: mise en place. Loosely translated, that means prep your recipes in advance so they’ll be ready to go, leaving less time for fussing and fuse-blowing, and more time for smiling and chatting.

My “mise” (rhymes with peas). No muss, no fuss: or at least that’s what they’ll think if you get that part out of the way earlier.

Also: Come up with some go-to show-stoppers that can be prepared in advance. I’m not suggesting you resort to your Crock-Pot (not that there’s anything wrong with that). One of my favorite do-ahead dishes is seafood in parchment paper (need inspiration, check out this post). You can have it ready to go, pop the fish in the oven and — less than 20 minutes later — plate up!

Halibut en papillote with shellfish garnish. Quick ‘n (relatively) easy.

Feel free to add your two-cents-worth in the do-ahead department, and, as I’m certain many of Seattle’s top chefs would suggest: If you can’t stand the heat, make reservations!

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