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... for Becoming a Great Cook

Inspired by 11-year old Jazmine, who intends to be a chef, I put on my thinking cap and came up with some rules to help one become a chef... or simply a great cook!

  1. Keep a ring binder with recipes, notes, menus and ideas.   Save recipes you have tested on file, using index cards, a rolodex or a good computer program.  Keep your recipes, menus and notes organized.
  2. Take notes as you cook, so you can constantly improve or vary recipes you prepare.  Later on you won't remember exactly what you changed!
  3. Watch other people cook.  If you have a great dish at someone's home, ask if they would be willing to invite you over so you could watch them make it next time (do kitchen cleanup while you're watching, please!).   Watch cooking shows on TV.  Study the techniques and tips, and learn the presentations.
  4. Soak up everything you can find about food.  Eat the widest variety of food you can, whether from friends, relatives and neighbors,  restaurants or take-out.  Try to analyze the ingredients.  Scour the internet for ideas, recipes and  techniques.  Read biographies of chefs, histories of food and cookbooks.
  5. Ask for opinions when people eat your food.  Ask pointed questions as many people will be hesitant to criticize (and of course a few will find fault with anything).   Analyze why they did or did not like an item, but NEVER take it personally, as everybody's taste differs.   (And remember, everybody has spectacular flops:  see New Recipes & Nasty Food.)
  6. Learn about nutrition.  Healthy eating is the wave of the future.  You don't have any intention of being a "fast food" chef anyway, right?   So you need to know about a healthy diet.
  7. Study enough science so you can understand the factors that affect storage and preparation of meat, fish and produce, the effects of steam, dry heat, searing and other cooking techniques, and the chemical reactions that make things rise, ferment, thicken, congeal, and so on.   
  8. Learn plenty of math so you can measure accurately, increase or cut recipes, or plan ordering and purchasing of food within a given budget.
  9. Learn all about seasonings, their history, uses and taste.  Collect dried spices and herbs (buy the smallest quantities, as fresh is best) and try them in different ways.  Store away from heat and light to conserve the richest flavor.
  10. Start now to collect the tools of your trade.  Buy high quality, keep them in good condition, and don't leave them in someone else's kitchen to be misused and abused!   They're your tools and an investment in your future!

Last of all, remember the tourist, lost in New York City, who asked a man carrying a violin case, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"   The musician answered, "Practice, practice, practice!"
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