Cutting Tape

I’m pretty sure I first encountered the chef obsession with cutting tape from the phenomenal cover letter that David Zilber sent to Noma back in 2014. (The hutzpah of his letter got him an interview and later a job at one of the best restaurants in the world, and he would go on to set up their fermentation division and cowrite The Noma Guide to Fermentation that has in many ways changed my life. But I digress.)

In a professional kitchen, things can come fast. And when they do, you need to be prepared. This is part of the obsession with mise en place, the French term meaning roughly ‘things in their place’. It is preparation in advance, chopping and organizing, so that when the shit hits the fan, you can keep your head above the sewage.

And so this obsession can come down to small details, like what you do with your tape. Uniform, nondescript, restaurant plastic storage containers are ubiquitous, and they need to be labeled with, at the very least, what is in them and when it was put in them. Traditionally, this is done with colored masking tape, like you would use to mask the trim when painting a wall. But the way it should be done, as viewed by top chefs, is highly specific: cut, not ripped, and folded over on the end. The fold makes it easier to remove in a hurry when the container is empty. But the cut seems to be more mental than time saving. If you slack on how you take a piece of tape, that can snowball to your knife work and your mise.

As a good scientist, I’ve taken to labeling different ferments or ingredients that I have with tape. But I’ve always ripped it, and I’ve never folded it over. I never need to worry about four new four-tops being seated at the same time and orders coming in at a breakneck pace. If it takes another second or two to remove the tape, no big whoop.

But I’ve decided to play around with cutting and folding my tape. Not to help my work in the kitchen, but perhaps to see if that extra ‘cast vote’, as James Clear might say, helps foster a bit more preparation in other areas of my life. Perhaps by taking the extra step to work like top-level professionals, I will be inclined to up other aspects of my game as well. Or perhaps I will realize that it isn’t worth the extra effort and time for me. As a scientist, it is a hypothesis to be tested.

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