HOW TO BE A GREAT COOK, NOT JUST A GOOD COOK … it’s all in the details

We have people who tell us they want to cook like a chef.    By definition a chef runs a kitchen,  hires staff,  orders food, costs and creates  dishes,  writes menu’s,  cooks on the line – you get the picture.   You can’t be a chef, but you can become a better cook.

First, shop better.  Buy better ingredients, buy seasonal produce, buy fresh oils and good vinegars.   If  you are buying your food in a store that also sells clothes, office supplies and toys change your food shopping habits.

Secondly, master fundamental techniques not just fancy knife skills.   Learn how hot to get your pan, how to sweat vegetables, braise meat. Read cookbooks that give you more than recipes. Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc is an excellent example.

Don’t fill your kitchen with space gobbling gadgets.  You don’t need a lot in the kitchen, a chef’s knife, a cutting board,  a deep saute pan, a flat-edged wooden spoon, a whisk, a fine-mesh sieve, an off-set spatula, a micro-plane, a bench scraper, pepper-mill for spices, and a food mill.

Clean as you go.  Wash and put away pans and dishes as you finish with them.

There is a difference between cooking at home and cooking in the restaurant.  In ROXY’S BISTRO’s kitchen we always had six to eight stocks, an arsenal of prepared items, an endless supply of ingredients, dressings and sauces.

BEL ‘OCCHIO cooking classes were always very animated.  The very intimacy of our kitchen created an atmosphere of discussion.       What better way to learn.

We loved sharing our knowledge.   These may seem like small tips, but it’s the details that make the difference between good cooking and great cooking;

always stir your batter (if you’re right-handed) clock wise, don’t stir both ways,

always mix your salt into dressing before adding the oil,

always let your meat come to room temperature before cooking,

cooking your fish in a slow oven makes it harder to overcook the fish,

salt meats, game and fowl anywhere between eight and twenty-four hours before you cook them,

salt seafood right before it goes into the heat or the pan,

salt vegetables that are  to be grilled or sautéed about thirty minutes in advance,

it should go without saying but avoid iodized table salt,

salt vegetables that involve sweating (onions and garlic) immediately as they go in the pan,

roasting food on the bone, whether it’s chicken, fish or short rib is the best way of cooking the food evenly,

use cinnamon sticks when seasoning sauces-when the cinnamon flavour hits the right note remove the stick (you can’t do this with powdered cinnamon),

store tomatoes at room temperature, never in the refrigerator-it kills their sweetness and makes them grainy,

never buy boneless, skinless chicken breast halves- no flavour,

never buy lean turkey bacon-no magic,

never buy I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter! and other butter substitutes-medical diet restrictions may be an exception,

never buy beef tenderloin/filet Mignon the most expensive and least flavourful part of the animal-marbled rib eye is the go- to cut,

never, never buy peeled, chopped garlic-no flavour,

Above all you must cook from your heart – not to impress people, but to feed the soul.   Be passionate about food.  It will make all the difference between good cooking and great cooking!

Oh yes, and read, really read your cookbooks.

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2 Responses to HOW TO BE A GREAT COOK, NOT JUST A GOOD COOK … it’s all in the details

  1. Tim Cosbey says:

    ‘Never’ buy tenderloin?? About once every 6 weeks or so I buy some beef tenderloin as a treat. It comes from Vanderhoof grass grazed cattle. I age it in the back of the fridge for up to two weeks before I cook it. I eat pretty much every cut of beef that there is and you are absolutely bang on about the expensive part and I can see why you would label it as less flavourful than other cuts; but to hold it in such low regard as to tell people to ‘never’ buy it ? Unsupportable. Come for Christmas next year and we’ll pig out on Chateau Briand!
    ps- love the Blog

    • admin says:

      You are absolutely right Tim Cosbey. One should never say “never”. And I would “never” hold any part of the cow in low regard. No I am wrong. Try as I might I don’t care for tongue and I cannot eat tripe. A long time ago when Hy’s steak house was considered fine dining this luxurious elegant little number was considered the ultimate. Chateaubriand – is like a beautiful woman (who you really can’t afford. You enjoy her for the moment – but afterwards you realize you want a little more substance. Now something like butcher’s or hanger steak demands dialogue and finds you deep in an existential conversation as the candles burn and sputter. Then there’s beef cheeks. It brings out the Philip Marlowe in you. And what about ox tail. That particular part of cow gives you a John Wayne outlook on life. It isn’t pretty but oh my goodness ox tail soup simmered long and slow has one ready to sign up for the next cattle drive. Bon Appetit!

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