The keys to becoming a great cook…

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So if you’re like me, you’ve probably seen  someone in the kitchen whipping up something awesome, and it seems like they’re not even trying. You see it all the time on those cooking show. Chefs are busting out these crazy dishes and they still have time to push their new line of aprons or saucepans. They never get flustered and everything turns out great.   Then there is the rest of us.  Going in a million directions at once, forgetting ingredients, making a huge mess and stressing ourselves out. So what does that chef on TV  have that most of us don’t? Experience and preparation.

For the most part, cooks make the same food day in and out. It becomes second nature, so it’s possible to have 4 things going on saute at once and still have time to make fun of the servers. (Sorry to any servers out there, but it’s true.) When you watch it happen it seems like chaos, but really it’s just a routine they have down. If you want to be able to make a great dish at short notice, you’re going to need to get good at it. When I want to master a recipe, this is how I go about it.

  1. The first time I make it I follow the recipe exactly, and I never make it for a dinner party. If anything I’ll invite Julia over or I’ll take some to my folks. Those are the three people that love me no matter what, so I’m not stressing out about trying to impress them. When I’m done I write down what worked, what didn’t, and any modifications I think would be good.
  2. Then I make it a second time, within a week or two. This time I invite a couple close friends over and I try it with the changes.
  3. Third time I make it is again within a few weeks. This time I have it down and I can try making it for more people and see how it comes out when I’m under pressure.

You need to do a recipe at least 3 times, in a short period of time, if you want to be comfortable with it. Then you can tuck it away in your mental recipe box as something you know is great and you feel good cooking. No one, not even a professional cook, makes a great dish the first time they do it. Repetition is the key to mastering a craft, especially cooking.

The second part of being a good cook comes from being prepared. In a restaurant there is a whole crew of people that show up at 8am to prep everything. That way, when the cooks come in at 4pm, they have everything they need for the whole dinner shift. If you want to be a great cook you cannot underestimate the importance of prep. Nothing will screw you up more than realizing half way through a recipe that you forgot to measure something, or that you don’t have a necessary spice. This is especially true for those of us who live in apartments and are limited on space.

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the $300 mixer, fifty different cookbooks and magazine subscriptions or the organic bamboo spatula that makes a good cook. It’s the willingness to put in the time and effort to understand what you’re doing.  It may sound like a lot of work, but being a good cook is a craft, like fixing cars or knitting. No one is good at it when they first start, and it takes time and effort to understand it. Just don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t give up! Practice, screw up, have fun and keep trying. You are totally capable of being a bad ass cook, I promise.