My business partner Lisa and I have a lot of fun collaborating. It’s why we do things like Coach Buffet and why most of our collaborations can be considered successful. So when we stopped having fun in the planning of version 2.0 of Coach Buffet and started getting grumpy about the whole process, we took stock, took note and took action. We recognized that we’d been working far too hard and laughing far too little. So Lisa hopped on a train from Montreal and we got busy with the business of inspiration. The plan was as follows: do something fun and memorable on Saturday and integrate the learnings for a strategic planning session on Sunday. Sounds like a rip-roaring good time, don’t it? Yet, we trusted that it was exactly what was needed. The trick was to figure out what the “fun” could be on Saturday. We were on a budget and not feeling that a spa-fternoon would provide the inspiration that we were sorely lacking.

Given our love of food and cooking, we landed on a concept that was kind of like Iron Chef on speed. We were each to spend $50 on ingredients bought separately and come together to create a meal that night…giving no indication to the other party about what was being purchased throughout the day. My husband bought wine. Lots of it, just in case.

Our intention: non-attachment to the outcome. Easy, right? I could say we both trusted that it would be delicious, but that’s being attached to the outcome being delicious. It was perplexing as hell and made for some pretty complicated conversations all day.

In fact, it was hard enough to not be attached to my OWN shopping. I had a running internal dialogue like: “this speck bacon will be wonderful in a creamy sauce over pasta”. I knew all would go to pot (pun intended) once we mixed Lisa's  ingredients with mine. So I had to shop based on inspiration alone and by selecting the ingredients that called to me....with no attachment to what they'd end up being a part of.

Hours later, we returned to my home, poured a glass of wine, surveyed our collective purchases, ooh’d and aah’d, and then started to make logical decisions. Four organized piles of delicious ingredients later represented four future dishes. We toasted our cleverness and donned our aprons, ready to cook. One problem. In our earnest to “get it right” and wrap this all up in a neat and tidy way, we had compromised the integrity of the exercise. The four to-be dishes were pretty much split down the middle…two dishes from Lisa’s pile of ingredients and two dishes from my pile. We were both creating our own dishes without REALLY integrating each others ingredients. We were playing the game with a tiny range of motion (as Seth Godin describes in Linchpin).  Damn.

Back to the drawing board. No more sensible dishes like mussels with wild mushrooms in a provençal sauce. No more sausage and mushroom tapas. Much to my husband’s chagrin, we deconstructed the piles and reassembled. This was much harder. And much, MUCH gigglier.

The culinary hits:

Try this at home

  • Dates stuffed with double smoked bacon, morbier (one seriously stinky cheese) and cashews
  • Frisée salad with blood oranges, tomatillos, mango stilton and curry vinaigrette
  • Papaya, lemongrass, chutney, limes and  mussels
  • Chutney citrus salad with oat cakes

The culinary misses:

Do NOT try this at home

  • Farmer’s sausage in red wine and pink peppercorn chocolate sauce
  • Dried big ear mushroom slaw with chilies (made worse by Lisa getting chili juice in her eye)

It was a truly enjoyable meal. What didn’t work didn’t matter. How about that?

As pre-arranged, we spent the next day applying the shopping/cooking experience to some future collaborations. We started to develop a new lexicon with phrasing like: “don’t be afraid of the chocolate sausage” and “don’t you start trying to make masterpieces with only your  ingredients”.  (Am glad for my husband’s sake that he chose to make himself scarce…we can be pretty insufferable, turns out). I’m also glad that Lisa and I took the opportunity to turn a phone chat that I’d booked with Dyana Valentine into a Project Intensive. She really helped us to synthesize what we were concocting. That is one gifted woman right there.

The lesson:

Truth be told, I am still digesting just how important this weekend was for me. But so far, here’s what I KNOW I’ve learned:

  • Non-attachment is hard. And not being attached to outcomes can provide so much more expansiveness that the mind boggles at the possibilities.
  • Collaboration only really works when you and your partner lean in to each other equally. Lean in too far and you push them away. Lean in too little and they topple you. Lean in equally and you can have a whole lotta fun.
  • Playing in the middle range is weak. AND it’s work to not dwell there (it occurred to us both that our dishes really could have been far more experimental than they were…there is still farther for us to go).
  • Don’t laugh at anyone for getting chili in their eyes…it’ll come back to bite you in the ass (or in the eye, as it happened to me).

Can’t wait to share with you what we are really cooking up (once it’s fully baked, that is).

PS – As a further challenge, Lisa and I have agreed to stay away from each other’s blogs for the next week so we don’t cross-contaminate our findings. Take a peak over at her site to see what she’s saying about the experiment. And if she accuses me of peaking in her shopping bag over lunch, don’t believe her. I really didn’t (though I really was tempted for a millisecond!)

* The title is a misnomer b/c I really don't know what the "surprise" is. That the experience was hard and easy at the same time? Tasty and not? Still noodling that one around...

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