Kitchen Underdogs

The US vs. Portugal soccer game last Sunday was one of the more gut-wrenching things I’ve seen in sports.

The US team was such a severe underdog that the announcers were not even pretending that we had a shot at coming back after Portugal took a 1-0 lead early on. It was almost as if playing the game wasn’t even necessary.

We all knew the outcome right?

Of course, the apparently unthinkable happened and the US ended up making a miraculous comeback only to have a win snatched away in the last SECOND of the game by one of the best players in the world.

The US was 3-to-1 underdogs to start the game. I didn’t check the odds of US win after portugal scored the early goal, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the odds went up to 20-to-1.

After I watched the game, I started to think about all the ways in which we are all underdogs every day. After all, there’s almost always someone better than you at whatever you are trying to do.

This is particularly true for cooking.

Meal Masters

Home cooks are almost always underdogs in the kitchen. The odds of you going to the store, buying good food, cooking the food well, and serving it without pulling your hair out is almost inconceivable to many people.

Meanwhile, you could just order take out or rely on any number of frozen, pre-made dinners that were designed by food scientists to taste great and be almost fail safe.

How can the home cook compete with the ease of having someone else do it?

How can the kitchen underdog overcome the billions of ad dollars spent every year that tell you it’s easier to just eat at a restaurant?

What’s a home cook to do?

Underdog Strategies

A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell had an fascinating article in the New Yorker about how Davids can overcome Goliaths.

Here’s one of the takeaways from the article:

David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond-haired girls on the basketball court.

Ok. You’ll have to read the article to get the blond-haired girl reference, but essentially, underdogs just need to try harder and eventually their effort will overcome the innate abilities of the favorite.

Kitchen Underdog Strategy #1: Cook More

The only way you are for sure going to be able to beat out all the favorites trying to provide you with dinner tonight is to make a pact to cook more and tell them to take a hike.

Have a bunch of quick and easy meals at the ready so you can get through a tough day and still put dinner on the table. But, try to limit your eating out during the week so it becomes a treat and not a rule.

Kitchen Underdog Strategy #2: Be Mentally Strong

When you’re the underdog you have to be mentally ready to go down by a goal early in a game. That can’t deter you.

When you see that mouthwatering burger on a billboard, your body will react to it. You will want it. Because it was designed by people who know exactly what you want.

But, you have to remind yourself that you know it doesn’t really look like that. It won’t actually taste like you think it will taste and it certainly isn’t good for you.

You have to keep on driving!

Kitchen Underdog Strategy #3: Get Crazy

Underdogs have nothing to lose.

I was once told by a publicity team at Smashburger that it was impossible to replicate their burgers at home because you needed a patented burger press.

I had nothing to lose in trying it though and so I came up with an odd method involving two cast iron skillets that seemed to do the trick just fine.

McDonald’s can’t change the Big Mac. They have too much to lose.

You, in your kitchen, can try whatever you want. It might not all work, but some of it will and that will be exciting.

What Do you Think?

What are your strategies for avoiding the easy answers and doing the hard thing? Is it worth it?

Also, how good is world cup soccer right now?

Cool Underdog mural photo by Chris Christian.

5 comments on “Kitchen Underdogs

  1. One thing I have done is find a support group on a particular site, Just a Pinch. These cooks and chefs have varying degrees of cooking and baking skills that supplement what I lack. I can also ask a question and get from 5 to 50 answers. Another way is a site like yours, Nick. Making foods that I have not tried or making foods that I do make in a different way. Sometimes it just takes a word to get the mind rolling or Google or a picture in a magazine. Pork jowls is one example of an unusual food that I had to research, do I want upscale, country, cajun, old country, Southern, Hawaiian, etc? Cooking takes some thought but it’s not brain surgery.

  2. I grew up in a family where Mom was a fabulous cook and we never ate at restaurants, well, once that I can recall. My Dad, my sisters and I enjoyed her cooking so much, that I have tried to replicate her joy of providing the family with a “home-cooked” meal and the “gee, that’s was good” that followed. I love when my grandson says “you can do this again”. My husband and I seldom eat out, unless on vacation, even if it is just tacos (like tonight), being home is so much better and we enjoy ourselves. Let alone, who can afford all that “eating out” costs??

  3. In your own kitchen you can prepare food tailored to the tastes of your family. You can create new combinations based on your experience with various foods you either have on hand or you want to experiment with. Cooking for those you love with creativity and effort is the ultimate expression of your commitment. It doesn’t need to be complicated, it may not be perfect, nor be gourmet, only sincerely produced. My son tells me, when I hesitate over food that doesn’t look or taste like I think it should, “Don’t apologize for your art!”

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