I’m the slowest prep cook in the world — and I mean that in the home-cooking sense, not the professional one, because I wouldn’t last a day in a real restaurant kitchen. I’ve taken a knife skills class or two; I own an excellent knife made by a local artisan that is a true joy to use; and I have decent dexterity from a lifetime as a musician. But still I chop slowly and unevenly and routinely get derailed by setbacks — onion tears, a curious kitten approaching, a shouting match with my friendly kitchen robot when she plays the wrong song.
My shoddy prep skills dovetail terribly with my tendency to attempt long, overly complicated recipes beyond my skillset. That brutally awkward episode of The Office where Jan hasn’t started a three-hour braise by the time guests arrive for a dinner party is a running joke in our household; when I start one of my dinner “projects,” we’re not eating until midnight. A recent project — khao soi made from scratch, complete with a mortar and pestle — took seven hours and ended with my sore feet throbbing with anger.
Which is why the GelPro mat — recommended to me by several friends, home-cooking enthusiasts as well as private chefs — has been such a life-changing purchase. Made of gel and what the company calls “energy-return foam,” it’s meant to help the aching feet and legs of people who stand for long periods of time on hard floors.
My husband and I put one on our wedding registry a couple years ago and didn’t receive it — unsurprising, as it’s not the most exciting gift. But inspired by the khao soi misadventure and a Black Friday sale, I finally got one myself this year. From the moment I plunked it down on the kitchen floor, its pretty blue blossom pattern livening up the off-white tile, I’ve been itching to stand at my butcher block and chop onion after onion… then pull the mat over to the stovetop and caramelize those onions for hours. (Do I need a second mat?)
The feel of it is so satisfying that I’ll often stand on it for a few minutes even when I’m not cooking. There’s nothing quite like ripping off winter boots and thick socks and feeling that gel squelch, squelch under my aching feet. That comfort has given me more focus and patience in the kitchen; maybe I’ll even start chopping faster.