Did any of you catch last season's MasterChef? Last season a blind lady won the whole thing and how impressed was I? Incredibly impressed, because cooking without all of your senses at your disposal is generally a recipe for disaster.
But Christine found ways to compensate for her blindness, mostly by going slow and using her fingers to 'see' the food. That kind of dedication to any craft is admirable, but since I'm a cook, I know that what Christine does is nothing short of heroic. Kitchens are well known to be death traps for the unwary and a competent chef has to use all five senses all the time just to keep from getting hurt.
But there are more than five senses, there's that other one, the oogly-googly one they make movies about and such. That sixth sense is no mystical creation and requires no psychic ability, it is born from experience and can be your most valuable ally in the kitchen. I call it my inner chef and I trust my inner chef implicitly; even if there is still 15 minutes left on the timer, if my inner chef screams NOW!, I jump.
I did not set out to create an inner chef, she just appeared after years of toiling and I did not trust her right off the bat. But I am here today to say that you can create your own inner chef, your sixth sense, without spending your every waking moment thinking about food. As usual, all it takes is a decision.
Brains are marvelous things, they are like computers and if you tell them exactly what you want, they will do it for you. Inform your brain that you expect a little more from it in the kitchen, that it is to warn you of impending disasters and keep track of time. That fantastical little computer between your ears tracks EVERYTHING in your area, it notes the smells and the very important sounds (cooks often dismiss the sense of hearing, but it is equally as vital as all the rest); it will keep you organized and even occasionally deliver up wickedly clever ideas.
The most important thing you can do to strengthen your inner chef is to trust it; I know that trust doesn't always come easily to cooks and that newer cooks don't think they've got the skills to create one. But the more you trust your inner chef, the harder it will work for you.
Honing your skills in the kitchen is a never-ending process for most chefs, we are never satisfied and there is always a better way. Cultivating your sixth sense is just another kitchen skill and, like all skills, it gets easier with time. Do not fear your own brain, it is generally wiser than your conscious mind and it is always on your side. Embrace you inner oogly-googly chef; go forth and cook.