Life lessons from a baking show

I feel like in the world of the kitchen there are three types of people:

+ The Burners – „I’ll burn your house trying to boil some water!”
+ The In-Betweeners – „Eggs and beans on toast, and Cup-a-Soup, heck yeah!”
+ The Masterchefs – „Give me potatoes and sauerkraut, I’ll make you a chocolate-cherry cake.”

I’m kind of in the middle group (lol, see what I did there?), with some failed attempts at roasting a whole ham and some successful, like my signature killer Key Lime pie none of my friends can come close to (bar the key limes, too much distance). I guess I knew that cooking is sort-of a creative art, that you could invent new dishes, crazy cakes, liquid nitrogen sandwiches, new icing flavors… But that was it! I think I needed to venture into creativity myself to appreciate how much you can learn about innovation from cooking. Or baking actually. Baking is where everything matters so much you can screw it by adding just a pinch of salt! But I digress… Then, I stumbled upon a video series housed by the well-known culinary magazine, Bon Appetit. In their Test Kitchen (they have a kitchen dedicated to tests? already love’em!), a band of culinary robbers attempts to create new dishes, improve on the classics, or teach others how to use kitchen tools. The series is called „Gourmet Makes” and focuses on Test Kitchen resident baking queen – senior food editor, Claire (Half-sour) Saffitz, attempting to recreate gourmet version of popular snacks.

This series is the funniest presentation and application of a lot of design thinking mindsets – because, yes, design thinking is not „the only methodology” and wasn’t just born in one second, with IDEO. As design thinking expresses certain approaches to creation, problem-solving, and innovation – you can find them present in multiple domains of human life. „Gourmet Makes” shows and proves why they matter. It’s the most humorous example that proves they work.

Let’s focus and break down how my favorite episode so far, where Claire Saffitz recreates Sour Patch Kids (if you don’t know, Sour Patch Kids are those chewy, gummy-like soft candies that, when bitten, turn their flavor from sweet to sour, they have a sour crumb-like coating that slightly fizzles, they also look like little weird humans; it’s quite is the experience!).

Before you read my rant, my lightbulb moment, I encourage you to watch this episode yourself. I’m sure you will arrive at a lot of the below conclusions yourself while laughing along at Claire’s antics!

Lesson 1: Empathy
Starting with taste, then she moved to shapes and colors, to then focus on hands-on experience of chewiness, springiness, and texture. She also dissolved them in water to be able to taste and feel the candy without its coating. Knowing as much as possible about the candy helped Claire to choose the first creation method, and also factor all the information into the creation process to get them as close to the original as possible.

Lesson 2: Research
Thorough research can get you very far. The above is the first step, but then you can extend it much! Google the topic, research YouTube (adding „how it’s made” opens many doors!), sometimes you can even find information from the official producers that can give you ideas!

Lesson 3: Feedback
Thorough this episode, Claire asks – and gets – for honest feedback from multiple Bon Appetite employees (how to make a funny series funnier: drink one shot every time one of those people appear: Delaney, Gabi, Brad, Ricky, Cosmo, Carla, Andy, Sohla, Chris, Rhoda, Amiel). It not only provides a breath of fresh air but most importantly a different outlook on things. Gives ideas. Inspires Claire to both maybe change something, and push forward.

Lesson 4: Verify and adjust
Claire never sticks to the first plan she has, but when she discovers something can work better (or even when she just want to try), she’ll go for it and adjust what she’s doing to add or subtract new steps, new ingredients, or flavors. Gourmet Sour Patch Kids went over blanching, heating, blending, adding new flavors… And all those were needed for success!

Lesson 5: Expand your toolkit
Just while making gourmet Sour Patch Kids, Claire used (apart from standard kitchen utensils): dehydrator, stand mixer, blender, pressure cooker. She also used methods such as blanching or blending. She wasn’t afraid to branch out and use things that maybe didn’t feel natural at first. However, by expanding her tools, she was able to expand her methods or make sure that one method doesn’t work. By using different tools you can streamline the process and make sure you find a method that works best, but you won’t be able to do it if you don’t risk it!

Lesson 6: Analyze your own process
Be mindful of your own process. Baking is an art and analyzing what has been done, how, at what temperature, can help move things forward. Or eliminate unnecessary steps. Be aware of why something happens – like boiling apples to get the pectins out so you can jelly them later! Learning never stops and always makes you better!

Lesson 7: Team can always help
Through her process, Claire has her colleagues come over and give her advice, but also a much needed support and motivation. In wors of Alex: „You’re gonna triumph today!” Your teammates believe in you!

Lesson 8: Be proud of yourself!
This is actually two-fold.
Part 1: It’s ok to fail, so even if you ended up with no product – that happens. It’s part of the natural cycle. Learn from your work and be ok with failing.
Part 2: At the end of the day, even if your work is not perfect, be proud! Done is better than perfect, and we are our own worst critics. Be proud of what you achieved. Yes, you can strive for better, but don’t discredit your hard work.

Now sit back, get some home-made chickpeas popcorn (or, if you’re anything like me, just pre-prepared puffed rice, you don’t want to burn down the house), and enjoy all episodes of Gourmet Makes. Each episode is as good as the yummy pics below (all examples of what Claire Saffitz made). You’re welcome!