Thursday, May 26, 2011

Becoming a better Cook

Someone recently told me that she read my blog because she wants to improve her cooking skills. While that is a huge compliment, I thought about this and realized her statement probably applies to just about any of us. Anyone to whom the responsibility of preparing meals for their family has fallen, or who's voluntarily chosen to do the cooking. I mean, don't we all want to be better cooks, no matter what our experience level is?

But how do we improve our skills in the kitchen? I believe it's just a matter of practice. Though it's been said that "practice makes perfect", I disagree. Practice does not make perfect. Here I can't help but think of Julia Child. Even if you're not old enough to remember her TV show, you may have seen reruns or clips of it in recent years, where she flips an omelet in her saute pan and instead of it landing back nicely in the pan it partially lands on the stovetop. She handled it so gracefully, scooping it up and putting it back in the pan to finish it, telling us that no one needs to know. So, even Julia Child wasn't perfect, and that's ok. Practice means just that: practice. And with repeated practice, one learns and improves. You can read as many cookbooks and cooking magazines and websites as you like, but you will not become a better cook unless you get your hands dirty.

Now if you're really green in the kitchen, taking a multi-week cooking class is a great way to learn a vaariety of skills in a fun setting. I did this many years ago at a place called "Home Chef". It was part cooking school, part gourmet foodie store. It was a 12-week, hands-on class with about 10 other people. I found a place in Orange County that offers something similar (although I paid a LOT less back then at Home Chef!). The Laguna Culinary Arts Center in Laguna Beach. They also offer one time classes in case you don't want to do the series.

But really, the key to learning and improving is to not get into what I call a "cooking rut": cooking the same things over and over. That's not only boring, but it won't help you improve. Expand your culinary horizons and try something new every week. Say you're not a baker and making a cake intimidates you (that's me). Get out of your comfort zone and make the thing you fear. Go on and bake that cake! What if grilling scares you because you always burn things, or you've always wanted to make a sauce but don't know how? What if you've never made your own mayonnaise before or you don't know how to roast a chicken? Try it. Put it on next week's menu, search for a recipe and do a little homework on the how-to's if you need to, gather the ingredients for it next time you're at the market.

I think the key is to have an open mind and a desire to explore and be adventurous. By trying new dishes, new techniques, new ingredients, we improve our cooking skills and build confidence. And I'm certain your friends and family will be willing guinea pigs in your quest to be a better cook.

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