My Friends Think I’m a Control Freak Because I Don’t Want Anyone in My Kitchen. Are They Right?

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Dear Marge,

My friends and family think I am a control freak because I don’t want them in my kitchen when I am working. They even tease me about it — and totally ignore the fact that I don’t want everyone underfoot in my small kitchen while I am trying to get food out for dinner. I find it really distracting, and I need to focus on what needs to get done to get everything plated nicely and on the table while it is still hot.

I appreciate that they want to help, and when they used to offer, I would answer nicely and say, “Thanks, but I’m good.” But they just totally ignore that — and some people in particular (my sister and one of my closest friends) just start doing stuff! They put things in the dishwasher that I wash by hand, bring out food before I am ready to serve it, and stick the wrong serving utensils on platters. One of my friends went to plate my gorgeous, perfectly cooked rib-eye steaks as I was slicing them, and instead of fanning the strips out, she just sort of piled them up on the plate so they looked like dog food.

It may all sound like little stuff, but it really adds up. Also, my sister is super bossy about how I should do things, which makes it even worse. She is a really good cook and entertains a lot, so she just sort of takes over and starts telling me how to do things — and not the way I planned.

The bottom line is I just want to be left alone for a few minutes so I can do things my way. I’ve tried asking everyone nicely and they don’t listen. So now I just say “No thank you. Please get out of the kitchen.” And they don’t.

Signed,

Leave Me Alone

Dear LMA,

I feel you. When I think of your beautiful strips of rib-eye in a heap on a platter I could weep. And if anyone put my grandmother’s bone-handled carving set in the dishwasher, I’m not sure what I would do (although I am fairly certain it could be a punishable offense).

As for your sister — again, I understand. My husband and I have many friends who are, like us, in the food business. Our friends come into our kitchen and just start doing what they think needs to get done. It is not always helpful, and it can be downright annoying.

The first thing you have to do is remind yourself that these folks do not have malicious intent; they want to help. Let’s reverse this for a minute: Have you ever been at a friend’s house and wanted to help her in the kitchen? You don’t think, “Wow, she doesn’t want me here.” You think, “I am going to be a good person and help her.” I am guessing that is true even of your bossy sister. (Although, #sisters.)

The next thing you have to do is plan ahead. Just as you plan your menu, your serving platters, and all the rest, figure out ahead of time what tasks you will give each person who wants to help. Ask one person, for example, to be on the lookout for glasses that need refilling. Leave a few small tasks undone: someone can put the napkins at each place setting, remove the flowers from the table and light the candles, fill the water glasses, and so on.

The more specific you are, the better this will go. In other words, don’t ask someone to bring in the hors d’oeuvres platter and put the food away — they are likely to start opening drawers looking for utensils or hitting you with a bunch of questions, like where you keep the containers and plastic wrap.

You are better off asking them to bring in the hors d’oeuvres platter, transfer the leftovers to the containers at the end of the counter, and put the tray in the sink. Obviously, you need to plan for this ahead of time and have the containers and spoon or spatula ready for them.

I am not at all suggesting this is something every host needs to do. But if you want people to stay out of your kitchen when you are entertaining, telling well-intentioned guests to get out is neither gracious nor considerate. Planning for tasks that allow them to participate, on the other hand, makes them feel welcome — but not underfoot.

— Marge

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