Unusually, in this lesson the principal chef or host will not be you, the aspiring Cookman. Instead, this is to teach you how to properly assist with someone else's dinner creation and hosting. The setting is rather more of the informal dinner party, as oppose to the formal variety where the chef never leaves the kitchen. The Cookman will always aim to host the latter and attend the former, in order to ensure that their presence is felt most keenly.
When to help
Still with the focus of timing, the issue of exactly when to help is the most fundamental aspect to assisting with someone else's meal. It is the difference between not getting credit for helping, and winning an award at the local village bake sale by oneself. Take heed of this lesson and you will clean house at the WI every time.
In the process of someone cooking you a long and complicated meal – the ideal Cookman's meal – the best time to offer to assist is somewhere near the end. While the majority of the cooking takes place, you should ensure that you are far away from the kitchen with reasonable cause (e.g. needing to rest after a long journey, resolving a hostage crisis etc.) so that you don't appear to be lazy. You are otherwise occupied, not unwilling to help.
Of course, too close to the end of the meal and it is beyond useless for you to offer to assist, for it is plain that you are just making a token gesture of aid. Too early and you will actually have to do grunt work, such as chopping vegetables, which is an entirely undesirable outcome. You want to help cook the meal, but in the finesse stage. Actions such as:
- Adjusting the level of seasoning and stirring a large pot with a knowing eye, tasting it on occasion and shaking the head knowingly as you add more tarragon.
- Pulling out dishes from the oven, placing them in the most visible area of the kitchen as you critique them, testing them with a knife and announcing that the temperature needs to be adjusted by four degrees for a further five minutes.
- Setting anything that is boiling to simmer, and vice versa, and watching the contents cook with a studious air.
Exercise: in front of a mirror, practice your studious look, change to the frown of concentration, the small nod of satisfaction, the head shake of 'more seasoning required'. With enough practice, you'll be able to switch between them at a moment's notice.
In this way, you, the Cookman, are responsible for some of the more noticeable facets of the meal. The texture of the roasted potatoes, the flavours that immediately pop out thanks to your expert seasoning, the switch of temperatures really allowing the natural flavour to shine through the beans, and so on. You will find, for approximately five minutes of your time, you have been able to claim at least twenty five per cent of the credit for the meal, enough to claim an assist and put off having to host your own dinner for another week.
Five per cent per minute is rather desirable as I'm sure you'll agree, but do not be tempted to think that assisting for longer will give you more credit. If you join in at the beginning, there will be deeply undesirable effects, such as comradeship and conversation, which inevitably lead to the spoils being shared out. A 'team effort' will be the claim by your associates. The two worst words a Cookman can ever hear.
Graph 1.1 demonstrates how the effort caps out at fifty per cent, no matter how much more time you waste cooking, which contradicts the purpose of Cookmanship utterly. It also highlights how five minutes' work provides the best ratio between energy expended and credit gained and how quickly it disappears into a colossal waste of your time.
Be careful about attempting this with someone who is an experienced Cookman themselves. The window of opportunity will be much smaller. They will expect the late attack and know many ways to deflect it that end with you offering to host Christmas dinner for the next five years, in front of your racist great aunt Mildred who notes it in her diary then and there. The Cookman College will also revoke your membership in such an event.
From when to what, we now examine some of the different dishes that are best used to usurp the credit for cooking and hosting a dinner. Two examples provided below should provide a solid platform for the Cookman to apply the principles to an original dish, best suited for the dinner at hand.
Study them well, for your assistance practical exam will require you to match a dish of your choosing to a meal and to gain the credit for the entire meal. Marks are given in relation to how much credit is gained, against how much time you spent cooking your dish, multiplied by an inverse factor of the importance of the dish to the overall meal, divided by the number of positive comments given to any other dish included in the meal, with a circumference worked out in deference to the apron worn, as well as a quadratic formula on the amount of raw ingredients used. So I think it should be clear how best to proceed.
Example 1.1 Gravy
Christmas dinner, hopefully not hosted by you for the next five years due to your earlier error in trying to out-Cookman a Cookman, is ripe for the strategy of assistance. Not only are their opportunities to take ownership of the seasoning, texture, and temperature of the potatoes, there is the boiling and simmering of the sprouts, the level of brandy to apply to the pudding, the insistence that it be lit with a match and so on, there is the most sought-after assistance goal: the gravy.
Gravy is made towards the end of the meal, perfect for offers of assistance, and though it will break the five minute window mentioned above, christmas is an exception and it is acceptable to spend a whole fifteen minutes on it. Take firm ownership of the gravy, make sure that you are entertaining the others, or 'resting up' from previous exertions so that your offer to completely make the gravy by yourself is an apparent sacrifice to your time.
Make the gravy in whatever fashion seems fit to you, but there are two methods for creating the best impact for a Cookman: quality but not quantity, or quality and quantity. Obviously it is assumed the quality is part of the process, but you can maximise the visibility of the gravy in your guests' minds by either intentionally creating a shortage of it which will drive up the demand and result in them fixating on the gravy and not the rest of the dinner; or, by flooding the dinner table with boats full of the brown liquid, it is the only thing they can possibly notice, especially as you remind them to apply it liberally, pointing out that 'there's plenty more where that came from'. The words 'and I should know' are loudly implied in your guests' minds. Christmas dinner is now seen to be entirely a direct result of your actions and absolves you of the need to offer to assist with the washing up.
Example 1.2 Pudding
Ah, pudding. Served at the end of the meal, it provides a platform for the Cookman to ensure they implant their cooking and hosting skills firmly in the minds of everyone present at the table. The more splendid the dessert, the better, and even better if the rest of the meal was laborious to the cook. Find out well in advance what the planned menu is at the dinner party you have been invited to. If the starter and the main appears to complex and exhausting for them to cook, do not allow them to state what the pudding will be. Cut them off immediately with your offer to cover that part of the mea. A noble gesture, for you are sparing them the effort of doing absolutely everything. 'There's no need to be a martyr,' is the watch-word of every good Cookman, the martyrs of the kitchen.
Flashy presentation of the dessert is encouraged, as it is far easier to imprint an immediate impression of the work that went into a desert than a main. Its timing being at the end of the meal means that, if it is suitably tasty, and you keep explaining that it's a 'mere trifle I threw together' (despite the fact you would never dream of making something so debased and simple as trifle) then it will be the only salient feature of the dinner that the guests will remember. Not only will all credit be placed on your hands, it will also be noted that the deployed dessert was a generous favour to the host, and it shan't be forgotten in a hurry.
This concludes how to suitably cookman a meal that you are not hosting or officially cooking yourself. In the future, we will look at deflections and measures you can take against someone attempting to assist with your dinners, short of outright violence against such a vile usurper.