Wine Bitten

The Wine Artist:  Cooking up a Team in Irvine

Ever wonder what it is like to face a cooking team challenge?  The Wine Artist gives you the opportunity.  Ever wonder how to make team building fun?  The Wine Artist gives you the opportunity.  Need a recipe?  That’s a different Wine Artist day.

Team building is a necessity in any organization composed of people (yes, that’s every organization).  The importance of the team is recognized in every company, in every military unit, in every volunteer group—what you get may well depend on how well your team members can communicate.

MJ Hong, aka The Wine Artist, a former human relations specialist, brings team building to the cooking prep table and pairs it with complimenting wines.  After a couple of hours, your group will have grown, your team members will internalize some communication techniques, and they should recognize the contributions each can make to the ultimate outcome.  Its play, but it is also a development tool.  New teams or old, this is reinforcement as a game.

The importance of team building can be seen in any of the many reality shows on TV today.  Like fashion? Watch the teams on Project Runway.  Like cooking? Watch Top Chef.  Even Survivor spends much of its time on team projects.  If you can’t work effectively on a team, you are not progressing.

I admit, team sports was never my thing, and teams have always been a challenge.  Working in a silo, now that’s comparatively easy.  But the flavors we miss when not effectively cooperating with our team—where do you think fusion food comes from?

So, we gathered, no one knew everyone, but we all knew someone, to varying degrees.  Even those we knew were acquaintances, similar to new business relationships.  We had impressions, we didn’t have long term relations.

We divided into groups.  Ok, here’s the first obstacle.  Who doesn’t remember getting picked last in gym class?  The simple answer, mix the names in a pot, and draw.

We each had five team members, and MJ gave us our goal:  create two dishes to pair with two wines (a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Rose of Syrah/Carignane).   And, like Iron Chef and Chopped, we had a secret ingredient that must be used:  corn.  We had no recipes, and no access to recipes.  We all had varying degrees of experience and confidence in the kitchen.

We brainstormed and divided up tasks.  We would make salsa topped polenta and corn tortilla tacos.  I took polenta, another team member created salsa, another tackled the tacos, and so on.  This was all going well, albeit a challenge in the 45 minute time frame.  The clock ticks down faster than you think.  I couldn’t quite remember all my polenta steps, but I could make it fairly tasty.  Add a little more corn meal, a little more stock, a little cheese, how about a few mushrooms, onions, peppers?  It all comes together.  Tips came from my team, as did help finding things.  We were right on track, all pots a boil.

Then MJ threw us a curve—halfway through, we stopped work, and switched sides.  Our team went to the other’s table, and encountered dishes halfway through creation.  We needed to identify what dishes we were dealing with, and what we could do with them.  Ever considered the break point—will it be a marinara sauce or chili?  You get the drift.  Team B turned my polenta into a corn risotto style dish topped with blue cheese.  Team A turned B’s turkey/corn meatballs into skewered morsels.  We paired it all with the designated wines from Uproot Wines, and a few more.  Since Uproot puts their flavor profile in a color barcode right up front, complimentary flavors were easy to nose out.

In the end, we couldn’t root for any particular dish, since we had a hand in them all.  We did find we laughed a lot, cooked on the fly, and invented some tasty dishes.  What emerged from the kitchen were two more cohesive teams and four delicious dishes.  The success of the day, however, wasn’t the dishes, it was our communication, problem solving, and increased insight.