How to be a GREAT Cook
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I'm referring to the 2007 Disney movie about a rat that loved to cook, but believed he would never be a chef because he was, well...a rat. I watched this charming animated film with my niece and nephews the last time I was in the U.S. and enjoyed it immensely.
I remember one line that was repeated over and over again: ANYONE CAN COOK .
And it's true! Anyone can indeed cook and become not just good at it, but GREAT! Don't believe me, read on.
First of all, you must ask yourself: DO I REALLY LOVE TO COOK ? If the answer is YES, then you are already halfway to becoming a great cook. I promote LOVE as the #1 ingredient in any meal you prepare.
The next step to becoming a great cook is to get over your fear of the kitchen and of making any mistakes. It's only food, not brain surgery, so relax (pour yourself a glass of wine and turn on some cool music). If you do make a mistake, that's wonderful! You will know what to do (or not to do) the next time around. Making errors in cooking is crucial so that you can experiment with different flavors, textures, etc.
Once you have the right attitude and no more fears, you are ready to begin. You will need to decide what you want to make (be realistic- don't shoot for an overly complicated recipe if you are a beginner). After you have decided, you need to shop for the ingredients- and this part is perhaps the most crucial for your meal to be a success.
Since I am also a visual artist, I use imagery to help me remember things, so here is an image for you: Think of food as you would a beautiful, young woman in excellent health with clear skin, bright eyes, shiny hair (you get the picture).. She will look great in a simple pair of jeans and a Tshirt with no makeup- she doesn't need fancy clothing, expensive accessories, makeup, etc. In other words, since the foundation is already good, you don't need much. Now an older woman may need the "extra's like nice clothing, jewelry, mascara, concealer...do you see what I am getting at?
If you start your recipe with the finest, purest and freshest ingredients possible, you won't need to do much to them to make them taste great because you already have a good foundation. For example, a fine cut of meat like a T-bone steak or a thick veal chop will taste great with a little salt, pepper and grilled. Drizzle olive oil and some aged balsamic, serve it with a side of fresh salad, bread and a good red wine and you have got one hell of a meal!
Fresh, seasonal vegetables may also be simply grilled or made into a big, main-dish salad. For example, fresh asparagus can be steamed and served with poached or lightly fried eggs over them. Drizzle the eggs with some olive oil, sprinkle with black truffle salt, and serve with a loaf of crusty bread and a good white wine and you have an elegant brunch!
See what I mean? There is nothing too elaborate in any of the meals I have mentioned, yet they taste wonderful and will impress your guests if you are having a dinner party.
Once you have mastered simple meals, you can move onto the next stage and make something a bit more elaborate like Hungarian Goulash, or Bacalhau (my most famous recipe). These meals require a bit more time, planning and supervision. Again, they are not difficult, they only have a few more steps in the process.
One thing to keep in mind is that cooking is not like baking. Great cooks don't usually weigh or measure everything out, but rather estimate. You cannot get away with this when baking, of course, since everything depends on perfect measurements. Cooking is artistic and allows you to employ a bit more flare and panache!
Another way to become a great cook is to watch other great cooks. I was lucky to have several in my family, so I would hang out in different kitchens and pay close attention to see how things are done. I learned most of what I know today by watching my mother and other female relatives. You can do the same.
What if you don't know any great cooks? Well, I suggest you find a good restaurant that has an open kitchen and ask for a seat where you can see what is going on. It's amazing how much you will pick up just by watching. You can also take a cooking class- it doesn't have to be a fancy one. Call your local college to see if they have a culinary department to see if they offer any affordable courses. Surely the instructor will be an experienced cook and you will learn some valuable techniques.
It doesn't take long to learn how to cook. I have met people that never cooked in their lives, lost their jobs and became chefs! Like any art or skill, once you learn the basics, you will improve and grow in your own time. Hope this advice helps and as always, thank you for reading!
C. De Melo
Author & Artist