Stress management: Coping with the heat in the kitchen

Watching the final cook-off during the last MasterChef Australia television show, I was reminded of the importance of being able to cope effectively with difficult situations we face in all spheres of our life.
Although I didn’t know the two finalists, Billie and Georgia, they both appeared to have real passion for the food industry, a desire to do well in the competition and expand their careers as a chef.
Therefore, their stress levels during the final were probably at a similar level… they had taken a similar journey throughout the series.

The final challenge was to recreate a technically complex, Heston Blumenthal Botrytis Cinerea dessert, consisting of 55 steps resulting in 17 elements. They had 4 hours to complete the challenge in, and the stress was not only in the difficulty of the challenge but also the speed with which they would need to work at for an extended period of time in order to deliver. Not to mention, this was the final, and friends and families were in the studio watching – and millions of others like me were curiously watching from a couch.

As was mentioned throughout the ‘final pressure test’, this was a life changing opportunity for one of them. But was it really? Would the “loser” not also receive some fabulous opportunities? This is a TV show after all. But let’s keep the focus on what was happening in the in their immediate surroundings.

Georgia had a 4-point lead from the previous two challenges and had done very well with desserts in the competition so far– perhaps this resulted in her being a bit complacent. At one point during the ‘final pressure test”, she spilt half a gelatine mixture while rushing to the fridge to get it chilled. Yes, there were tears, time lost but after some supportive words by everyone watching, she refocused and pushed on to the other elements of the recipe.

This resilience to bounce back in such a major challenge was commented on by all and speaks volumes for her stress tolerance. While she did not get through all the steps of the recipe she was able to prioritise, think clearly, and based on these strengths, she delivered an exquisite dish. Self-insight is a vital component when dealing with stress in all situations; it allows us to play to our strengths. Support and guidance from a trusted individual also helps a lot of course!

Being behind Georgia in terms of points, the other contestant, Billie, clearly had a strategy going into the challenge. She remained calm, multitasked when she could and set time aside to work on the one element she knew was going to be difficult for her. She knew what was needed so that she did not become overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation. At this final hurdle, as she expected, there were a number of setbacks but she soldiered on and did the best she could to deliver the winning dish.

I don’t believe Billie is necessarily a better cook than many of her competitors. I rather suspect that her ability to remain calm, think clearly and work through her strategy during challenging times was the golden key to her success. Coupled with this, her realisation that she was doing what she loved gave her the resilience to keep coming back and perform at the best of her ability in order to take home the trophy.

Stress tolerance is all about placing the challenge in perspective, reacting accordingly, having a quality support structure and good self-insight to be able to use your strengths to work through the stress. None of these things just happen; you need to work on creating that support structure and growing your internal resources for those inevitable stressful Heston Blumenthal Botrytis Cinerea dessert times that life is often throwing at us!

Let’s get cooking…

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