[Sca-cooks] Wielding Kitchen Knives and Honing Office Skills in NYT

Johnna Holloway johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu
Sun Jan 14 17:00:29 PST 2007

Yesterday's New York Times had a front page article
  Wielding Kitchen Knives and Honing Office Skills

Published: January 13, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 12 — Steve Jakosa, leader of the Emerald Palace
cooking team, took off his apron and sat down to enjoy his dinner when
the bad news came. His team’s Mongolian beef had lost.

Across the room at a Sur La Table store here, the victors, the Wok
Stars, cheered over their triumphant sweet soy and chili flank steak. It
was a cook-off with decidedly corporate overtones as the group of
amateur chefs from UBS, the financial services company, divided into
teams and donned aprons recently one night after work.

Mr. Jakosa stood to make a toast. “I just want to tell you I’m
devastated we didn’t win the protein category,” he said in jest.

Forget ropes courses and golf outings. Cooking is the new wave in
corporate team-building exercises. And cooking schools across the
country are expanding to meet demand. Last year, Hands On Gourmet, a
company in San Francisco, tripled the number of chefs it has on call, to
32. Cooking by the Book, a company based in New York, did 178
team-building events, a 24 percent increase over 2005.

Taking inspiration from Rachael Ray, “Iron Chef” and “Top Chef,”
companies like Amgen and Microsoft
are sending their employees off to chop, dice and sauté their way to
better sales and management skills. They might spend a leisurely hour
assembling a meal together or split up and go cleaver to cleaver in a
race against the clock.

However it is done, the cooking class approach to corporate team
building has caught on.

Cooking events serve as an equalizer, Mr. Gibbs said, where the
hierarchies of the office do not always translate. “In the kitchen, it’s
not about top-down structure,” he said. “Everyone is working on the same
level.” Indeed, Mr. Jakosa, a senior vice president at UBS, directs a
small wealth management group, but on this night he was the also-ran,
the guy whose team took the equivalent of the Miss Congeniality crown,
with the prize for the best noodles.

“Some people would be happy with the noodle prize,” he said. “I’m
perennially unhappy unless I’m No. 1 in the meat category.”

There's more at nyt.com


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