In addition to just posting recipes for you all to try out, I’d like to write about food and eating as an experience or hobby. I don’t want this blog to be about lifestyle choices – I just want people to enjoy making real food. Part of making real food is mastering the skills needed to prepare it, whether you’re following a recipe or trying to make something using the almost-past-their-sell-by contents of your fridge. I’ve found that the more I explore food as a pastime rather than just something to keep my heart beating, the greater my desire to get better at it becomes. Below I have compiled a (short!) list of skills that I think are key to becoming a good cook.
I hope you enjoy this article, and I’d love to get some feedback from you!
- Get confident trying new foods
People tend to fall into two categories when it comes to food: 1) the really adventurous who will try absolutely anything, and 2) the really unadventurous who are quite happy eating the limited selection of food they know that they enjoy. It is perfectly ok regardless of which category you fall into; if you’re happy then what’s the problem? However, if you fall into category two with the exception that you’re not happy, then you need to start broadening your horizons when it comes to which foods you eat as this will make you braver when it comes to trying new recipes and inventing new combinations.
Trying new foods can be scary, especially if you cannot remember when you last tried something for the first time. Therefore, my top tip would be to start small. For example, if you don’t eat any fish at all, you probably don’t want to start with anything with a really strong fishy taste. You’re not used to this taste, it’ll be very different to what you’re used to. Instead, start with a fish with a very mild taste such as cod. In addition, take your time looking for recipes that sound appealing to you. If you dislike dishes using lots of herbs, cod in a herb crust is unlikely to do much to ignite your love of fish. Instead, look for a recipe that includes other foods that you know you like.
My final suggestion on this point is when you first start trying new foods, you may prefer to do so in your own home. This way, if you really do dislike something, you can leave it without having to worry about offending the chef, or wasting money on a dish you haven’t eaten. Instead, you can just put it in the bin/give it to the dog/let your partner eat it, and give yourself a big pat on the back for being brave and trying it. I can guarantee that you won’t like everything you try, but that’s ok. The important thing is that you’re trying new foods and you will discover things that you do enjoy. You just have to persevere!
- Take the time to master basic food preparation skills
Do you know how to chop an onion? Make a white sauce? Separate an egg? If you read a recipe and it asks for a skill that you’re not sure how to go about starting, take the time to look it up. I cannot think of anything off the top of my head that someone won’t have posted a tutorial article or video on. YouTube is a fantastic resource for just this sort of thing, and it’s free so use it! Don’t start off huge, if you’ve never held a piping bag before, start with trying to ice a few cupcakes or even a plate before moving onto a three tier wedding cake requiring an army of piping nozzles and techniques. Once you have mastered the basics, you can build on them. Remember the old cliche – Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was any great chefs’ repertoire of skills. Start small and dream big, remembering all the time that practice makes perfect.
I am always wary of recipes that call for lots of foods and equipment that I’ve never used or own. This is not because I don’t like trying new things but because if the recipe is asking for lots of new things, then it is likely to be too complicated for me. Instead, I try to identify the individual new skills it requires and find recipes that ask for each of these skills one at a time. This way, I am still learning the new skills, but in a way that is manageable and not overwhelming for me.
- Read about food
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a recipe in the back of a magazine or the autobiography of a Michelin starred chef, the more you read, the broader your knowledge on food will be. As we increase our knowledge on food, we increase our chances of discovering new combinations that are tantalising on our taste buds because we become more aware of which flavours are likely to pair well together. The same idea can be applied to matching food and drink together. Even if you are not a wine drinker, there are still soft drinks that compliment certain foods better than others. I can remember being about eight years old in France on holiday with my family, and there being some confusion when I ordered mint choc chip ice cream and the waiter brought me chocolate ice cream covered in the most luminous green mint sauce you can imagine. I’d ordered a diet coke and the combination of the coke, chocolate and mint was almost vomit worthy. I now know that a glass of water or even a tonic water would have made the whole thing much more bearable, as it was merely the combination that was unpalatable. By taking the time to learn about flavour combinations, we can create not only dishes that excite us, but dining experiences that incorporate food and drink together.
It’s also good to keep up with new ideas about food preparation, and novel research into the benefits of certain food. Indeed, we must be careful to gather our information from reliable sources, especially when it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of foods, but it is wise to investigate foods with known benefits to us e.g. regarding high cholesterol. I would always recommend trying to find information through a government-related source, as these are usually the most unbiased with regards to what facts they choose to include and omit from the article.