Scrambled Eggs

I love eggs, but I’m not an egg snob. I used to scramble them by whisking them with a fork and cooking them quickly over medium heat. Often, I didn’t even bother with the fork. I simply cracked them whole in a cold pan, and stirred them up vigorously with a spatula as the pan warmed.

I had tried all the other best practices — using a whisk, adding milk or cream, folding them slowly over low heat — but, up until recently, I hadn’t found the results worth the extra effort. Then, a few weeks ago, I met a colleague at Boulette’s Larder for breakfast, where I had the best damn scrambled eggs I have ever eaten. They were tender, unctuous, and tasty, and they inspired me to revisit how I cook my eggs.

In my usual, OCD way, I’ve used every breakfast since as an opportunity to experiment. I haven’t quite replicated the Boulette’s Larder version, but my scrambled eggs are now significantly tastier than they ever used to be — enough so that I have permanently shelved my good-enough approach to cooking them.

I didn’t do any research, and I’m not using any new ingredients or techniques. The only thing that changed was that I had an experience that inspired me. That experience led to a renewed focus and a shift in how I applied techniques and ingredients that I already understood.

In my work as a collaboration practitioner, one of my mottos is, “Chefs, not recipes.” I believe this so strongly, I had it engraved on my phone. My insight three years ago was that practice was more important than tools for becoming a great chef, and I’ve been experimenting with ways to support and encourage collaboration practice ever since.

What I’ve come to realize this past year is that practice alone does not make great chefs. You also need to experience great meals. You need to understand what’s possible, a standard toward which you’re driving.

“Great meals” in collaboration are out there, but they’re in short supply, and they’re often not in the places most people are looking. I was lucky to have tasted the collaboration equivalent of some amazing meals early in my career, and those experiences continue to inspire me. I also see groups after groups that have not experienced great meals stop practicing after achieving minor gains. They settle, because they don’t understand what’s possible or what’s necessary for true high-performance. Their minor gains feel good enough, just like my fork-scrambled eggs.

Three years ago, I started with the premise that we needed an ecosystem of “gyms” where people could practice collaboration. I’m now realizing we also need an ecosystem of top-notch “restaurants” where people can experience great collaboration. It’s why I’m partially returning to my former practice of creating my own “great meals” and writing about them. However, this alone will not be enough. I don’t have any answers yet, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with possibilities in the coming year, and I’d love to hear your ideas!

About 

Eugene helps groups learn how to come alive and collaborate more skillfully together. He spent ten years consulting with companies across different sectors, from Fortune 500 companies to grassroots movements. He’s now focusing his efforts on helping others develop the same skills that he uses to help groups.

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Comments

  1. Great post, Eugene. A lot of my best work comes because I’ve been inspired by others.

    But seriously, how do you make eggs now? Left me hanging!

    1. Thanks, Rachel. 🙂

      My current method: Melt butter in a pan over low heat. (Don’t use oil unless you don’t like the taste of butter. The flavor is key.) Whisk eggs vigorously with milk. Try to get a lot of air in them. Pour the eggs in the pan, and cook and fold them very gently. You want the eggs to be just cooked. Add salt and pepper. (Don’t salt the eggs before cooking.)

      I’ve used this method before, but I didn’t pay enough attention to the cooking process. The gentle folding and cooking until just done is the key. Having experienced how they were supposed to come out helped me understand how to cook them more effectively.

      1. I loved this post – and your eggs sound delicious! I used to use milk, but now use just eggs – it’s even creamier. Sprinkle with truffle salt to finish 😉 There is another method – higher heat, bigger curds, faster cook time but has to be watched very carefully. Still very creamy if done right. Btw, you can get raw pasteurized eggs in the shell at Whole Foods now – hooray!

      2. I love everything about this post but one detail — no salt while cooking? Yech! :p Major pet peeve. Getting the flavor I like by adding salt on top afterwards seems impossible (unless maybe extensively stirring the already cooked eggs??) Personally I always put a little in while cooking, but definitely don’t want to overdo it.

        If we cook breakfast together, we’ll need at least two pans! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the post.

    “Chefs, not recipes” is a good starter aphorism for neophytes. Novices are preoccupied with technique. This obsession produces poor outcomes. It is a cultural defect.

    Authentic chefs, true culinary artists, are clinically engrossed by one thing only: ingredients. The terroir, provenance, handling and so forth are infinitely more important than technique.

    This is no more important than in France. Their ‘appellation d’origine contrôlée’ is equivalent to our Bill of Rights. I was schooled in France and worked in Geneva for many years. Each year, my schedule allows me to pursue month-long gastronomic tours of France. This includes preparing many meals. What is the take-away from four decades of French culinary pursuits? It’s “Ingredients, not chefs.” Or maybe a more Carville-Clintonesque, American version, “It’s the ingredients, stupid.”

    Pursue the best possible ingredients and least possible technique. That’s the emphatic secret of gastronomy. Period. No exceptions. End of discussion.

    Boullete’s Larder (Boullete was the founder’s Hungarian Sheepdog usually sleeping under the communal table in the early days) excels because of one, and only one, factor: conscientiously selected ingredients from empathetic and congenial local producers.

    So to imitate Boulletes find and know somebody w/hens. That’s easy at the Sat Farmers’ Market. Freshly laid eggs from pastured hens are transcendental. Forget chefs, recipes and technique. Forget the disgusting, factory egg garbage in paper cartons sold at supermarkets. Embrace the joy of fine ingredients from local, small-farm, sympathetic producers. That’s Boulettes magic. It’s easily mimicked with the correct mindset.

  3. You are is speaking my truth. I have always felt so strongly that in order for people to strive for excellence they have to experience it first. This truism has been especially powerful for me when it comes to collaboration and design. When I have shared with others about the role of an architect, I always include the essential ingredient, educator. Often, when a client comes to an architect, or any kind of designer, they often don’t have a broad and refined palate from which to draw when explaining what they are seeking. This, I think is because of a lack of exposure to examples of great design of buildings or landscapes or graphics or …. Without a rich context that informs one’s choices, aspirations can be limited and lackluster. This is one of the important roles of an educator or any professional practitioner who is leading a process that delivers a new product, service or set of ideas, or in the collaboration space, facilitating high-performance collaboration. As one who has committed to building a beautiful tapestry of life I want and encourage others to fill our personal libraries of exposure and experience so we can create rich, deep and highly textured contexts from which to draw when creating and collaborating.

  4. This is a great piece. I’ve used the chef metaphor quite a bit over the years, but no where as succinctly as you have done. Most organizations I run across are looking for the recipe and not the understanding of how to get a great result. Like a chef the tools used, the methods, and ingredients (which are ever changing) all make a difference. A chef has to understand each and how each changes constantly and adapt to those changes to get a great result out at the end.

    I really like how you built the metaphor out to needing to experience great food to understand what you are aiming for. It is not a means to copy how to get there but know what great is. Taking this idea out into the work world to know what great is and how to learn the skills and understanding the dimensions of that are needed to know and their sub-elements, but also the diversity of options, and the understanding how to shift and adapt to constant change is key.

    I too was broken by perfect eggs (well perfect soft French scrambled eggs, as their are many different ways to make eggs and each in its own way can be stellar) that were served in a cup of smoked salmon. The eggs were amazing and I loved every bite and ate as slowly as I could so to make the experience last longer. This was at a small B&B in Brighton, England. I had a quick chat and their method was in the speed and keeping the cooking method. For them they sometimes used butter, but somethings a small amount of oil, but often it was the slow cooking and folding that made these soft custard-like eggs. I worked on this after I got back and it took me a long time to learn how slow (and not using a double boiler method, but directly in the pan) to cook them. When cooking slow over a low heat oil nor butter isn’t needed and lovely egg (really great with fresh eggs from healthy mobile chickens) taste and texture really sing. I don’t have the patience (often time driven) to cook that slowly so I use a teaspoon of good quality olive oil in the pan.

  5. Nice work here with a ring of truth about it i would say. Of course experience changes us and influences how we think…will keep an eye out for more of your work sir ☺

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