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Posted: August 01, 2013

Chef Laura: Rock your office clean

It's merge n' purge time

Laura Cook Newman

Before chefs starts prepping their mise en place, we ensure our work station is clean.  Using the token red bucket of sanitized water, we wipe down all surfaces and get ready to rock!  It’s an ever-present ritual we embraced early in our careers.

A few times a year, a pro kitchen will do a “deep cleaning”: get out the caustic chemicals, take apart the heavy metal racks, dump the questionable pan of…what’s that smell?…Meatloaf?, scrape out all the nooks and crannies, and put it back together with…ta-da! extra parts. 

On those days, we don’t wear our pristine chef whites or toques.  Instead, my locks are secured in a hair band while a concert t-shirt from my youth and my Ratt-iest checked pants, are the uniform of choice.

Grungy attire aside, a thorough scrub-down is a “best practice”.  If we don’t clean, this back-of-the-house Mötley Crüe could pass on _______ (insert your favorite foodborne Poison here).  Our kitchen is essentially our “office”, but I also extend this practice to my non-perishables like: paper files, hard drives and office supplies.

Today’s the start of my company’s fiscal year.  In my world, the Quiet Riot of 2014 has already begun. FY’13 is literally “in the books” which Warrants my files to reflect that. 

It’s the perfect time to don my Guns N’ Roses t-shirt, activate my “Out of Office” notification for the day, and enter my home office with recycle bin in hand…Welcome to the Jungle.

The Cure to help wrap my head-banging head around the start of a new fiscal year, is to “Merge N’ Purge” (killer band name, BTW) the prior one.  Just follow these four steps and U2 can have a clutter-free office to welcome the new fiscal year. 

  1. This may sound Extreme, but forget the traditional “three pile system” to rationalize your papers

First – there’s no “Maybe” pile.  If you “kinda think you might need it one day”, guess what?  You won’t.  KISS it goodbye.  Purge.

Second – there’s no “Yes” pile.  If you’re keeping that receipt, business card, or famous Autograph, then show it some respect and file it accordingly.  Merge.

Third – the “No” pile isn’t a pile at all.  It’s the aforementioned recycle bin.  This will eliminate the temptation to touch this Garbage one last time.  Purge!

  1. Not nearly as cathartic, it’s time to Slaughter the electronic files.  Distractedly browsing through a year’s worth of photos could be the ultimate time-suck.  So set The Alarm if you have to; in two hours, time’s up!  Organize documents in “folders”, tidy up your “desktop”, and then back it all up. 
  2. Make like a chef and actually clean your office.  You shouldn’t need the industrial Grease Beast or Shelia Shine, but a little Pledge or Windex will get the job done.
  3. A Cheap Trick I practice is to buy a new tchotchke for my office.  It’s a peace offering to your physical space to motivate you that this fiscal year will be like Sabbath…black.  A pretty vase, a headless bat, or an Ozzy Osbourne poster works well.

Like a Queen, or perhaps a Prince, lean back in your throne, neatly prop your feet up on the desk and marvel your office Oasis.  Ahhh….Nirvana!  Merging N’ Purging is the perfect way to reflect on your Journey of last fiscal year and set yourself up for success for the next one.  Rock on.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

Danke Shoen, darling. By Abe Froman on 2013 08 06
Absolutely your best article yet. Great Tips. Concise. Witty. Relevant. Made my day. By Ta Tee on 2013 08 02
"If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean" my high school culinary teacher, Bill O'Neil would always say. Readers, thanks for your words and recognizing (enjoying?) the muscial puns. I had to show some restraint as so many band names have food in them. And Mike K, I usually wear a white neckerchief, or a red one, but never an apricot scarf. Well, I'm off to Saratoga to see if my horse has naturally won. By Chef Laura on 2013 08 01
Love the article Laura, and the rocker references. Good reminder on how to keep your desk "clutter free". By Kathleen Craig on 2013 08 01
In high school my favorite (and best) teacher would clean her desk everyday before she left. I've always tried to emulate this lesson; there is nothing like coming to work to a clean desk in the morning. By Here's to Ms. Grantham on 2013 08 01
I usually "Seek and Destroy" those pesky clutter bugs, and they have "Nowhere to Run". I like the take on song and band titles though, especially that nasty "Meatloaf"!! By Ruben on 2013 08 01
Love this! By Doug Miller on 2013 08 01
Whose L&P now? "U2 can have a clutter free office." Ba-doom chick...back it up! I do like your 4 step approach. By Pater Familias on 2013 08 01
Chef Laura, it sounds like "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" when they clean. But I find the best way to "Start Me Up" or to get "In the Mood" to clean is to feel like "I Want to Break Free" and have order in my life; but I can't do it only once a year. I think monthly is the only way to be "Walkin on Sunshine". By Medley on 2013 08 01
I'm thinking of a song, it's by Carly Simon. By Mike K on 2013 08 01
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