Helper hinderer: Auntyji

Auntyji shares her recipe on how to avoid going from the frying pan and into the fire when helping in the kitchen.

Reading Time: 3 minutes


Dear Auntyji

I have a special problem that I need your help with. Auntyji, for the 15 years that we have been married, I have been doing all the cooking in the house. Now I also hold down a corporate job as a project manager in a bank.

About a year ago, Shalja decided that she was going to help me in the kitchen because as she said, we are a team and we should support each other. At first things were a bit tense in the kitchen because she tended to get in the way, but we have found a good rhythm to working together. But she does things that really irritate me – and I don’t know how to handle this. Now, when we cook, we usually make 4-5 dishes concurrently. Shalja is usually given tasks like dice the onion or cube the eggplant or peel the potatoes. But the problem is, when Shalja steps into the kitchen, it’s like she turns off her brain and only works on linear, sequential commands.

For example, I will ask her to dice the onion. I have to be very specific that diced means as small as the fingernail of your little finger. When I notice that she is nearly through cutting the onions, I might ask her to do another task, for example, can you ask Sunny whether he wants roti or rice with his goat curry. She will immediately put down the knife and start walking up the stairs to talk to Sunny. She does not have the critical thinking to see that I have already started frying the cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, ginger, chillies and tej patti and that I will need the diced onion almost immediately. And, it’s like she does not have the foresight to ask me if she should finish dicing the onion first or ask Sunny about the roti – which is not on the critical path anyway. There are countless examples of her doing this – but fundamentally, she behaves like a first generation robot in the kitchen. (Actually, that’s an insult to robots). When I bring this up with her, she says “But you told me to ask Sunny”. And my response is, “Could you not see that I needed the onion, and asking Sunny about rice-roti could wait another five minutes?”

Auntyji, how does Shalja get any work done at work if she is so…. mindless in the kitchen? What to do? I love her very much, but sometimes she drives me so crazy I want to take the entire pot of goat curry and dump it on her head.

Auntyji says

My goodness, you poor man. I can see just how frustrating this is for you. While I do not expect her to read your mind, I can see how you would expect, at a bare minimum, some basic understanding of the critical path of activities. I mean, anyone with an ounce of brain can see the logic of the priorities of tasks – frying onions and spices takes precedence over asking the family about events that are further downstream. Your wife has decided that in the kitchen she will pay the part of a docile, submissive dimwit who takes instructions literally and does not apply any logic, critical analysis, deep thinking and basic courtesy for understanding how to help you as cook. In other words, your wife is a hindrance rather than a help in the kitchen.

So what to do? The only person you can change here is you – and if you are a project manager, you know how to deal with low performers in your team. Give them simple tasks, repeated many times. Be explicit with your instructions and your expectations. Praise them when they get it right – and don’t chastise them when they disappoint. So just sigh over that goat curry and say “Don’t worry, not everyone is a ninja in the kitchen”.

There is nothing you can do – just breathe in the aroma of the frying spices, and be grateful you are living your best life. The minor irritations of having a broomstick as a kitchen helper won’t last – the deliciousness of the food you prepare lovingly for your family should be foremost in your mind. You have my respect, you good man.

READ ALSO: Auntyji on speaking up and standing up in the workplace

The original Australian sub-continental agony aunt. Email: info@indianlink.com.au

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