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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

What Makes A Good Cook?

A recent entry from Craigslist Food Forum with names removed to protect the identity of the posters:

What makes a good cook?
. . . passion
. . . Intuition
. . . A curious nature...
. . . restraint
. . . sensuality, creativity, good hands....
. . . An acute sense of taste and smell
. . . an open mind for new possibilities, but also a good memory and analytical skills for accumulating knowledge of what works well
. . . Obviously, one of those Eggstractor™ thingys
. . . love for it and experience
. . . good cookbooks
. . . The abilty to eat everything they cook
. . . Innate interest in/love of/passion for food
. . . a desire to please
. . . Ability to plan ahead..
. . . all that and knowing how to shop
. . . Genes and some good pots
. . . . . . lol i thought you said "and some good pot"!

The wonderful thing about cooking is, it's pretty much accessible to anyone who wants to give it a go, unlike say, race car driving. But what makes a GOOD cook? That's a different matter. Here's my take on the top three things that make a good cook:

1. Technique
Techniques can be self-taught or taught in a school or best of all by a mentor. Somewhere along the line most good cooks have observed someone else cooking and learned from them. It might be their parents, another cook or chef, even a chef on TV. Skills are crucial. If you can't peel and cut an onion, you can't be a good cook. One master of technique is Jacques Pepin. He has written several books on the subject but the easiest one to get your hands on is "Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques". Somehow it just helps to see how to do something right the first time.

2. An intimate understanding of food
Anyone, well almost anyone, can follow a recipe, but understanding what works and what doesn't is something that you can only learn from experience. People who grow up eating great food have an advantage, but an appreciation can come over time--and by eating lots of good meals. While what tastes good to me may not be what tastes good to you, good cooking is never entirely subjective. We have all had meals we know are good. Getting to know food also means getting to know ingredients and the "Slow Food World Presidia" is growing into an international resource for outstanding ingredients and food products.

3. Desire
A desire to please others through the culinary arts can lead to becoming a good and possibly great, cook. It is possible to be a good cook and merely replicate dishes, but great cooks innovate and push the boundaries of cooking using everything they can. Cooking goes from good to great when it is inspired. Like an artist is driven to create art, a good cook is driven to create wonderful meals. That desire comes from within.

If you want to be a good cook, find someone to learn from, eat as many good meals as you can learning about food along the way and be inspired to cook your very best.