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Illustrated Recipes

Chef-Induced Oscillation

When I was learning to be a glider pilot, one of the things I learned about was Pilot-Induced Oscillations (PIOs), which are formally defined as "sustained or uncontrollable oscillations resulting from efforts of the pilot to control the aircraft."  Basically, the pilot tries to correct a situation, over-reacts, tries to correct for the over-reaction, and so on, making the matter worse with each attempt.  For an example of PIOs, check out this NASA footage.

There is a parallel in the kitchen that I think of as Chef-Induced Oscillation.  An example might be making French Onion Soup and finding it is too sweet so you add some acid.  Add too much, it becomes sour.  Correct with sugar and you bounce back and forth, chasing the desired flavor.

Worst case in an aircraft is loss of equipment or life.  Fortunately, most of the time in cooking the worst case is loss of food and time, and maybe some embarrassment.

So, how to avoid CIOs?  The same way pilots avoid PIOs.

  1. Study and Practice - Find out what techniques might be used to correct errors such as too sweet, too sour, too salty, too bland.  Try them.  Some are just old wives tales like using a potato to remove saltiness (pp. 58-62) .  Others may work for one dish but not be the right flavor profile for another.  Understand that sometimes the recipe may dictate one solution over another.

    Try making various dishes and leaving out an ingredient or two to see what they contribute to the overall quality of a dish. Add them back in a bit at a time to learn how the flavor changes with additions of various ingredients.
  2. Stay Calm - much easier to do in a kitchen than a cockpit.  When you taste something is not right, stop right there.  Decide what is wrong and think about your options to correct it.  There may be several options so think about what you are trying to achieve in the final dish and how each option supports or detracts from that vision.

  3. Make Small Changes - in PIOs, the pilot's mistake is overshooting the desired result and then having to correct back.  Make small changes.  Add a little salt or acid or whatever at a time. It is easier to add more of an ingredient than it is to take some out.

  4. Allow Some Time - Whenever you add an ingredient to a dish, it is likely to take a little time for flavors to merge and settle down.  Don't rush to correct and correct again, but rather wait a few minutes between corrections.

    The other facet of 'Allow Some Time' is to plan ahead.  Prepare anything that can be made ahead of time enough before to allow some time for fine tuning rather than being rushed as guests start arriving.

  5. Taste and Correct as Needed - After allowing the flavors to merge and settle down, taste again. Go back to Step 2 and assess and adjust again as needed.  Keep repeating steps 2 though 5 until you have the taste you want.

New pilots are more likely to cause Pilot-Induced Oscillations.  Similarly, new chefs are likely to have Chef-Induced Oscillations.  With knowledge and experience, they are easily avoided.

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