food, technology

Speaking different languages


Spices for Indian Cooking

Shown at right is a recipe (at top) and the tin of spices that enabled me, my friend Mary Irene, and several other friends to put together a fantastic meal of Indian food, last weekend. Mary Irene spent September in India, and part of that trip was a cooking class.

Cooking in a strange kitchen with some strangers, some friends was a very different, and good, experience. What made it even more so was the format of the recipe. It flowed more like a conversation than a standard recipe from one of my cookbooks or favorite magazines. Each time we lost our place (which easily happened, due to the beverages, appetizers, and animated conversation), we had to re-read the entire thing to make sure we didn’t miss something. It was a perfect activity for getting to know some very nice people.

It was also a good example of what happens when you set up for a collaboration and discover that the people at the table may speak in different languages. In this situation we had a few borders to navigate: cooking experience, and navigating a recipe organized in an unfamiliar manner. The third could be literal language, but Mary Irene had already spent the morning sorting that out at the Indian grocery. I’m glad that her only mobile-phone inquiry for me was regarding cilantro’s similarity to coriander, as I had no idea that chickpea flour is also called besan or gram flour!

One or two of us had enough kitchen familiarity to be able to navigate most recipes, so in general we weren’t intimidated by the ingredients or skills. However, we  were a little mystified by some of the quantities and instructions (hence the need for an Indian cooking class – M.I. made a good choice!). Also, I so rarely cook with anyone other than my husband or self, that preparing a meal with eight other people was a very foreign experience. And it was good! There were efficiencies and boy, was it fun, as we very carefully checked and-rechecked each quantity, step, and technique. It helped to have a huge kitchen, as well.

The Indian meal collaboration was a success, likely as there was minimal punishment for failure (calling for pizza was a possible escape route), and with cooking, what you have there on the counter is what you have to work with. There really aren’t too many hidden factors.

Other collaborations can get infinitely more complicated, however. With those, it’s even more important to constantly communicate and verify that every participant understands each term and step. Last week I attended a business & technology discussion that was sponsored by the AIGA. Two women from local interactive agency Clockwork, along with their client on a successful web project, the new site for the YMCA, came to share their insights on their collaborative experience.

It wasn’t surprising to hear that a stream of clear communication and a trusting relationship between client and vendor were vital. Sometimes it boiled down to agreeing upon definitions of seemingly simple items, as what seems simple to one person may not be, to another. Getting on the same page can sometimes require daily effort. What was a little surprising to me was to hear about a few leaps-of-faith that both parties took, in order to make it a success. Such leaps amounted to challenging the other party on their traditions or even their requirements. Perhaps this is the true prize of a collaboration: not only is a pre-set goal achieved, but both parties have achieved a small amount of enlightenment or growth, from the experience.

I’m desperately trying to find the connection that last nugget has to our evening of Indian cooking, but I’m struggling. Perhaps it’s that my assumption about cilantro and coriander was wrong (man, that pakora was GREEN!), or that I should put India back on my list of places to visit.


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