POSTED: FEB 1, 2024

Regular readers of my pieces know that one of the things I love to talk about in cooking are Cheats. I was recently asked what my favourite cheats are in the kitchen and as I started to put them down I realized that I not only like cheats but also go-to’s.

Cheats I think of as those things that are short cuts that get you almost as good a finished product as doing something the correct way but saving time, energy, cost etc. Using a prepared puff pastry or filo pastry in a recipe instead of making your own saves a lot of time and for most of us who are not great pastry chefs, the result is as good or better than if we had painstakingly rolled out, buttered, folded, buttered again and then repeated until our arthritis, time constraints or limited attention span, forced us to stop. Cheats are a fundamental of most commercial kitchens -finding that quick and cost-effective way to get almost as good a product as the conventional, but mor labour intensive or more costly approach, particularly in environments where the price of the meal components is a factor.

But Go-to’s are those things, that if resources (time, materials, labour) are scarce will be utilized first. Every chef has a go–to knife (often about a nine inch) that they can do all but the most extreme tasks with. If they were going to be on a desert island with just one knife, that would be the one.

Cheats and Go-to’s I have often thought of in terms of cooking, but over the last while in chatting with a lot of people about the piece I did on retirement I have learned that cheats and go- to’s exist in every walk of life. In some cases they are techniques, in some cases tools and in a few cases much more conceptual. Let me explain.

Veterinarians like all other medical people have a variety of resources on hand to do blood work, biopsies, and other lab tests to determine the cause of various ailments. This is good because animals cant give a very detailed review of what pain or problem they have.  But all of that costs a lot of money and often the owner of a pet or livestock is not keen on spending hundreds of dollars to get a detailed report when there is an easier way. That easier way to for the vet to just do a quick visual on the what they produce. (man, was that polite or what!). It tells a lot about what has been consumed, how its being processed and can usually get the Vet quickly to either a narrowed down focus, if not the actual accurate answer. From there more detailed work might be taken on but often a strategy is worked up to try to solve it based on that preliminary thinking.

Over the last while when chatting with people about this retirement business I have shamelessly asked about these topics and been startled at how cheats and go to’s exist in everything. It doesn’t matter if you are an early childhood educator, a neurosurgeon or a roofer.

So what is the common element to all of these cheats or go -to’s? Well its experience. In some cases people are thrown into a situation where they should not have to do surgery by candlelight without their regular equipment, but their experience will just kick- in and they will know the cheats and go-to’s for working in bad lighting and with less than perfect equipment. But more than experience I think it is their reflecting on that experience and what has worked.

The reason education is valuable of course it that it is distilled experience. It is that compilation of all the experience that has been accumulated to that point in history and organized into a program to learn how to do it. So whether its engineering school or scuba diving the techniques and experience that has worked for so many in the past is available to be learned. Things that have taken years or centuries to evolve can be learned in a fairly short period of time if properly set out and explained. And many of those techniques or best practices had precursors that were cheats or go-to’s of course.

And that brings us to a category of person who figure out some of these cheats and go-to’s early in their careers and go further in coming up with a technique or tool that might work better. I have a buddy who mentors young entrepreneurs having been a serial entrepreneur himself in a variety of industries. What he often tells young people who are chomping at the bit to start their own business is to ask themselves if they are learning at the job they are in. If the answer is yes then its clear that they should revel in the fact that someone else is paying them to learn their trade and just enjoy that as long as it lasts! If the answer is no then the follow up question is whether they have a plan or strategy for doing the task or service better than their current employer or the industry does it. If no, then they should stay in the job until they figure it out. If yes, then its time to evaluate whether the time is right for them to go out and build that better mousetrap!

I just wish someone had explained all this to me when I was young. Or perhaps I wasn’t listening.