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Path to take to being a very good Cook at home

Hi guys.

I must say that this site is EXTEREMELY addictive!!

And I have caught a sudden and extereme fascination with wanting to make my own cheese, bake my own bread,s pastries, cakes, cookies, pies, desserts, etc.Making my own lunchmeat/ coldcuts/ deli meats-- and just being a GREAT GREAT cooker who can make food superior to that of fast food and restaurant food.

I am not looking to cook professionally or hold a job as a chef or have a cooking degree, I just want to be a GREAT GREAT cook at home.

I have heard from others that culinary school is not needed for one who wishes to take this path. But restaurant/bakery experience is needed.

and I am wondering "Why"? How could the experience of working in a kitchen under a chef contribute more to your cooking expertise rather than cooking in an everyday kitchen under yourself?

Is there a way that one could learn how to be a great cook/chef without having to work in a restaurant or something? I think I would just HATE having to work in fast food or restaurant places, and dealing with the conditions they deal with.

If anyone could help-- it would be greatly appreciated... thanks a BUNCH, guys!

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  1. While I think that having worked in restaurant kitchens certainly helped me to be a good home cook, I don't think it is required. I would just find a couple of cook books that you really like and work with a couple of recipes until you master the techniques required for those recipes. After you master the techniques you are able to develop your own recipes and that is where the real fun begins.

    1. You can definitely be a good home cook without restaurant experience. In fact, a lot of restaurants have conditions that home cooks generally don't have like high BTU stoves. So if one is a restaurant cook, they will probably have to do some adjusting at home like my father-in-law has to do when he cooks at home. And you probably won't learn too much working at a fast food restaurant except learning to take the frozen french fries out of the deep-fryer when the bell goes off.

      I think the reason why some may say that working in a restaurant is helpful is repetition. The more you do something, the better you get at it. Home cooks generally don't cook in volume as restaurants do. So unless you've been cooking for years and years or have the self-discipline to practice your brunoise skills for hours at a time, your skills will probably be not as honed as somebody who does this 12 hours a day, six days a week for years. But the more you do something the better you will become at it. Read books (recipe books, technique books), read Chowhound's Home Cooking board, read cooking blogs, watch cooking shows, watch cooking demonstrations on youtube -- it will come. If you feel it's necessary you can even take a weekend class.

      1. You do not have to work in a restaurant or any commercial food service to become a very good home cook.
        You will however be a much better home cook if you learn basic skills properly from the very beginning.
        Cooking like any other art or craft has a vocabulary and basic techniques that practitioners build upon as they become more accomplished.
        You can't follow directions in recipes if you don't understand the vocabulary.
        You can't do what the directions tell you to do if you haven't learned the basic skills.

        The quickest and easiest way to accomplish your goal is to take a basic cooking course at a good cooking school for non-professionals.
        Places like Sur la Table for instance offer classes in basic knife skills which they integrate with simple menus that will get you on your way.
        A basic pastry class would teach you how to make pie crusts of several types from which you can make sweet and savory dishes.
        A bread making class would include not only bread but pizza crusts and other similar yeast-based baked goods.
        Once you learn a few of the building blocks of cooking skills, you will be able to use cookbooks to expand your repertoire of foods that you are able to produce.

        It's a lot easier to take some fundamental classes - and a lot more fun too - than to struggle along on your own. Another advantage is that you learn correctly from the very beginning and won't have to un-learn incorrect technique at a later time.
        You will get a great running start and probably make some great friends who share your interest in food.

        It's great that classes are available now. It wasn't so easy decades ago when so many of us had to use Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a home study course and watch her TV show to learn how to cook. That's still a pretty good idea, but cooking classes may be just what you want.

        1. About 35 years ago, I worked in a couple of kitchens. I've had a career outside of food since then. I've become a very good home cook over the last 15 or so years, and I have to say that my restaurant experience had little to do with my more recent success. My mother was always a great cook, and I learned more from her, in terms of techniques and ingredients, than I ever learned in the professional kitchens. I started out washing dishes and ended up doing some prep work and assisting on the line. I did have some instruction, especially regarding knife skills, but never from the chef - he was much too busy to bother with me. There's no guarantee that working in a kitchen will get you any decent instruction. Mise en Place (preparing the ingredients you need ahead of the actual cooking) still stays with me. But those are easy to learn - the knife skills come mainly with practice. Timing - knowing how to tell when things are done - smelling, listening, generally sensing, all come with experience. Sometime around the 10th time you grill a 2" thick strip steak, you'll know when it's medium rare from pushing it and watching it spring back. From then on, you'll always have that touch.

          Get books and DVD's that teach you what the various methods of cooking are - boiling, broiling, braising, grilling, roasting, what the basic cuts of meat are from all your critters, what the basic prep methods are. You can't go wrong with Julia Child - The Way To Cook is very good at explaining why as well as what. You can still buy her old shows on DVD.

          Working in a real restaurant kitchen could definitely help, but it would take time. Fast food teaches you nothing with regard to cooking. My oldest son used his Burger King experience to get his foot in the door at a decent restaurant where he ended up being a line cook on a couple of different stations, so it isn't necessarily entirely useless. But like I said - it all takes time. I don't think it's worth it, and I think most people could learn more, quicker, from following Julia Child's instructions.

          1 Reply
          1. re: applehome

            Must agree with Apple--I learned a lot of my cooking skills from Julia--both from tv and from cookbooks. Could not live without The Way to Cook.

          2. Hey Achilles,

            Welcome to foodie fun!

            I think that the first four posters are so helpful. One of the first good points is from JPC -- find a few good books that YOU love. I have found that books I adore sometimes do not work for my mother. Julie Sahni for some reason works fine for me, but not for her, where Madhur Jaffrey tends to work for both of us, once we cut the salt in half. But if you are into Indian cuisine, both authors have books that can give you good guidance.

            If you are in NYC, you can go in person to Kitchen Art and Letters, and talk to the owner Nach or manager Matt. They are also very helpful over the phone -- they may need to make a phone date with you so they can devote time to your questions, but I have spent years visiting them, and their knowledge and quiet joy of food and all things liquid is contagious. They also do free book searches (unlike most stores) if you find a raggedy book you need to find with a real binding...

            I have taken a few courses, but along the lines of a weekend knife course (most important thing I learned there was to hone my knives every time. Considering the cost of knives and pro sharpening, that weekend has paid for itself!) My fun foodie joy has been taking a cooking course or two in Thailand -- I was very lucky. But any course, no matter where, has been a short one to stoke my interest and give the basics. MakingSense is right about the basic classes. And classes are easier than videos in the beginning if the teacher is nice.

            I'll never forget my mother saying how she loved watching Child on tv because she was a hoot, but that she took five pages to explain how to boil water and it was just too much. So that was the wrong book for her for sure.

            As Miss Needle said, repetition is indeed a good thing depending on what you wish to create. I am not interested in baking, so I have avoided the perfecting of making things rise in my personal oven. But I know that repetition is important depending on what you are ultimately hoping to make, if precision is required (mirepoix anyone?). Just always have a comfort backup, so if it doesn't work out, you still have a yummy to sit with munch and smile.

            I bet your love of food could be killed by a stint in the food industry -- mine was for a while, and my experiences were brief! I got a full degree in fashion design, and it took me years to be able to separate myself from the bad of the rag trade and love good design again. Of course I am now addicted to Project Runway and Top Chef, so time does heal all sorts of wounds :-)

            Depending on how you like to cook, you can take the slow food route, which is my way, as I am just slow. I turn on the radio or tv, and commune with whatever it is on my cutting board. After honing those darn knives, of course. It is just all about the joy, which is why you like this website. No matter how you cook and learn more, it is correct. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Food is life and joy and in these often difficult times, a simple lovely lasagne (hey, that was my dinner!) will bring goodness to our little corner.