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The 'tipping point' or how many times did you learn to cook?

I'll admit to cooking for years. Yet, as I reflect on earlier meals and menus, I realize that the early attempts were good but not great - and I thought my self an excellent cook then. There seems to be tipping points when my food reached a different level:

Grade school - When I learned that there were other foods besides steak and rice - and I could make them myself
High School - The first trip to Europe and the exposure to different flavors and thoughtful food prepared with quality ingredients
Marriage - The rhythmic production of meals and it's repetition made me a less self-conscious cook and discovery that simple is great
A stint in Italy - The awareness of the relationship between culture and food - the reasons food tastes different in different countries, regions or towns - and to respect that
Vegetarianism - This will sound strange to most -the drive for flavor and texture in dishes made me a better overall cook - even for meat

What were your tipping points and for what new catalyst should I search?

(If this has been done before, please let me know and I'll pull it.)

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  1. I know what you're talking about. I've been cooking for 33 years. Started out simple, then grew more curious about food. Collected cookbooks, started experimenting. When I got married, I loved to entertain and prepare beautiful, sometimes almost exotic foods. I went through every cuisine I could think of that we liked, and felt like I had conquered them to our satisfaction. I am known as an excellent cook, and my career was spent in Food and Beverage, front and back management. I have trained cooks who turned out to be so talented and good. Now....I'm more relaxed and confident than ever. I still collect cookbooks (my husband wonders if one can have too many..) and am curious as ever. I seek out the finest ingredients I can find. I can't pinpoint a tipping point (sorry..) - I think it was probably 8 or 9 years ago when I decided to cook to please and not impress.
    Interesting: I may get back to you on this!

    1. I grew up on my Mom's kitchen counter so I have always had a bug when it came to cooking, even if it was simplistic in approach when younger. As an adult I have worked in and around the world of fine dining and the businesses that support restaurants. These experiences gave me the drive to cook at higher technical levels while honing skills. The "tipping point" for me is my desire to eat VERY well on a very limited budget while raising a family. This in itself has made me really respect the simple complexities of rustic Italian cooking, and Thai cuisine while chasing the "dragon" of the various styles of Indian and Asian cuisines as well. It is a journey that my wife and I love going on despite the fact that sometimes the kids are less enthused but are willing to try.

      1. My mother was a good cook but had a very limited repertoire thanks to my father's limited gastronomical parameters (i.e., meat&potatoes, no "ini" food). She enjoyed watching Julia Child so I picked up pointers from the PBS cooking shows - first and foremost Julia, but also Jacques, Jeff, and Justin....never realized the pattern before!

        1. The tipping point for me was when I somehow came to understand that I have an unerring memory for flavors, and that I should pay attention to how these things are arrived at and trust myself to get there. Very scary, given that I started out panicking whenever the water was boiling and my box of frozen peas wasn't open yet! But I learned to relax and enjoy the process, and to trust both my instincts and my body of acquired knowledge. Since then it's been quite a few pieces of cake!

          1. My 'tipping points' tend to be when I get curious about new cuisines -- through people I meet, places I go, foods I've tried or want to try. I'm a newbie cook, but here are mine so far:

            - Learning how to make pasta when I was 10, since mom would put the pasta in a pot of (cold) water, turn on the stove, and boil away until she remembered to check on it (at least 30 minutes later). Am now the designated pasta maker.

            - Declaring microwaved Bagel Bites too chewy, and opting for the toaster oven instead -- simple things amazed us in college...

            - Since Italian was the most easily accepted in my house, it was the first non-Chinese food I learned to cook. In the beginning, it was fake Italian -- basically making clean-out-the-fridge fried rice, but subbing in pasta for the rice. I've since learned a few real Italian dishes, but the bar is set pretty low at home. My parents still love Sbarro and Olive Garden.

            - Jewish cooking from an old boyfriend's non-Jewish dad (he made latkes better than the (Jewish) mom).

            - Spanish cooking from my host mom in Madrid, who had never hosted a Chinese student before and wanted all the recipes -- we did a lot of trading. I'd spend nearly every afternoon during the week in the kitchen with her, 'helping' (learning to) prep a proper Spanish lunch.

            - While in Spain, I traveled to Morocco with an ex-Peace Corps grad student and met his old host family. The women of the family taught me how to roll couscous by hand -- none of that boxed quick-cooking nonsense. Since women are traditionally sequestered to kitchen/house duties there, I spent most of my time in the kitchen with them -- endless amounts of couscous, hot and cold salads, tagines, and a really great 'pancake' they would make for breakfast (but thicker, denser, and more savory -- but, not quite like an arepa).

            - A slight foray into Korean food, when I had a particularly strong craving for those tofu casserole-like soups and the spicy cucumber pickles I had as banchan once. No idea what these are actually called -- sorry.

            - My first friend in college was Bosnian; her mom gave me the recipes I always asked for -- burek, sarma, ajvar -- and her dad would ship us 'care packages' consisting solely of his homemade suho meso.

            - After many years of campaigning for a 'real American Thanksgiving meal,' mom acquiesced -- and designated me as the one who would have to cook the entire meal. First time I ever attempted gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, that weird sweet potato/marshmallow combination, pie...and, the first time I ever roasted anything in the oven.

            - The SO is half Puerto Rican, so I've really gotten into Puerto Rican cooking -- also does wonders for the grad student budget -- but he works in sports admin (football ops) and went to school in the South. So, lots of sports-watching food (dips, guac, chile con queso, wings) and, finally, all the Americana-type food I grew up without! Mac 'n cheese, coleslaw, country fried steak, biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and so on. My arteries will never be the same.

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            1. re: theannerska

              My husband is Bosnian and Sujo Meso was a revelation to say the least! There was a Bosnian cafe where I could buy it in Los Angeles, but I haven't found a source for it here in Portland OR yet.