I was thrilled to learn that Bravo would be starting a new season of Top Chef, my favorite reality TV show. The show, Top Chef  Masters, premieres June 10 at 9 p.m. Central Time and will be hosted by Kelly Choi.

The premise of Top Chef Masters is different from the other Top Chef competitions. The contestants on Top Chef Masters are already famous in their own right, like Emmy-award winner Michael Chiarello of NapaStyle. I am already secretly hoping he wins the competition since I am a huge fan of his Food Network show Easy Entertaining.  Regardless of which chef wins the coveted Top Chef spot, the prize money will go to a worthy charitable cause.

In the fifth season of Top Chef: New York, I watched each week as contestants lost the competition and were told by host Padma Lakshmi to pack up their knives and leave. Judge Tom Colicchio usually provides valuable feedback to the contestants who are sent to the judges table after preparing and serving a meal that was found to be lacking.

At the simplest level the competition is won or lost based on how the main dish of meat or fish or poultry is cooked (or not cooked enough). If the meat, for example, is too tough or too raw, then that chef is usually the one to go. The next level seems to be difficulty or simplicity in the meal preparation. The judges want to see that some risk was taken. Finally, the presentation must be a winning one. How the food is presented on the plate is important.

Probably one of the reasons I enjoy watching Top Chef is remembering my most favorite times spent in the kitchen with my family preparing meals.

I also enjoy the analogy of the competition between the chefs and what sometimes happens in the workplace or in personal relationships. Usually the contestants already know when they go before the judges table what mistakes they have made. However, some contestants border on arrogance and argue with the more experienced judges. Other contestants know when to fight and defend their place in the competition without stepping over the line. Watching the process take place at the judges table is just as exciting as observing the chefs prepare meals.

In the new season of Top Chef Masters, I’m looking forward to learning whether or not the professional chefs maintain their composure and defend themselves properly at the judges table. I’m also hoping to pick up some great recipes and cooking tips.

Earlier this week I was invited by my friend Jennifer Niehouse, owner of It’s So U! wardrobe consulting, to attend a networking event sponsored by the KC Women’s Network. At first, I was skeptical about attending any event with the word “networking” in it. I’m just as skeptical about attending “singles” events, but that’s another blog.

The presenter, Greg Furstner of Salezworks, discussed tips and techniques for productive networking. When he was finished speaking, I had to ask him, “Isn’t networking really just using people?”

I have been in situations where it’s obvious a person is only interested in talking to those in the room who can do him some good, or help him accomplish his own agenda. I’ve also seen and heard friends of mine who are work-from-home moms feel dismissed by people when they don’t have a “business” to discuss. That can be a huge mistake, from my perspective.

Greg Furstner clarified for me the difference between effective networking and just using people in a calculating way. As one strategy to getting to know a potential referral source or point of contact for networking, Greg suggests asking questions, which really just shows your interest in the other person. For example, asking a person, “What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?” would probably not make anyone feel used.

10,000 Steps

May 1, 2009

This week I purchased a pedometer, which tracks my number of steps. The American Heart Association recommends taking 10,000 steps a day for health benefits.

I started thinking about how and why it’s become a challenge for people to find the time to walk.

I thought about my grandfather, my Papa Joe, who died at the age of ninety-nine in fairly good health, when I was sixteen-years-old. Papa Joe came to the United States from Italy in the late 1800s. (Yes, that’s right. I’m a Gen-Xer, and I’m still old enough to have a grandfather who was born in the late 1800s.) My grandfather didn’t drive a car. He walked every day, sometimes to the store or the bakery, and sometimes just to visit neighbors. He kept a garden in the backyard, and maintained rose bushes and a fig tree in his front yard. I can’t help but think his daily activities and functional fitness kept him young.

As much as fast food and convenience stores might save us time in the short term, our modern communities are designed around long commutes. Most houses are built with decks instead of front porches, where neighbors used to congregate and visit and watch their kids play.  Most people don’t plant vegetable gardens in their backyards. Maybe we can all take a cue from the White House, and their new vegetable garden. I look forward to hearing more about the garden’s progress.

In the long term, we may not be saving as much time as we think with convenience stores and fast food restaurants.

According to my pedometer, today I walked 9,046 steps, which is about 90% of my goal. I’m just going to keep taking those steps each day until I reach 10,000.

What steps can we all take today to reach our goals in life?