May 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts May 1998 Current Issue
May 1998
Short Cuts:

Bonding in the kitchen
Bonding in the kitchen: "Cooking by the Book" class.

Forget the boardroom. In Suzen O'Rourke's opinion, the best place to resolve management conflicts or build workplace bonds is the kitchen. "At home, when you're upset or want to talk things over with a friend or relative, where does everyone gravitate? The kitchen, of course - it's the natural gathering place," says the chef and owner of Cooking by the Book, a cooking school in New York City (212-966-9799).

It's only natural, then, that the Team Cooking Group courses her firm runs, in partnership with Take Charge Consultants in Downingtown, Pa., are staged in the kitchen of her Tribeca loft. But the premise of the course isn't just to get executives talking around a homey table - it's to have them chop, dice and braise together, spending a day creating a gourmet meal, from soup to nuts.

Welcome to team cooking, the latest craze in team building and already taste-tested by executives from firms such as HBO, Pfizer Inc., FCC National Bank and the Cigna Corporation. Team Cooking Group is only one of several cooking schools and restaurants opening their kitchens to corporate America. Among them is the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, in St. Helena, Calif., which offers Culinary Team Building courses in conjunction with HMS Group (800-367-5348), a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based destination management company. (The program also will be offered at the Culinary Institute's Hyde Park, N.Y., headquarters beginning this fall.)

"Cooking a meal replicates an office setting much better than climbing or swinging outdoors," insists Rick Phillips, Culinary Team Building's facilitator. "It's a project - we develop a plan, a time line and then deliver a finished product on deadline." Adds Team Cooking Group's facilitator, Ria Taraschi: "It forces people to work cross-functionally....They need to look beyond their own needs toward a common goal."

Both courses share similar ingredients: The firm's planner meets with a facilitator to determine the group's goal. Then, a menu is selected accordingly. For example, when conflict resolution is the order of the day, O'Rourke chooses courses that require delicate layering: lasagna and tiramisu. "We put all the ingredients in a central pantry, so the different teams have to talk to each other and share ingredients - in this case, mascarpone."

Facilitators may mix things up a bit. When McGettigan Partners, the Philadelphia-based meeting and incentive firm, sent the eight members of its new San Francisco office for some Culinary Team Building, "They actually pulled people from one team to another in the middle of the meal preparation," says Lori Martin, McGettigan's senior vice president, West Coast. "It was very like real life: We lost someone key and had to integrate a newcomer into our strategies midstream."

Culinary Team Building's courses are designed for groups of 12 to 30, while Team Cooking Group handles up to 15 participants.



How would you feel if your child wanted to be a meeting planner?

"I'd feel positive about it, but concerned. Planners have a lot of stress. One of my daughters is now away at Michigan State, and she recently organized a skiing trip for 150 students to Ontario. It went over very successfully. I don't think I ever tried to teach her anything about planning. It just came to her naturally by watching me live it."
Valerie Prince
Meeting & Special Events Director
Rockwell International
Troy, Mich.

"I'd be pleased. I think it's a great job for anybody. It has all these benefits: social, physical (when I'm on site, I'm all over those hotels) and mental."
Brenda Anderson
Meetings Coordinator
American Youth Soccer Organization
Hawthorne, Calif.

"It would make me think I'd influenced them a little bit, been a positive model, but it's not very likely. My two boys are interested in science. They want to save the world from pollution."
LeAnn Packard, CMP
Packard Productions
Riverton, Utah

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