To become a better cook it always starts with just cooking! It has been proven that to become an expert at something you need 10,000 hours of practice. Get yourself into the kitchen! Go… Now…. Everyday! Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks you just need to cook something. Enjoy the process and fail often. Making mistakes and learning from them will make you better. I have failed miserably and often at home and along the way in my career. Thinking that a flavour combination will be great, and it turns out to be awful. My wife will tell you that there have been some scary things to come out of our kitchen and end up in the trash. Pick up a book, browse the web or ask someone for help and just start cooking!
Hone your skills. What sets the pros apart from the home cook usually starts with knife skills. I recommend getting a 6-8” chef’s knife and keep it sharp. You are more likely to hurt yourself with a blunt knife than a sharp one. Once you have a good knife and you keep it sharp you will be off to the races. There are many other knives that have specific uses. After your chef’s knife, a smaller paring knife and a bread knife are all you really need. The rest are just drawer decoration.
Get yourself organized. Organization is one of my skills that I learned the hard way at the beginning of my career. If you are taking on a multi-course meal you want to make sure that you have a plan, a road map of what you want to do. Be specific in your menu planning so you can visualize what it is you need to do for each dish. Here is an example of a main course menu:
Pan Seared Salmon
6oz pan seared Atlantic salmon topped with a grainy mustard and fennel beurre blanc,
mashed potatoes and ginger roasted broccoli.
From this I know I will need to purchase 6oz portions of salmon, I need to find a recipe for the mustard butter sauce, mashed potatoes and the broccoli. Now I have a clear shopping list or the ability to create one, based off of the recipes I just found. Boom, organized!
Keep it clean! Once you have a plan of action, you know what you need to do, and you have everything you need it’s time to get cooking. Look through your menu and tackle the things that will take the longest first. Or do what scares you the most. Then clean up, reset and go to the next thing. Yes, you read right… clean up! Keeping a clean workspace between steps will help keep your mind clear and organized. The worst feeling is being overwhelmed by not having space to spread out and do what you need to do.
Recipes are just guidelines. As a chef people think that we just have a magical moment where a recipe will come to life. In actual fact I will poke around my favourite books or the internet to find a recipe that I can adapt to become my own. If I know our guests will like a particular flavour, I will substitute it and or change the recipe to fit my needs. I will usually look at a recipe for the technique or cooking process.
WARNING: The one place this is not the best idea is in baking. Baking is more like a science experiment where things are in place to create a reaction to give you the best result. Like anything, there are always exceptions. I will tweak the seasoning of baking recipes all the time (spices used) with great result. Trial and error in this case. I once tried to substitute mayo for sour cream in a cake…bad idea. Fail often and learn from your mistake.
Taste, taste, taste! Always taste as you’re going along. What are you tasting for? Is there enough seasoning (salt), is it bitter or burnt? Whatever you are doing make sure you are tasting it as you go along. This way there is no surprise at the end, and you might be able to save things from going oh so very wrong.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m currently offering virtual demos and would love to share my cooking tips with you on zoom.