Many times you may hear someone say, “I have a great recipe for. . .”. This isn’t a bad thing. There are lots of great recipes for different dishes and it is good to see how others go about it. I still look for how others like to make different dishes because it gives me a new perspective. Cooking is versatile.
Techniques are the different approaches to applying the fundamentals of cooking. I could provide information based on specific recipes on my site, but then I would be another recipe website like the food network or Epicurus. If you know a good recipe, you have a good dish. If you know a good technique, you know countless recipes.
Being the Best at the Basics
When I was learning how to be a good chef, I worked under great chefs who have had long and successful careers. They had tons of knowledge to share. One particular chef told me something that his mentoring chef told him. “Be the best at the basics.” You can try to keep up with the latest trends in the culinary world. The dishes you make can have cutting edge composition. Bring out new flavors by introducing exotic fruits or proteins that the customers aren’t familiar with but would be intrigued enough to trying something new. The success of the end result, no matter what you aim to do, will directly be affected by the basics. Meaning that if you overcook the fish or don’t properly clean that new fruit, it doesn’t matter how pretty the plate looks, it won’t be good.
Reading the recipe is easier than
reading a book on how to cook
Yes it is. The recipe has a handful of ingredients that you add to your shopping list. Then you can follow easy instructions on how the ingredients are to be cut, cleaned, and cooked. Voila! Dinner is served and everyone is impressed.
This works as long as you do exactly as instructed and as long as the instructions are in good detail. But what if you don’t have the exact pan the recipe calls for? What if your oven’s temperature varies a little on the standard that the recipe author used? What if the fish that your grocer had doesn’t match the exact size of the fish from the recipe?
If you know the proper techniques on baking/roasting/sautéing/preparing, you can overcome any obstacles you face and can even improvise. You will know how to make sure that Prime Rib in the oven is cooked properly even though your oven doesn’t heat up like that Viking range you saw in the latest Bon Appetite advertisement.
The techniques you learn will greatly help you in everything you do in the kitchen. Even when you find a recipe you like, you will be able to execute that recipe with more confidence and a better know-how in order to make the end result the best it can be.
You can learn techniques
without going to culinary school.
Don’t get me wrong, culinary schools are around because they do an excellent job teaching what you need to know to be a chef. They provide internships where you can get a foot in the door of places you may have to beg to get into otherwise. If professional cooking is what you want to do this is a good option. The only thing I will say is that nothing will prepare you for what it is like to work in a fast paced real world kitchen. You can learn to ride a bike. Can you race that bike in this summer’s X Games?
The techniques I will teach you are going to give you an idea of what the basics are and how they should be put into practice. I want you to be able to cook like chef whether you are cooking as a hobby or just starting your career as a professional chef.
Recipes for Inspiration
When I was running the kitchens throughout my career, I never stopped working after turning out the lights. Many times I came home and booted up my computer just to spend another couple of hours searching for recipes as source of inspiration.
I would go to other restaurant pages to see what those chefs were doing. If I liked something, I would note what ingredients they used and think about the different ways I could use them in my kitchen. I didn’t just take the recipes and use them as is. Because I knew the basics on how to cook and had the fundamental techniques to make anything, I could use their recipes to inspire my own creations.
Say I find a recipe by another chef for a fish that has a sauce made with mango and passion fruit. I like the idea of putting tropical flavors with a fish. I use the techniques I know to put together a dish that uses pineapple and mango alongside a fish like mahi-mahi. A good seasoning technique gets a good flavor to better complement the fish and the tropical fruit. A good technique on cooking the fish will make a good texture when done. I won’t poach the fish because I could lose the seasoning so I sear it instead. I don’t want to make a sauce because the fish is soft and I want something more solid to go with it. I take the tropical fruit and make it a salsa. I combined my techniques to create a recipe of my own from a few components of another.
Techniques add POWER to using Recipes
No matter how many recipes you know, you will have to use proper techniques to actually make them. So if you know the techniques, you can make the recipes that you use really shine. Once you have all the basics down and you can safely say that you are the “Best at the Basics”, you can begin to create your own variations of any recipes that you find.
Eventually you will master the basic techniques in cooking. This is the first steps in learning to cook like a chef. You will then find yourself looking at the ingredients to a recipe and inherently knowing what steps to take to make that dish without ever reading the instructions. This is something that I do quite often. When I’m looking for inspiration from recipes, I will be mostly just looking to see what ingredients other chefs are using these days. A very powerful book to use for coming up with your own creations is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. This book is priceless. It lists just about every food and ingredient you can think of and puts a list of anything that goes with that particular food. I have come up with some great ideas just by using this book so definitely check it out.