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Things That Call Into Question A Cook's Credibility...

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Chemicalkinetics' thread about how a chef's choice of unconventional equipment might prejudice a person against his cooking ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/789618 ) got me thinking about what would, rightly or wrongly, prejudice me against a person's cooking ability.

I was reminded of a conversation at a party years ago with a woman sporting acrylic nails who told me she was attending culinary school. As soon as I saw those acrylics, my mind called *bullshit*. Not only do I not believe that any culinary school worth its salt would allow a student to attend classes sporting long/fake nails. I also think that (sanitary issues aside), there is a sort of preciousness to the maintenance of those nails that might very well keep a person from becoming a GREAT cook. (This betrays my feeling that it takes a certain assertiveness, aggressiveness and ballsy-ness which in many ways contradict such preciousness to become a truly GREAT cook.

)

This is not to say that there aren't some really good cooks out there who produce delicious food on a consistent basis sporting the nails. It is to say that seeing them creates a prejudice in my mind about the cook's capacity for greatness.

What makes you doubt a person's ability to create great meals *before they start cooking?

  1. I always worry when the skinny person says "I'll bring/make dessert."

    43 Replies
    1. re: yayadave

      Someone who thinks that the only way to achieve a great dish is to use the most expensive,hard to find,exotic ingredients known to mankind.Show me someone who can turn a cheap cut of meat or some humble vegetables or grains in to a delicious and satisfying meal.and I'll show you a great cook. :-D

      1. re: petek

        "Show me someone who can turn a cheap cut of meat or some humble vegetables or grains in to a delicious and satisfying meal.and I'll show you a great cook. :-D"

        I think that's the thing that most distinguishes Italian and French cooks. They just use what they have. And that's the thing that most defeats cooks in the US who try the hardest to cook "authentic" Italian. They get locked into one "authentic Italian" way to cook a dish.

        1. re: yayadave

          I would also add Asian,Latin American and most other European cooks where expensive meats and produce were not an option.Using what they had was the only option,especially my parents generation(and the ones before them).

          1. re: petek

            I agree with emphasizing doing great with what ya got is a trait/ability not peculiar to any region. it's a universal.

          2. re: yayadave

            Agree 100%. But remember there have been great American cooks too.

            1. re: yayadave

              True, but there's a big "but" in this argument. The poorest Italian cooks indeed used what they had, but in many cases the traditional "cucina povera" meant vegetable soups made with wild greens just pulled out of the ground and bits of pork from a hog raised lovingly on acorns or flour-and-water pasta made with skilled loving hands five minutes before being tossed in the broth. Today there are lots of good reasons to replace pork fat with extra-virgin olive oil, and wild field greens are a luxury item. And who wants to eat organ meats today that haven't come from a reliable butcher? To come close to the tastes of the poor folks' food of yesteryear, you can't just go to your discount supermarket today.

              1. re: mbfant

                mbf: just depends where one lives. wild field greens? crap that reminds me I need to look before I mow the road-visible areas tomorrow. organ meat? gotta call Jim next time he's slaughtering. sorry if I sound like a snot, but we don't ALL rely on the supermarket alone.

                1. re: hill food

                  No we certainly don't, but those of us who don't (a) risk being called "snots", (b) have to spend real money for what was traditionally cheap or free. I posted in response to the statement that a great cook can do great things with cheap ingredients. Today's cheap ingredients are found at the supermarket for many people. I see wild rughetta where I live (Rome), but don't pick it since it was probably visited by feral cats first. I'm having lunch at the restaurant Checchino dal 1887, a perfect example of what I'm talking about: the unreconstructed urban poor-folk's food of a hundred years ago, which the present owners' great-great-great grandparents' served in the same place, is today served in an upscale restaurant. We don't all have the luxury of a Jim or a weed-lined road.

                  1. re: mbfant

                    please don't let my flippant remarks cause offense. in Rome I WOULD be more comfy with organ meat than I am here in the central US (unless I know the source) I appreciate what you are saying, it just sort of sounded like the post originated from someone in a large US city with only hypermarts to shop (as in the usual shrink-wrapped choices). but I will say - ehh the cats of Rome? plenty, but I'd just bathe the greens three times beforehand. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant and on what piazza I had the meal you're describing (it was late and night in stumbling distance from P. Navona).

                    1. re: mbfant

                      Great post. Also, enjoy Checchino. It's been in my dreams since I got to eat there last year. : )
                      JeremyEG
                      HomeCookLocavore.com

                1. re: petek

                  Yep, that's why most of the recipes in the Silver Palate cookbooks suck!

                  1. re: petek

                    Reminds me of that Roz Chast cartoon where the woman is trying to make a recipe and has to buy a Quasenbo pan.

                      1. re: petek

                        It's true that a quality of a great cook is to be inventive, creative, and versatile enough to transform simple ingredients into great food. However, I think there is also something to be said for using the best quality of ingredients, which may at times be expensive and/or hard to find. There are also certain things that fall into the expensive/hard to find category that make your vision of a certain dish or flavor combination work. Should you put Saffron in everything? Of course not, but it's pretty hard to make paella without it. Is cherimoya a kitchen essential? No, but it may be the most delicious fruit in the world. There is a definitely a balance between the esoteric and the classical, and great cooks can tread that line.

                        1. re: SonOfAllston

                          Well said, SOA. I do think there is a bit of a backlash to the "bestest", "freshest" thing, not because people don't agree that high quality ingredients make for a better outcome than inferior ones (all other things being equal), but because great ingredients, if anything, make a cook's job easier.

                          Sometimes it's budgetary limitations that keep a person from using high quality ingredients (and the cost of some so-called high quality ingredients is just inflated with idiot tax), but I agree that the willingness and ability to incorporate them (and well) when the opportunity presents itself, is also a trait of a great cook.

                        2. re: yayadave

                          i disagree! just because a skinny person might not eat a lot, it doesn't mean that they don't enjoy delicious, savory, or rich desserts too. we just might have a few less bites!

                          1. re: jamieeats

                            when i graduated college i weighed 130 pounds. my apple pie then was just as good as my apple pie now that i weigh roughly double that. if my apple pie skills had grown with my weight, i'd probably open a shop and put Marie Calendar's out of business.

                          2. re: yayadave

                            Oh, no! You don't have to worry about my desserts. I'm skinny and make fabulous pies and cakes with normal amounts of butter, sugar and all the good stuff. Yikes!

                            But I worry when a really obese person says the same thing. I just assume they eat indiscriminately because they have no palate, so I guess we're both biased!

                            1. re: yayadave

                              i wish people would get over this universal distrust of skinny cooks & bakers. i may not *look* like i eat much, but i'll prepare you a meal - dessert included - that'll make you swoon.

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                I totally agree, Isolda! It is frustrating. One of the ways I stay thin is to channel my love of food into creating it for others instead of eating it myself. I taste as I go and sample what I cook but by the time I am done, I don't feel like eating a lot myself.

                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                  Yes, it really bothers me when people hate-on skinny bakers. I did a cupcake crawl in Chicago and one of the owners stated--in conversation--she would never try anything I made because I am skinny. Not only was this rude but very unprofessional. Furthermore, it really bothers me that her bakery gets a lot of PR and is 'well-respected' because I felt it was unprofessional to treat a customer this way--especially when she did not know me.

                                  Also, I hate when people are rude about healthy (whole wheat, no-sugar), vegan, or vegetarian dishes. If they don't want to try it, fine... but you can just say "No Thank you" to an offer instead of providing ancillary comments.

                                2. re: yayadave

                                  Great thread, great answers.

                                  I know too many excellent thin chefs to assume that thin folks can't cook, but when they've made it their profession, I do have a tendency to wonder if there's a personal control issue there. Which, granted, is both irrelevant and none of my business. And as a food writer with a history of eating disorders, I realize I tend to project. On the other hand, I've come across enough people in the food industry with similar backgrounds that I'm willing to suggest it's a Thing (see: Bruni's memoir).

                                  1. re: yayadave

                                    Nah, I agree. I knowe exactly ONE good skinny cook. She is really bloody something though. When she taught me to make her lasagne, first step was make the pasta sheets. I knew we were on a winner there.

                                    1. re: yayadave

                                      Are we talking about cooks or chefs (i.e. casual vs. professional). A chef who is really overweight or out of shape implies to me a lack of the discipline needed to execute successfully in a kitchen. If you look at very successful chefs, few of them are "big". The pace in the kitchen requires a high degree of physical fitness and as a cook, being around food and food smells that much totally deflates my appetite. Also, kitchens tend to attract people who thrive on intensity and pushing their limits, and a lot of cooks and chefs that I know take that outside of the kitchen in terms of physical exercise that allows them to exhibit those same qualities.

                                      1. re: SonOfAllston

                                        Mario Battali and Paul Prudhomme spring to mind fairly quickly -- Mario's just a big bear of a guy, but Paul (last photo I saw) was bordering on the morbidly obese...and neither of them seem to be suffering any pay cuts.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Prudhomme needs a wheelchair to get around. I would say that's some form of suffering.

                                          1. re: escondido123

                                            I said "doesn't seem to be suffering any pay cuts" -- I purposely avoided any conjecture as to physical ability or comfort.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              Of course there are exceptions to every rule: Tony Montuano and David Burke re others that spring to mind. I was thinking less of really old chefs and more of younger cooks and chefs. Having worked in a wide variety and number of kitchens, overweight, and certainly morbidly obese, cooks and chefs are few and far between, even for the shear fact that they take up too much space on the lines and kitchens tend to be pretty tight fits.

                                          2. re: sunshine842

                                            I knew somebody who was a friend of Paul Prudhomme, this was over twenty years ago. Chef Paul had (has) a bad hip but he wasn't a candidate for surgery due to his weight. He told my friend that he had separate sets of four-hundred, five-hundred, and six hundred pound clothes, so his weight has been an issue for a long time. Doesn't make him any more or less a good cook or good person. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

                                          3. re: SonOfAllston

                                            "A chef who is really overweight or out of shape implies to me a lack of the discipline needed to execute successfully in a kitchen."

                                            I will disagree, ones appearance does not equate to their abilities. Also I guess its debatable as to what "over weight" means to you but lets say 30lbs or more over weight would be constituted as out of shape at least. Now I cook as a hobby but my career is in the clinical medical laboratory where multitasking, time management, technical skill is key, and not to mention adaptability, and versatile thinking. I'm on my feet all day, rarely get to break to eat, and the stress load is high. Sounds kinda like a busy professional kitchen no? Oh but wait I'm out of shape and 30 pounds over weight, I can't possibly exhibit this range of skills and abilities?? Sorry , you are just wrong in judging someone's skills and abilities by their appearance.

                                            1. re: BelovedofIsis

                                              I thought he was talking about more than 30 lbs - 'really overweight.' It's true, you rarely see someone morbidly obese in a pro kitchen because of the physical demands and space constraints. Just like how you don't see a whole lot of morbidly obese bike messengers either. Nothing to get worked up about here. I have seen plenty of moderately overweight pro cooks.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                What were talking about here is more in the morbidly-obese-get-winded-from-climbing-stairs type thing. And yes, the clinical field certainly sounds like it demands a lot of focus and mental agility. And yes, while being on your feet all day and not having time to eat can be uncomfortable, but that also applies to things like retail jobs or bussing tables; it really isnt even close to a professional kitchen in terms of being physically demanding. We have to deal with all of the mental challenges you mentioned as well as having to move at an incredibly high speed in 100 degree heat, and lift heavy objects for 10 hours while constantly being pushed and yelled at to move faster and push harder. Kinda different from working in a lab. Being very overweight also has less to do with your abilities and/or skills, and more to do with a reflection on your discipline, which is a key factor in being a great chef/cook. You could have the greatest technique in the world, but if you cant take the heat, mentally and physically...you know the rest.

                                                1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                  I'll completely agree with the logistical argument that a morbidly obese person would have a hell of a time managing his/her way around a busy commercial (or any) kitchen. But, the discipline argument, while I see the logic, does not necessarily hold true.

                                                  Take Oprah Winfrey for example - she's had a lifelong struggle with weight/eating habits which has made her morbidly obese at points in her life, but this lack of discipline in eating did not take away from her discipline in the other areas that made her the media mogul that she is today. It's possible for a person to have the skill, dedication and even the palate to be a great chef/cook and yet have some other issue that causes them to eat way more than is healthy.

                                                  I've never had Paul Prudhomme's food, but judging from his success, it's not impossible for a morbidly obese person to manage to become a chef, and a well known one at that. And actually, as I'm sure you well know, the whole culinary environment has changed quite a lot thanks in large part to Food Network and the ensuing glamorization of the business. There are a lot more skinny chefs visible to the public eye now, but don't kid yourself that there aren't a whole bunch of fat ones working in kitchens all over.

                                                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                    Totally agree, I think you were able to knock the nail on the head better than I did.

                                                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                      I was always extra-disciplined in all areas of my life: education, work, hobbies. Struggled with my weight for years, and I called it the one area that I allowed myself free reign in. Now I'm at a lower, but manageable, weight and still rebel with pig-outs from time to time. Happier and saner, I think.

                                                      1. re: pine time

                                                        fair point; it is true that not all chefs who are overweight are bad cooks. Im also not basing this observation off of celebrities on the food network, but on my own personal experience. Im also not denying the fact that people can struggle with weight issues and still maintain a high degree of discipline. The question was possible indicators that someone may not be a good cook and, in a professional kitchen, that would be one for me. This is not to say that this is a foolproof barometer, much like using boxed stock or any of the other indicators mentioned on this thread for that matter.

                                                        1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                          I see your point. :) I guess not so different from my thinking that the logistics of long/fake nails would hinder greatness in the kitchen.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                well of course, ipse! but that's obvious. what things *besides* a taste of their food indicate to you that they don't actually know what they're doing?

                                              2. Too many cans of processed ___. If I look into a pantry, and see lots of cream o' crap soup, powdered sauce mixes and the like, few good (and dated) spices, and little to no good veg in the 'fridge, then I'm pretty sure dinner isn't going to be very good.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

                                                  What are you doing looking into my pantry, anyway? There are items in there that are not representative of how I cook in real life, but hold a place for quick comfort meal availabity. Please don't open my refrigerator either, unless you are not in my home to judge but to enjoy.

                                                  1. re: marthasway

                                                    I apologize, but when you opened the pantry door- I couldn't look away! And as for the fridge, I was just looking for the tonic water, I promise!

                                                    1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

                                                      Just being in someone's kitchen gives you a good idea of what sort of cooking they do...the pans and knives and ingredients sitting on the counter tell a long story. Breathe, Martha -- everyone who sets foot in your house sees something, whether they are looking for it or not.

                                                  2. re: caviar_and_chitlins

                                                    A former coworker always bragged about her cooking, so I asked for a few recipes. Every single one began with a can of cream o' [whatever] soup. Never made a single thing from her.

                                                  3. when they swear by _____ cooking utensil to the extent that they couldn't make the dish with out it. any failures are blamed on not having the right ______.

                                                    1. Great idea for a thread inaplastic cup! I like your analysis of the long fake nails. I'll think on this but for now all I've got is a too perfect kitchen with pristine state of the art appliances that just screams "don't mess me up". No whisk anywhere. The presence of a box of instant mashed potatoes or even worse the green tube of sawdust er pre-grated parmesan cheese of doom.

                                                      10 Replies
                                                      1. re: givemecarbs

                                                        That parm. We call that stinky foot cheese in our house. "Cheese of Doom", "Stinky Foot Cheese"... That might be another thread - Nicknames for Kraft "Parmesan" Cheese. :)

                                                        1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                          does that freeze dried dust have an aroma?

                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                            hill food, for your benefit, TRUST ME. I took one for the team, and it's something only slightly less offensive than "nacho cheese" Doritos...

                                                            1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                              ooh I like(d) Nacho Cheese Doritos (but they have to snarfed down in the course of one evening in a tent with 3 other smelly 12 YO's and I just can't eat like that anymore)

                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                LOL. I won't front. I've eaten them too. But have you ever taken a deep whiff straight out of the bag??? It's harsh stuff, man...

                                                                1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                  there's a couple of brands of cheese puffs that are pretty rank, too.

                                                                  We opened a bag on a multi-family vacation a few years ago, and the first comment out of the driver (who didn't see or hear the bag being opened) was yelling at his oldest to put his shoes back on.

                                                                  Feet is the kindest description I have...although the kids swore they were the best cheese puffs EVAR.

                                                        2. re: givemecarbs

                                                          I usually have a box of instant mashed potatoes in my pantry :(

                                                          I dont make mashed potatoes with them, but I sometimes use them as a thickener when things go awry and Im too lazy to make a beurre marnier.

                                                          1. re: twyst

                                                            they're also a great gluten-free alternative to bread crumbs when you want a crispy coating on something...though i confess i no longer use them since Barbara's Bakery discontinued theirs - i haven't yet found a suitable GF replacement.

                                                          2. re: givemecarbs

                                                            Simple Mashed Potatoes are wonderful!!! Sometimes you just buy things that are good tasting and easy.

                                                            1. re: givemecarbs

                                                              Hey, those potato flakes make great potato bread without having to worry about moisture content!

                                                              And my wife bought the green cylinder. I just live here.

                                                            2. A belief that Sriracha makes almost any dish better.

                                                              20 Replies
                                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                                true, but one could use worse for a crutch.

                                                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                    Ha. Bingo to both, actually. Ditto truffle oil. I happen to be a lover of both truffles and truffle oil—yes, I know the latter is so damned around here—but I don't need it in/on everything...In fact, like everything else, ubiquity devalues it. Besides, half the time, people use too much or too little truffle oil.

                                                                    1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                      I don't know about too little, but I no longer order anything w/ truffle oil, having been overwhelmed with it one too many times.

                                                                      1. re: danna

                                                                        Oil infused with real truffles can be nice, used sparingly. Most so-called truffle oil is a nasty, cloying, ersatz cocktail of chemicals, to be avoided assiduously.

                                                                        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                          I like truffle oil. I use it sparingly in 3 or 4 dishes that are part of my regular rotation.

                                                                          1. re: donovt

                                                                            I know it is a terrible ingredient but I really do like it. I like a drop or two in certain dishes with sausage and on certain flatbreads I make. Da Andrea has a great pasta dish I like with truffle oil.

                                                                1. re: escondido123

                                                                  I find that to often be the case with bad cooks and garlic. Just add enough garlic, and the dish will magically get better.

                                                                  1. re: gilintx

                                                                    And that is why I am in favor of banning garlic in a jar. It's just too easy for bad cooks to use too much of it.

                                                                    1. re: Isolda

                                                                      even when they use a small amount it is bitter and leaves an unpleasant taste.

                                                                      1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                        Or makes good cooks lives easier ;-)
                                                                        If you dont like the bitter taste of garlic, just roast it or blanch it in milk....garlic will be your new best friend, I promise

                                                                        1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                          I love garlic - I eat it raw. I grow my own. But the canned stuff has a distinctly different taste to me, a bitter chemical aftertaste that I can't stand.

                                                                    2. re: gilintx

                                                                      I feel like bad cooks almost never use enough garlic. They'll mash one or two bulbs into an enormous pot of food and pretend they've added flavor. The canned stuff is disgusting, though.

                                                                      1. re: kevin47

                                                                        And then there are the really bad cooks that think squeezing twelve cloves of garlic through a press--with out cleaning them or looking for the rotted parts--and adding them to whatever makes them the chefs that go BAM!

                                                                        1. re: escondido123

                                                                          I always thought it was weird on that show that people would cheer the introduction of garlic, as though he scored a goal or something.

                                                                    3. re: escondido123

                                                                      yeah, i usually just call that red hipster sauce. Like hipsters, the belief that Siracha improves everything is about 40% true and 60% somebody tedious saying it.

                                                                      1. re: Samuelinthekitchen

                                                                        I had two 20 something boys at my house for Christmas dinner, they put it on everything. I think it could be called the hipster catsup.

                                                                        1. re: escondido123

                                                                          I love it- hipster catsup! So true.

                                                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                                                            Yeah - and it's not even that great.

                                                                      2. re: escondido123

                                                                        Ooof, guilty. I'd be lost w/out my sriracha for adding a touch of oomph to various sauces (mayo, creole mustard, minced onion, lemon juice and bit of sriracha makes a killer tart sauce for fried fish, or a bit stirred into my homemade bbq sauce ups the ante just a touch...)

                                                                        Or in chicken soup, on roasted pumpkin seeds... Uh, yeah, maybe I need to stop. Or not - hell, in my corner of this flyover state sriracha is still a novelty anyway. I'll be a one-woman run-it-into-the-ground wrecking crew!

                                                                      3. A belief that if they have a BIG Jar of Cayenne Pepper and can describe the Trinity .. they can cook Cajun/Creole.......

                                                                        1. Regarding long nails: my mom has been known for her LONG manicured nails all her life (real, not acrylic) and has also been know as an outstanding home cook...nothing makes her happier than preparing a gourmet meal for 30-40 friends and relations. Don't know how she does it with those nails, but she does!

                                                                          Here's what makes me doubt a cook's credibility: the statement "I NEVER add salt to anything." As if that's such a virtue. Food without ANY salt equals food without flavor. Also, a lot of people say "I never cook with salt," not realizing that they cook with a lot of processed foods (canned tomatoes, condiments, etc.) that contain plenty of salt.

                                                                          I LOVE salt and use plenty of it in my cooking AND baking. People would be shocked to see how much salt is used in professional kitchens, with delicious (not salty) results!

                                                                          31 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Cakegirl

                                                                            I believe it. I know they're out there, but just thinking about the logistics of it all gives me pause.

                                                                            And I am with you on the salt thing. I might also add fat/oil.

                                                                            1. re: Cakegirl

                                                                              oh Cakegirl, that's my mom, I'm debating whether or not to ask her "then why do you use salted butter?" heck garlic and bay scare the pants off her (so to speak).

                                                                              1. re: Cakegirl

                                                                                Ugh. One of my very good friends is like this. She recently bragged about her famous lentil soup being sodium free. It was ghastly. Actually, that's not a strong enough word.

                                                                                Hopefully, my sister will chime it to attest to the revulsion.

                                                                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                  I, thankfully, didn't try the lentil soup. But every single person who tried it said it was horrible. It's now a running inside joke in our family.

                                                                                2. re: Cakegirl

                                                                                  Couldn't disagree more on salt. I myself cook with none (and I use few processed ingredients), and one of the greatest cooks I've ever encountered (much much better than me) does the same. A number of village Italian home chefs cook like this.

                                                                                  Creativity flourishes under impediment, and a talented chef can make wonderful food without a dash of salt. It just requires extra care, time, resourcefulness, and love....and I, for one, am fervidly in favor of any excuse to ratchet up those things.

                                                                                  Finally the day may come when you regret your lifelong love for the stuff.

                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                      If you have no blood pressure problems caused by salt, why give it up? I consider it a gift from the culinary gods.

                                                                                        1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                          Could not more vehemently disagree; any chef or person in the culinary industry on the planet will ream out any cook in their kitchen who does not season their food. It is one of the most basic and important elements of being a good chef, and anyone serious about food knows that salt and pepper are the lifeblood of well prepared food.

                                                                                          1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                            I'm sorry to hear that I am apparently not serious about food. I really thought I was serious. But SonOfAllston says otherwise, so I am duly chastened.

                                                                                            I will work harder to dislike my own cooking and the salt-free cooking of others which I'd previously deemed delicious.

                                                                                            1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                              If you like your food free of added salt, that's your business and no one else's. But the whole low salt thing is identical to the now disproven "healthy" low fat fad... salt restriction is dangerously unhealthy and completely unnecessary for all but a very few people with a particular type of endocrine disorder. Predicting doomsday for those who use/love salt is just as out of line, IMHO.

                                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                                I didn't say I prefer saltless food. I just said saltless cooking can be delicious. Just as any sort of cooking can be delicious when done by someone with skill, talent, and love (that presupposition underpins the founding philosophy of this site).

                                                                                                I'm not going to further digress this thread into the health issues. But readers along are urged to take revisionist theories on bedrock health issues like hypertension with a grain of, uh, salt substitute.

                                                                                                1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                  "Finally the day may come when you regret your lifelong love for the stuff."

                                                                                                  Above is what I responded to. You may have missed this: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/hea...

                                                                                                  Japanese researchers found the highest mortality in those with the greatest salt restriction, years ago.

                                                                                                  And I never quoted you as preferring "saltless" food; that's not what "added salt" implies.

                                                                                              2. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                LOL. I very rarely cook without salt, but I use a lot less of it than I grew up with (Korean/Vietnamese - salt EVERYWHERE). When I changed my baseline by using less salt in my own cooking, I could detect smaller quantities more easily and therefore don't need as much as I used to in order to feel satisfied by that component of the flavor. There is some natural saltiness to a lot of foods that can be tasted if you sort of quiet your palate for a time.

                                                                                                1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                  Bingo, inaplasticcup. Human sensation/perception ratchets logarithmically. Which is a geeky way of saying that we are quite finely perceptive within a given range, and can switch up and down between quite far-flung ranges. Take dark adaption, for example. We distinguish really well in bright light, and quite well in dim light, too - even tens of thousands of times dimmer. All that's required is a period of adaptation for senses to ratchet to the new range, and an open-mindedness to accept that there may actually be something worth seeing in dim light.

                                                                                                  As you say, there's SOME salt in just about every food, and subtle amounts can satisfy those who haven't accustomed themselves to lots of it. If you're used to lots of salt, anything less tastes "bland". And people may project this assessment as some sort of objective truth. Well, a certain type of person may, anyway....

                                                                                                  Same with fervid chili lovers, some of whom lose the ability to enjoy unspicy (or even just moderately spicy) food. It strikes them as having no flavor at all. By hunkering down at the most stimulative part of the perceptual spectrum, they lose their ability to discern subtlety....and project their failure onto the food.

                                                                                                  I like exploring the full range, and don't like to disregard any part of the spectrum of potential deliciousness.

                                                                                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                    But you are limiting deliciousness by not using salt. Salt and acids are the only two seasonings that cause chemical reactions. Adding salt doesn't just make food taste salty: it causes the creation of new chemical compounds that have different flavors. If you omit salt, you lose those flavors. You may be able to add or create other flavors, but you're still leaving out part of the spectrum of possible flavors.

                                                                                                    People who say they "always do this" or "never do that" are by definition closing themselves off to possibilities.

                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                      If cooking without salt suits Jim's palate and lifestyle -- it's his kitchen, his mouth, and his life....

                                                                                                      Unless you're invited, it's not for us to judge or preach...right? I'm guessing he's pretty aware of the use of salt in cooking...and he didn't ask for our help in adjusting it. Suggesting that salt might add flavor is one thing...arguing after he's said that's how he prefers to cook is another.

                                                                                                      (Not aimed directly at you, Ruth...only replied to you to put it in the right order in the thread, as you were the last to respond)

                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                        Sure, Jim has a right to eat the way he wants to. But for him to claim that omitting salt doesn't lose flavor is factually inaccurate.

                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                          This will be my final posting on this.

                                                                                                          -----
                                                                                                          "People who say they "always do this" or "never do that" are by definition closing themselves off to possibilities "
                                                                                                          -----

                                                                                                          Huh? Where did I tell anyone "never use salt?" You're a lot closer to saying "Always use salt".

                                                                                                          -----
                                                                                                          But for him to claim that omitting salt doesn't lose flavor is factually inaccurate
                                                                                                          -----

                                                                                                          Omitting salt definitely loses saltiness. I'm with you there.

                                                                                                          I don't judge food on what it doesn't have. I judge it on how delicious it is. And I repeat: no-added-salt cooking can be incredibly delicious. A few of you say it can't. But I find the argument rather insane, because all you can say is that you've never experienced it yourself. And I'm betting there's a whole helluva lot you've never experienced, Ruth. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

                                                                                                          One of my favorite chefs on the planet cooks with no added salt. You can read about her here: http://jimleff.info/tonys-mom.html

                                                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                            Ruth, I disagree. I've cooked and eaten both ways, and I do add salt these days. But when you don't use it, factually and scientifically, your taste receptors become increasingly sensitized to the sodium present naturally in other ingredients, so while it may taste less salty, food without added salt has not necessarily lost *flavor* except to those eating it whose receptors are less sensitive due to higher salt exposure.

                                                                                                            Different strokes for different folks.

                                                                                                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                          Ruth, at a picnic this weekend my mother declared my hummus delicious and after accepting the compliment all I could think was: 'damn, it needs more salt'

                                                                                                      2. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                        I'd stopped cooking with salt or adding it to my food years ago, and just as everything began tasting so sweet after I began low carbing, everything started tasting too salty after I stopped using added salt. Until I needed more salt for health reasons, including maintaining normal blood pressure. Sudden cravings like I'd never had before.

                                                                                                      3. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                        Salt-free cooking, like any other kind of "restricted" cooking, can be tasty if done right. I consider myself a salt-lover, because I tend to salt foods during cooking and I love the salt-lime combo. But I hardly eat any processed foods, so my total salt intake isn't high -- and I often find processed foods overly salty for my taste.

                                                                                                        Interestingly enough, my doctor has told me to eat salty foods (not processed) because my blood pressure is low and I get lightheaded easily in the heat or after exercise. Apparently, being very active means I get to indulge in salty goodness!

                                                                                                        1. re: piccola

                                                                                                          Ditto. I have fond memories of sitting with my best friend post-race, salting the pre-lunch bread and apologizing to the waiter for it. Your body will tell you what it needs. I HAVE found, that as active as I am...my body does NOT need the amount of salt in most purchased hams...and it will tell me that too, with a big fat bloat!

                                                                                                          An aside, have you ever had a PowerBar Tangerine Gel? You get sugar, salt and caffiene in one shot. It's like coming back from the dead.

                                                                                                          But...I do worry that if (when?) I ever become a non-athlete, my love for salt will be a hard monkey to shake off. I'm in my mid-40's now, and my blood pressure is starting to be normal (instead of low).

                                                                                                          1. re: danna

                                                                                                            I don't know if it's that exact gel, but I took caffeine-boosted coffee-flavoured gels when I ran the marathon. Huge difference.

                                                                                                            And I think you'll adapt just fine should you ever need to cut back on salt. Tastebuds adjust pretty quickly. But who knows, the day may never come... :)

                                                                                                            1. re: piccola

                                                                                                              I think I've found my elixir for those mornings I just can't get going.

                                                                                                      4. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                                        I completely agree. Too much salt, is, of course, murder on the palate, but just a touch makes most foods sing.

                                                                                                        I personally don't care what "a (hopefully small) number of village Italian home chefs" cook like. I'm going to cook like the rest of the civilized world and season my food properly. It's a 100% necessary ingredient.

                                                                                                    2. re: escondido123

                                                                                                      As I've quoted elsewhere "Salt: A magical rock that makes food tasty."

                                                                                                  2. re: Cakegirl

                                                                                                    My mother went through a VERY long phase where she never salted anything. She was convinced that salt was the devil and she was quite sure she was doing right by all of us by pursuing this strategy with the zeal of a born-again. (There were other similar phases - the whole wheat pasta phase is a big stand-out - whole wheat pasta at that time - and I'm talking through the 70s - was pretty wretched stuff.)

                                                                                                    And every time I would get up to get some salt, I felt my parents disapproving stare boring into the back of my neck and I felt like a drug addict looking for my fix. I'm happy to report that she did eventually recover.

                                                                                                    1. re: flourgirl

                                                                                                      I went on a no salt kick several years ago to help lower my blood pressure. Then I discovered Redmond RealSalt from Utah. Love it! I have used RealSalt with abandon for at least two years with no noticable rise in blood pressure.
                                                                                                      Whole wheat pasta is now wonderful. Be sure to get a good brand that is made from 100% whole wheat Duram Semolina flour.

                                                                                                      1. re: condie

                                                                                                        In my mother's defense, the no salt regimen was motivated by my dad's idiopathic high blood pressure. Which was understandable. It was the fact that they made me feel like a blasphemer for wanting my food to have a little seasoning that kind of pissed me off.

                                                                                                        And, yes, thanks, I know that there's a lot of good whole wheat pasta out there now. That's why I mentioned that this was during the 70s. And trust me, if there was good whole wheat pasta at that time, my mom wasn't serving it.

                                                                                                  3. ReaLemon. It's a foul substitute for an ingredient that is constantly available and easy and quick to produce. Bottled garlic comes in a close second.

                                                                                                    9 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                                                      I almost forgot that stuff (ReaLemon) even exists! I'm grateful I've never had the need...

                                                                                                      1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                                                        I'm guilty on this one, but ONLY to thicken a bit of milk in lieu of real buttermilk. Sometimes I just don't have a lemon on hand (and I even grow lemons, too!)

                                                                                                        1. re: pine time

                                                                                                          Ahh, but you're using it solely for the chemical reaction. We'll call it molecular gastronomy... :)

                                                                                                          1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                            Whew, that was a close one. Thanks for the absolution!

                                                                                                            1. re: pine time

                                                                                                              LOL. My absolution isn't worth the non-dairy creamer I put in my Taster's Choice on the weekends when I'm visiting my parents, but I'm happy to share it with you! :D

                                                                                                          2. re: pine time

                                                                                                            you can use vinegar for that...then you don't have *any* excuse to keep ReaLemon around ;)

                                                                                                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                                                              Duly noted. Fridge is now cleaned out and back to CH compliance. Gracias.

                                                                                                          3. re: lupaglupa

                                                                                                            Lemons are one of the few fresh ingredients I keep on hand (along with onions, shallots, and garlic - for the most part I buy what I need when I need it) but I do keep a small bottle of lemon in the fridge for emergencies.

                                                                                                            1. re: kdweeks

                                                                                                              I always have fresh lemons *and* a bottle of MinuteMaid lemon juice, the one you buy frozen, not ReaLemon stuff.

                                                                                                          4. I agree with much of the above, especially the amount of prepared foods in the pantry. But the one thing that's always annoyed me are folks that believe that they can cook anything - it's simply a matter of following a recipe. They have no skills, no experience, no desire to learn from others or even from a book. They don't want to put in the time to learn technique or culture or history or anything related to food. They don't analyze what they're eating or what they've done in any particular cooking process (or why the recipe said to do it that way). They have no idea what meats should be cooked in what way, and why. They don't understand seasoning, although salty, sugary prepared items are indeed fine to use in their recipes.

                                                                                                            It's not the same as "eat to live" folks that have no real desire to cook or to improve their palate. Food is just meaningless to them. If I cook for them, it's for reasons other than deliciousness. They would never offer to cook for me. But this category of people I know that think that cooking is easy and that they can create anything - it's a horror show. They'll say that my 6-hour dry-rubbed ribs from the smoker are delicious but offer to share a par-boiled recipe that doesn't need a smoker. They'll tell me how much their kid loves sushi and describe the wonderful crazy rolls you can get at this Chinese restaurant. And then, they'll invite me over for sushi. Arghhh!!

                                                                                                            9 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: applehome

                                                                                                              I agree that it's not in our interest as cooks to underestimate the task of cooking well. But, as a non-expert griller who respects and appreciates the knowledge and ability of an expert grillsperson, I'll take issue with your particular example. I think parboiled/grilled ribs that are well executed are just a different experience from smoked ones, both delicious when done well.

                                                                                                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                Boiling meat is good for making stock. If you don't intend to use the liquid (as in a braise or stew) you are simply de-flavoring the meat and making it dry and tough. You have to add flavor to braises and stews and to stocks as well - so you're taking the meat you just made bland and adding flavor. Just cook the meat low and slow (whether in a smoker or not) - the results will be a much tastier, juicier meat. Shortcuts, like par-boiling, may seem useful in some cases - but almost inevitably, the end results are better if you don't take the shortcut. Listening to Splendid Table with Lynne Kasper last night, she made exactly the same point to a caller asking about par-boiling ribs.

                                                                                                              2. re: applehome

                                                                                                                That particular class of cooks is annoying... or maybe not annoying exactly, since they are often fairly good natured and sunny as individuals - more like... dipshits. They're dipshits.

                                                                                                                But how exactly to identify em. Usually a short conversation about food suffices - maybe not even always about food, as there seems to be a pattern where they believe they've got it all figured out while lacking almost any intellectual curiousity even about their 'interests.'

                                                                                                                I play poker, and in poker there is a whole subset of player who just watch a lot of poker on TV, see the aggressive and tricky plays that get televised, and think they're world class players when they mimic that. They never studied the game beyond playing with their buddies and watching TV. Go to just about any casino ring game and you'll find a few of these guys. I love playing against em because you can drain them over and over again and it never crosses their mind that they're not great players, that there's something wrong with their strategy.

                                                                                                                Maybe it's a subset of the people you're talking about, but I see a lot of cooks who do the same thing - watch a lot of TV, make no effort at research beyond that, order the same handful of things every time they eat out, and dub themselves a master chef.

                                                                                                                So fair or unfair, this is the truth - if I discuss food with someone for the first time and they voluntarily - without prompting - bring up Rachel Ray or another TV host in the first minute, I assume they're one of the types you described. Until proven otherwise. It's not 100% accurate. But as a rule of thumb, it works.

                                                                                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                  Really watch out if their hero is Sandra Lee.

                                                                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                    (but cocktail hour will be awesome!)

                                                                                                                      1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                        I'm convinced her MO is to get everyone ripped, then put so much crap on the table that there's not really any way to actually eat...and then people don't' notice how bad the food is.

                                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                          I think you're on to something there...

                                                                                                                2. re: applehome

                                                                                                                  Par boiled ribs? That just breaks my heart...

                                                                                                                3. they've never used their range and the kitchen is too perfect!

                                                                                                                  Which reminds me of when I went to a friend for a potluck and turned her range on to heat my quiches and the range instructions (still in their plastic) began to burn. About 10 minutes later there was a funny smell of burning plastic and my friend said 'oh no we don't use the oven'.

                                                                                                                  13 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                    I've seen that kitchen many times, I call them walk-in wet bars.

                                                                                                                    1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                      When my aunt was looking to buy a house, she said they all had the same problem -- a kitchen. Totally alien to me, but I suppose it takes all kinds. (Thankfully, her husband CAN cook).

                                                                                                                      1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                        Mirrored back splashes that are clean. A sign of someone who doesn't cook

                                                                                                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                                                                          Not so.

                                                                                                                          A sign of someone with Windex at hand. ;-)

                                                                                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                            Conversely, if messiness were a sign of cooking skills, I'd dare say I'm world's best cook. A genius in fact.

                                                                                                                              1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                                                I may have you beat. My mom once asked me why I clean my kitchen floor so rarely (mainly when I spill something sticky -- though I do sweep fairly often). I told her that it's not like I eat off it, and, anyway, floors used to be made out of dirt, so it wasn't THAT bad.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Terrieltr

                                                                                                                                  I have a *very* old tile floor in my kitchen -- old enough that the top glaze wore off decades ago, leaving the unglazed tile exposed.

                                                                                                                                  There's NO WAY I can mop enough to keep it spotless, but when it drives *me* bonkers, it's bad.

                                                                                                                            1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                                                                              or someone who can afford a maid

                                                                                                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                                                Naw, there's a real difference between clean and unused. I worked at a restaurant with an immaculate kitchen, and the stainless in there gleamed at the end of every night but it also had this patina from being used, abused, and scrubbed. My stovetop is shiny after the cleaning lady comes to visit but one of my knobs is melted--no one will ever ask, "is this new?" or mistake my clean kitchen for a "museum kitchen."
                                                                                                                                Also, do people who don't cook even know why they "have to have" granite??

                                                                                                                                1. re: rusty_s

                                                                                                                                  Isn't wanting it enough?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: rusty_s

                                                                                                                                    "Also, do people who don't cook even know why they "have to have" granite??"

                                                                                                                                    Resale.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                      yes, because black granite will always be in style.

                                                                                                                            2. I met a "chef" a couple of months ago; he actually runs the kitchen in a private hunting/fishing club for high rollers and was telling me about the things he would do for his clients while I was making/serving a group dinner. What threw me was that he had absolutely no interest in tasting. Anything. None of the finished dishes, none of the dishes in prep, none of the ingredients.

                                                                                                                              Every other chef and line cook I know seems to carry their own tasting spoon but not this one.

                                                                                                                              He also couldn't identify a lot of ingredients I was using (you don't know what fresh ginger looks like?) but that's another story.

                                                                                                                              9 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: wattacetti

                                                                                                                                Possible that he was so confident in his measurements and technique that he thought it unnecessary to ever taste his food? Oy. I think you're dead when you stop trying.

                                                                                                                                1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                  Not only did he confirm that he does *not* taste the food that he preps, he has no interest in tasting anyone else's food. Every other line cook and chef I've ever met sidles up to the trough just so that they can build their taste memory.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: wattacetti

                                                                                                                                    Interesting. With all the glamorizing of cooking as of late, I think we (I included) tend to forget that not too long ago, being a chef was not the most enviable post (except in elite circles).

                                                                                                                                    And then we also project our own passions into the dialogue and assume that a person who has risen to the level of *chef* must do it because he's good at it and has a passion for it. Maybe this is one of those guys who was thrown into the job for lack of other or better options, never left, and got to be where he is by just sticking around. (Wouldn't be the first time that's happened...) ?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                      No, he goes out of his way to boast that he is a chef. Young guy (mid-20s) so he's grown up in the current glamour environment.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: wattacetti

                                                                                                                                        LOL. The "mid-20s" + "guy" might explain it.

                                                                                                                                        Not to say there aren't humble young men out there, but that decade seems to be an exercise in hubris for many young men, followed by the bitch-slapping 30s... (with the 30s, not the men, doing the bitch-slapping)

                                                                                                                                        1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                          InAPlasticCup,
                                                                                                                                          From a Man's POV, I can tell you, the girls of that generation are also pretty bad.

                                                                                                                                2. re: wattacetti

                                                                                                                                  What's his point in not tasting? That's just stupid.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                                                    He wasn't making a point; he simply had no interest.

                                                                                                                                3. When they can't spell or pronounce some of the key ingredients, techniques or dishes in the cuisine they profess to love. I know it sounds arbitrary, but to me, it shows a lack of care and interest, two things that really contribute to great cooking.

                                                                                                                                  Also, if someone really adores a product or restaurant I found disgusting. (There aren't too many things I find disgusting - it takes a lot to get me there.)

                                                                                                                                  21 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                    LOL on the spelling. Here's a thread for you (if you've not already read):

                                                                                                                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/789557

                                                                                                                                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                      Ha! I hadn't. But yeah, it does put me off, especially in Italian or French restaurants, since my background is both. I avoid places that misspell or mispronounce "bruschetta" or "prosciutto" or don't understand that "panini" is already plural. Same with places that, for example, don't realize that "au jus" is not a flavour -- it just means "with pan juices."

                                                                                                                                      1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                        there are some fine Chinese cooks who couldn't spell worth anything. They learned from Chinese folks in the kitchen, and can pronounce anything... but write it? pf!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                                                          That's different. I don't mean people from other countries spelling in English -- that's an ESL issue. I mean chefs who study a country's cuisine and can't grasp the spelling or pronunciation of key elements.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                            Is there some kind of underground club for us? I have that "misspelled Ceasar salad" New Yorker cartoon on my fridge. I was greatly dismayed when I attended an event in NY where one of the speakers was a mega-famous cookbook author/restaurateur who said, in the space of maybe ten minutes, both "expresso" and "scottaditi." Well, talk about your fingernails on the blackboard. I didn’t know what to think of him before the event, but by the end, my opinion was definitely clearer. Not only do I not tolerate "brushetta" (I tell them to think of Chianti or zucchini and sin no more), I have limited patience with those who think a panino (much less "a panini") is a particular kind of sandwich common in Italy. I understand I could be shot for these opinions, but even language-sticklers have rights, n'est-ce pas?

                                                                                                                                            1. re: mbfant

                                                                                                                                              My mom once got sucked into a heated argument with a Costco sample lady after gently pointing out that "antipasto" does not mean "before the pasta." So in my case at least, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. :)

                                                                                                                                              1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                Silly Costco lady... It means AGAINST the pasta!!! :P

                                                                                                                                                1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                  It is a known fact that if pasta and antipasta meet, the universe explodes.

                                                                                                                                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                    So hurry up and eat your brushetta.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kevin47

                                                                                                                                                      That's pronounced broooshetta - and mine is famous within my family for its authenticity and awesomeness (the secret is English mufffins and spaghetti-Os from which the Os are strained).

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: nsenada

                                                                                                                                                        Yeah, if you spell it wrong. ;-)

                                                                                                                                          2. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                            The bruSHetta thing knots my undies too. :P

                                                                                                                                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                Sadly I had only heard this pronunciation until I was 20 (10 years or so of wrong). I hate hearing it the right way because it reenforces my wrongness.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: melpy

                                                                                                                                                  I try to pronounce everything with an italian flair. It's not broccoli, it's brah-COL-li! It's not caesar, it's say-ZHAR!

                                                                                                                                              2. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                If I avoided every restaurant in my city that misspelled or mispronounced such words I'd have nowhere to go! In many of these places, Caesar salad, jalapeno, broccoli, certain cheeses are misspelled. When the owner's first language is definitely not English, I'm willing to cut them some slack, but everyone else should know how to spell the ingredients they choose to put in the food and list on the menu. Check the internet for Pete's sake!

                                                                                                                                                1. re: 1sweetpea

                                                                                                                                                  I can't count the number of Big Name Chefs I see on TV using "chipOLte peppers.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                                    My favorite mispronunciation of chipotle comes from the Jack In The Box commercials aired when they first came out with a chipotle burger or chicken sandwich or something like that:

                                                                                                                                                    chippaTOTElay.

                                                                                                                                                    Close second is Bobby Flay's

                                                                                                                                                    chipoetle-ay.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                  Did I write this? I could have. Sooo agree.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                                    Glad to see I'm not the only one! :)

                                                                                                                                            1. People who have to go out to buy every single ingredient in a recipe before they can start to cook, since they've got NOTHING at home.

                                                                                                                                              1. people that use any kind of prepared sauce or have frozen high salt/high sugar entrees from TJ's or something similar. if they use them at other times, not necessarily for the meal being served, I'm going to wonder if their palate is up to it.

                                                                                                                                                8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: fara

                                                                                                                                                  I call bullshit. I have a brand new baby. If I didn't use prepared sauce sometimes (TJ's, at that!), we'd be eating a lot more takeout. Not everyone always has time to make sauce from scratch.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                                    Congrats on the new baby! Exciting!

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                                      I don't have kids, but there are some sauces I don't feel fully up to making from scratch, either because I'm not familiar with the cuisine or I don't want to buy all the ingredients. So as long as the bottled sauce is tasty, I say go for it.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                                        Bullshit x2. Most of the time I do make sauce from scratch -- but there are days when we're short on time, I'm tired or sick, or some other reason that means that the sole objective is getting something on the table with minimal time/effort that doesn't come through a window in a paper sack.

                                                                                                                                                        NOT making something from scratch once in a while is a sure sign of somebody who doesn't have a life filled with family and friends that can sometimes veer into the ditch.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                          I've said this before, some days I make sauce out of tomatoes, basil that I've grown from my own garden, some days, I make sauce from canned tomatoes, some days, I open a jar, some days, we just call out for pizza. I like to cook but there are a lot of others things I like to do, too (or often need to do), and that means cooking goes out the window.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                              oh let's not gang up, in the best of all possible worlds it would be all from scratch, and I believe we DO strive for that Candide-esque outlook but some days it's just not humanly possible for a lot of us.

                                                                                                                                                    2. Depending the definiteion of "before they start cooking", to good extends, I judge a person's cooking skill based on his/her knife skill. If a cook has poor knife skill, then a red flag does go up in my head. It is not a proof of course, but nothing is a proof until the final products are made anyway.

                                                                                                                                                      The way how they select and handle the cookware as well. Let's say fried rice, I start to judge the person based on the order they add the ingredients and the motion they handle the wok. These I think have much direct impacts and are more than speculations. Prejudice? Of course, but let's face it, we all does it and when we do so correctly, it is call foresight.

                                                                                                                                                      34 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                        I look at knife skills too. Especially if someone's been cooking for many years, if there's not a certain fluency to their knife work, I do wonder why they wouldn't shore up on a skill that's such a big part of the process.

                                                                                                                                                        Thanks for your input and for the inspiration for this post, Ck. :)

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                          *dull* knives are never a good sign either...

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                                                                                                            True about the dull knives, especially for professional cooks. I do understand that many young college students do not have the experience nor the money to maintain a sharp knife. This is why I judge a professional cook harsher than an average cook too. There are certain things I expect from professional cooks because it is their jobs. They don't have any excuse for keeping knives dull -- they should either learn to sharpen them or send them out to be sharpened. If not, I question their priority.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                              one of my grandmothers was a fabulous cook, but was frightened to death of cutting herself, so her kitchen was full of knives too dull to cut butter.

                                                                                                                                                              I inevitably cut myself every time I cooked with her, from having to saw like mad to cut anything! She never used any of my knives, because I keep them murderously sharp, and they terrified her.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                I'm not a big fan, but this is where cerrated knife as gift comes into consideration...

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                  it, um, isn't really all that big an issue any more.

                                                                                                                                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                  My grandmother was the same way-no knife skills but I learned the value of local ingredients, fresh eggs and she wouldn't buy a chicken unless she could smell it. She also had the worst pans, warped and the handles spun around, dangerous really. She was a great cook though.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                                                                                                                  I've known several quite good home cooks who have dull knives (usually the grandmotherly type), so I'm not sure I'd see dull knives in a home cook's kitchen and assume they are a bad cook. Though they're probably not a great cook, at least - dull knives limit your options.

                                                                                                                                                                  But it does sort of work the other way - if you find sharp (but not unused) knives in a home cook's kitchen, you can usually bet they take their cooking seriously.

                                                                                                                                                                  Of course, anyone who's read my posts in the cookware forum knows I'm biased.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                    But it does sort of work the other way - if you find sharp (but not unused) knives in a home cook's kitchen, you can usually bet they take their cooking seriously.

                                                                                                                                                                    ~~~~~~~~~~~

                                                                                                                                                                    actually i do agree with you that this scenario is more telling than the opposite...having respect for your equipment and maintaining it properly says something about a cook's pride in what they produce with that equipment. and quite honestly my enjoyment and rhythm suffer a bit when i'm forced to work with dull knives in someone else's kitchen.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                                                                                                                      I'm always grateful to be invited to cook in someone else's kitchen, and I'm usually happy to try to make do with whatever they've got equipment-wise. But if I have advance notice, I'm packing my knife. Chopping vegetables with a steak knife is not my idea of a good time...

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                        "Chopping vegetables with a steak knife is not my idea of a good time..."

                                                                                                                                                                        But it builds your characters, and make you a stronger person.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                          Yes, it has. On a few occasions, actually!

                                                                                                                                                                          But I'm sure some can relate - when it's a thing so important to you, cooking, that is, and you are putting your product out there, you want to be able to put your stamp on it, down to the knifework. Knife skills make a huge difference in the outcome and presentation of so many dishes. (I'm not fussy about presentation, but I like my cuts CLEAN. :) )

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                            I went to a potluck with the most beautiful char siu that I picked up from a local restaurant. I thought keeping it whole before serving would best retain the lovely juices, so I opted to take the pieces whole. I was thinking of bringing my knife with me, but thought that might be a little tacky. But oh god. When I asked to use a knife to slice the meat, I was given a dull, serrated steak knife. I didn't realize a serrated knife could be dull. And forget about a cutting board. It was sad to see those precious pieces of char siu butchered like that, but they were still juicy and delicious. Lesson learned.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                          My mother cuts everything with a tiny paring knife. I make super fun of her, but she's not about to change.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                        That's why I'd always sharpen my mom's and my MIL's knives for them!

                                                                                                                                                                      3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                        I was lucky enough to receive a gift certificate for a cooking class at the Ritz in Paris recently (oh, what fun to stand in THAT kitchen!) I was amazed, though, at how many people were hard-core into cooking to cough up the cash for a 4-hour cooking course, but could barely handle a knife. One other student and I were given the extras, because we were consistently done with the knifework long before anyone else.

                                                                                                                                                                        Knife skills are, IMO, probably one of the most important things to have in the kitchen. I don't own a lot of other things because I can have the job done with a sharp knife in a LOT less time than it takes to drag out the other things, use it, and clean it up.

                                                                                                                                                                        (and no, I don't even pretend to have pro-level knife skills)

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                          "Knife skills are, IMO, probably one of the most important things to have in the kitchen"

                                                                                                                                                                          Agree, and I don't mean it is most important because it has the most significant impacts in foods. Rather, it is most important because its overall impact on speed, efficiency and most importantly safety.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                            But it can have a significant impact, I think. When a thing is sawed, torn or bludgeoned when it's supposed to be sliced, that can really screw with the molecular structure... Just sayin'... :)

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                              The structure, maybe. The molecular structure? What are you using, a laser knife?

                                                                                                                                                                              I don't think knife skills are necessary to a good cook. Helpful, but not necessary.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                                                                You've got me laughing at myself now... I meant *cellular*.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                  LOL- oh, that was hilarious, you two.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                                                                  Chem hinted at this earlier -

                                                                                                                                                                                  A lot of people are talking about knife skills as though the main benefits were cleaner, more precise cuts, and less cellular damage to that which you are cutting. And if you're making Japanese food, that may well be super important.

                                                                                                                                                                                  But the real main benefit of good knife skills and sharp knives is they allow you to do far more in the same amount of time. Your food can be more complex. You have more time available for adjusting flavor, getting it just right. It's not just that your garnish will look better - you won't be so pressed for time in making one, and other parts of your cooking won't suffer for you taking that bit of time.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Like I said above, I've met more than a couple excellent cooks with poor knife skills. So it can't be strictly 100% necessary. But just the same, it's a step or two beyond merely helpful.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                    The efficiency factor is primary to be sure. But food cut with a dull edge cooks differently because of the extent of disturbance or damage to its structure. This isn't to say that you never want something crushed or torn as opposed to sliced, but if that were the case, the knife is probably not your best tool.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                      I'm well aware (I'm one of those guys always talking knives and sharpening in the cookware forum). Oxidizes slower too, which can even make it taste better, and frees up your options in terms of how you manage prep.

                                                                                                                                                                                      But that's a relatively small factor compared to general kitchen efficiency, where knife skills are probably the biggest single factor.

                                                                                                                                                                                      BTW, I've seen various posts (usually from people who object to this whole thread) talking about how people are claiming you need fancy expensive knives. Who said that? How expensive are Kiwi knives? You can buy a good, usable knife that will do 90-100% of the cutting work in your kitchen for decades for less than a good steak. What most people would actually benefit from is good, regular sharpening and a lot of directed, focused practice.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                        Great point! I was thinking that myself.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Sometimes people are just limited in their exposure to what's available. I have bought and been gifted with far more expensive knives, but Kiwis are my knife of choice and where I buy them, they range from 3 to 10 dollars depending mostly on size.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Very good and inexpensive cookware to be found out there as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                3. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                  I am a knife enthusiasts and it can't be too sharp for me but I can think of many people who were/are accomplished home cooks who used crappy knives and often cut produce in the hand and had meager kitchen equipment. No you can't cut perfect 1/8 inch cubes without a good sharp knife but doesn't mean you can't make extraordinary food. I'm sure we can all look back at our heritage and remember a great cook. Bet they didn't have great equipment.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                                                                                                                                    The answer to this I think depends on whether we're talking about cooks or chefs. A fabulous home cook doesn't necessarily need stellar knife skills—though if they're that fabulous one would think such skills would develop fairly naturally—but a professional chef in a fast-paced environment absolutely does. There's a reason it's the first thing they teach you in cooking school.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                                                                                                      The title to this thread was about cooks which was what I was referring to. I agree a line cook in a professional setting has a whole other story.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                              I will look at the knife skill only after I see what kind of knives they have. As soon as I see a Ginsu serrated Chef's knife, I start wondering about what I'll be eating. I do however have one friend who has a Ginsu serrated chef knife that really is a good cook. He comes up with some great recipes and always enlists me to help him with the final preparations, checking for doneness, manning the grill so that it's perfectly cooked, etc., which is a skill that he does not have.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: JNUNZMAN

                                                                                                                                                                                I have a friend who is an excellent cook who also happens to have some Ginsu knives. She said she got them as a gift many years ago, and still uses them because they have stayed sharp. Go figure!

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: lawhound05

                                                                                                                                                                                  Ginsu knives are cheap serrated knives - there's nothing wrong with cheap serrated knives. The problem is when people use them as their main or only knife, forgoing a straight edge blade. You'll never learn good cutting technique that way. And there are some things that just shouldn't be cut with serrated knives.

                                                                                                                                                                                  That said, my mom is a good cook herself, and she used nothing but serrated knives for decades. Still would have been better if she had used a sharp straight edge knife instead though.

                                                                                                                                                                            3. Bottled salad dressing. I understand that there are busy people out there who can't/won't prepare their own vinaigrette, but you can't consider yourself a serious cook if you're pouring out a dressing from a bottle that says 'Wishbone.'

                                                                                                                                                                              12 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: gilintx

                                                                                                                                                                                Wow- I feel the same way except I hadn't consciously realized it until I read your post..

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: gilintx

                                                                                                                                                                                  I just don't like the taste of most bottled dressing. Or the texture for that matter. Or the endless list of ingredients many of these dressings have, with too many of them unpronouncable. But I do admit to using at least one bottled dressing - it's a yogurt based blue cheese dressing my grocery carries that is shevled in the cold case section and has no preservatives. Good stuff.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: flourgirl

                                                                                                                                                                                    What type of dressing is it?

                                                                                                                                                                                    I think this touches on one part of how helpful CH is--often prepared foods aren't that good but it's helpful to find the ones that are decent when we're in a pinch. That goes for tomato sauces, dressing, boxed baked goods, etc., etc. Most of what's out there in the categories are pretty bad and it's great to find the ones that are good.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                      Bolthouse Farms. I should have mentioned that in the first place. Sorry. Because I agree with you - that's one of the ways CH is quite helpful.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: flourgirl

                                                                                                                                                                                        That stuff is totally good, and I can't find it in Denver, so I stock up when I visit my dad in ABQ.

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: gilintx

                                                                                                                                                                                      Yes. How hard is it to make a vinaigrette? You don't even have to measure.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                                                                                        I keep bottled dressing at the office because I don't want to keep a bunch of ingredients there. While they can't beat homemade, some of the Newman's Own dressings are decent enough for me.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                                                          Agreed. I always make homemade at home, but at work Newman's honey dijon (or something like that) is not bad.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                                                                                                                            the Ginger Sesame is also good, and also works well as a marinade.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: pine time

                                                                                                                                                                                              The ginger-sesame is my favourite.

                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: gilintx

                                                                                                                                                                                        I always have a bottle of Wish Bone Italian in the fridge. It must be a childhood taste memory thing because I can’t make a vinaigrette I like better than Wish Bone. Dinner guests get a dressing made from scratch but for myself I just don't bother.

                                                                                                                                                                                      3. I'm pretty skeptical of people's ability to cook when they spent a great deal of time looking for fault in the cooking or kitchen habits of others. I get the feeling that by deriding what others do they are trying to feel better about their own (most often lacking) cooking skills. Truly good cooks are confident and don't waste time on such triviality. I only judge a cook's ability to create a good meal after I have tasted their food.

                                                                                                                                                                                        54 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                          I agree to some extent. Spending a disproportionate amount of time trying to find fault with what others do is counterproductive. And I've never been one to critique someone's cooking ability to their face unless they've asked me to. But a critical eye turned both outward and inward is necessary, I think, to the development of a good cook (or anything, for that matter).

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                            Beautifully said, twyst.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                              I believe you're confusing cooks with Buddhists.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Gordon Ramsay is, by most accounts, a pretty good cook. He also talks A LOT of shit.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                "...confusing cooks with Buddhists."

                                                                                                                                                                                                First coffee snort of the day. Thanks, cowboy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                  That is funny, but insightful as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                    bwah! cowboy, thanks for a MUCH needed laugh on a really crappy day :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                    twyst,

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I have to agree with cowboy. You may think it is not a good trait that a person look fault in other people kitchen, but that hardly correlates with his skill as a cook. I know many great scientist, like Y.T. Lee (Nobel laureate) who would look very closely at other people works, in other people's lab, but he is a great scientist. Moreover, he is far from the exception. Being critical does not make the person less confident.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    One of the traits of being a great cook or a great scientist or great anything is the ability to notice people to have insight of others, and to able to discover another person's potential and talents. How do you think they predict or project another's skill? They spend a great deal of time observing others' habits and patterns. If a cook DOES not spend a great deal of time to observe others cooking and kitchen habits, then he won't have the ability to judge and to discover.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    As cowboy pointed out, Gordon Ramsay is certainly considered as a great chef, but he really love to look for faults in other people cooking and kitchen skills.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I feel there's a huge difference between being critical of someones food after you've tasted it, which is fine, and being a cooking snob. I think all the "OMG that guy has a packet of pre mixed sauce in his pantry and his knives aren't very sharp that means he must be an awful cook" etc is silly, petty, and elitist. (and no, I don't have any, I was just using that as an example)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Ive been lucky enough to travel the world quite extensively and have had some amazing food prepared by people that had almost no pantry supplies and bare bones raggedy equipment. (including awful knives)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I don't necessarily agree with you that predictive observation is snobbery, but I do agree that we can often, and pleasantly, be proven wrong.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Yes, I agree there is a huge difference between being critical of someone's food after tasting it and before tasting it. That being said, judging a person's foods after tasting is not foresight -- that is just judging the final outcome.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          s mentioned, part of being having foresight is the ability to make a judgment before the final outcome reveals itself. It does not mean it is always right, but it is not being snobbish. Aside from the YT Lee and Gordon Ramsay examples, I will talk about the interviewing process. I have interviewed a few people for jobs. By its very nature, interviewing is prejudging the interviewees. We make judgements based on their conversations, reactions, knowledge, thinking processes... etc. At the end of the day, it is about making a judgement to hire a person before we really get to know the person. Let's face it, we hire strangers. We don't have the leisure to hire someone to get to know him and then to fire him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          We make these early judgements often. Can I jump over that hole? I don't try to jump to see if I do it, I want to able to guess if I have the ability to do. Can we take this account and finish the customer's request on time? I cannot just take on a job and then find out later that it cannot be done. Is it safe to go into the jungle? We all have to make early judgement calls -- when not all of the facts are avaliable.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          You may not think it is fair to judge someone before the outcome reveals itself and that is perfectly fine, but please also understand that making an early judgement does not mean being "silly, petty and elitist".

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I understand your point of view and you are certainly right on many accounts. My statements have more to do with some of the things in this thread that I feel are petty and a bit snobby. I absolutely agree with you that in many circumstances a simple conversation with someone can lead you to a reasonable expectation of what is going to be delivered, but I feel as though many of the things in this thread fall under the category of elitism and give me the whole "we're the cool kids lets laugh at everyone who is a little different than us" vibe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                              "My statements have more to do with some of the things in this thread that I feel are petty and a bit snobby."

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ah, I agree with you. Yes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                            "I feel there's a huge difference between being critical of someones food after you've tasted it, which is fine, and being a cooking snob. I think all the "OMG that guy has a packet of pre mixed sauce in his pantry and his knives aren't very sharp that means he must be an awful cook" etc is silly, petty, and elitist"
                                                                                                                                                                                                            ________
                                                                                                                                                                                                            There are two big problems with your stance here.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1 - You completely overlook the middle ground. Sure there are many cooks who make great food with very humble tools. And of course there are many excellent cooks whose skills are deficient in one area or skill of cooking - a great baker with poor knife skills, a skilled pitmaster who wouldn't have the first clue how to make a decent stir-fry, a rural Mexican who is lacking all of the above skills but can make the most glorious, complex long-stewed sauces, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            BUT that in no way implies that all judgments must be withheld until the food is tasted. If someone tells me they're going to make a dish that I know requires good knife skills and I notice that their knives are dull as a nickel, I'm assuming at that point that I'm not in for a special meal. It's not infallible, but it is reasonable.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Even more to the point - it's not about any one particular skill or habit. It's about showing me that you have practiced and developed skill and taken great care in some significant way - THAT is what makes a good cook. And yes, I can tell whether this is the case just from looking at your kitchen and watching you cook. I don't have to taste your food to gauge your skill (though I'm generally happy to) unless your particular skill is so far out there that I don't have a frame of reference for it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2 - You sort of imply that most of the posters on this thread are occupying that extreme "if there's canned broth in the pantry, they must be an awful cook" stance. Whereas really, only a couple posts out of 100+ have gone that far. Most, i believe, actually occupy the middle ground. The OP was just asking for questionable signs - situations where that evidence of care and skill and devotion are notably absent. These do not exclude a 'perpetrator' from being a good cook -- rather, if they are a good cook, the evidence of it simply must be elsewhere in their technique or skills or habits.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            On the other hand, if someone thinks they can be a great cook without putting forth the time and effort... if they're all canned broth and dull knives, no barbecue guru or masterbaker... if they're certain that they're a masterful 'chef' for no better reason than that their food tastes good to them.... well...

                                                                                                                                                                                                            is it elitist of me to think they're deluded?

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I wish I could have put it like you put it. Well said, cowboy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Charges of elitism always twist my knickers on this site, especially when the implication is that people are deriding others to make themselves feel better. There are many paths to getting better at cooking and understanding food, just like there are in other human endeavors. But regardless of the particular food or method, there are those that try to get better, to learn and understand more, and there are those that do not take the endeavor so seriously. Working at getting better does not make you an elitist, and pointing out bad or failed processes, ingredients, techniques, shortcuts etc. does not mean you are deriding others.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I think Chowhound is made up of people that want better food in their lives. They understand that while deliciousness is subjective and opinions will differ with each individual's life experiences and background, facts are facts - ingredients and techniques are what they are, and the more you know about what to use and how to use it, the better your food will be. Some of that may indeed be criticism of what others do, like shortcuts that don't work. But that's part of the dialectic - part of the discussion and the way we learn. Certainly, we're not all trying to be master chefs. This site is also a place for those that just want to get a simple recipe, find a half-decent place to eat, or maybe find a good shortcut for a particular ingredient or dish - but it's all about learning and sharing and there's as little room for deriding folks as elitist as there is for deriding folks for any other reason.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I do think that when posters use obscure terms or discuss unfamiliar ingredients as if they were everyday it is a form of elitism; it leaves out those who are not "in the know." That happens here regularly, but I've just learned to skip those posts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                                                              What's everyday and familiar to some will not be to others - this is especially going to be true with ethnic foods and regional specialties. There's no way the writer ought to know what's familiar to his audience on a site like this, and there's no reason to write to the lowest common denominator. If you don't know what an ingredient or a dish or even an acronym or whatever is, why not just ask? Now... if you get a snarky response, then you can shout elitist.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I do actually find the tone of some posts here elitist. I don't bother pointing it out because I know it's pointless. People who have good taste don't automatically also have good manners. I've encountered plenty of kind people on this site, but I've also seen people respond to new posters with snark and sarcasm that's absolutely uncalled for. While the moderators do a good job of getting rid of posts like that, if the original posters sees one before it's deleted, he or she may never come back to the site. That's a shame, especially if it's a novice cook who really wants to learn more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              In a perfect world, I'd have the time and money to make every single thing I eat from scratch. But the reality is I'm single, have a demanding job, and don't have room for a second freezer. I cook from scratch when I have time, often on the weekends and often several meals so I can reheat through the week, but the reality is sometimes I have to take shortcuts. More often than not, I use bottled salad dressing. The broth in my soups always comes from a box because I've found a brand that I think tastes good when doctored up with herbs, pepper, etc. Based on the criteria some have posted here, that wouldn't make me a credible cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              It makes me cringe when I see someone post about being forced to eat something or somewhere that falls below their standards because they're someone's guest. Some of those posts sound like the person would rather jump in front of a bus than go to an Olive Garden! Even if you don't enjoy the food, enjoy the fact that you're sharing it with friends or family (and have a snack when you get home).

                                                                                                                                                                                                              The only thing I can think to compare it to is this: I'm an English professor. My mom isn't the best speller and misplaces commas more often than not, but you know what? I still love it when she emails me or writes to me.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: writergeek313

                                                                                                                                                                                                                "I do actually find the tone of some posts here elitist"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                This almost get to today politics. Is it wrong to be elitist or is populism always correct? On the surface, one may think elitism is wrong, yet a bit of elitism can be good for social growth. It gives a sense of direction. Pure populism, in my opinion, is not a good thing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                22The only thing I can think to compare it to is this: I'm an English professor. My mom isn't the best speller and misplaces commas more often than not, but you know what? I still love it when she emails me or writes to me."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                That is a different case. You love your mom not because she misspells. You love her because of everything about her. You cannot possibility say (as a English professor) that, as a society, we are better off to misspell. I like to think I am ok with physical chemistry and my mom does not even know what I do no matter how many times I described to her, yet I love her just like you love your mother. Still, that is not to say that I think the world will be better off with less understanding of physical chemistry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                So it can be confusing to talk about how you feel about a loved one vs what you considered to be best for a society. The feelings you have for your loved one essentially cloud your overall judgement, which is why a relative of a defender should not be served on the jury. He/she cannot make a fair and sound decision.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: writergeek313

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I think bottled salad dressings are great and i DO have the time to make my own. BBQ sauce and countless other things too. If it doesn't compromise the end result, there should be no stigma attached to what we buy ready to use. I would like to express appreciation to all as a new poster who has been treated well. That was a really sweet comparison.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: writergeek313

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Using canned broth or bottled salad dressing from time to time in your own kitchen isn't the issue the OP was putting forth, though, I don't think. Using canned broth or bottled salad dressing as a matter of course, because you can't be bothered to learn how to make them from scratch, yet presenting yourself as a talented/knowledgable cook would be the issue. The difference is in the level of knowing and caring as well as in the ways in which one presents oneself. In short, I actually *don't* think cooks like you—and probably most of us, presuming we're amateur enthusiasts (although, heck, even Gabrielle Hamilton has copped to using canned limas)—are the target here. Rather it's those whose bark exceeds their bite.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: writergeek313

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This isn't about emails from your mom or social eating requirements or easing the rigors of daily cooking. It's about calling someone an elitist because they come to this site and discuss food as if they wanted to learn and share information with people like themselves - people that have an interest in having better food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I don't think that using shortcuts or prepared foods as shortcuts automatically means that someone is a bad cook or has no interest in learning to make better food. Going to Olive Garden because your work crew or friends insist on it doesn't mean that you have no interest in going to better restaurants when you can. But if you're doing these things not out of necessity, but of choice, you're happy with the food, and you're not interested in pursuing anything better - then you've decided not to make food and eating a high priority. There's nothing wrong with that. But what do you expect to get from this site, and what do you expect others that come here to be discussing?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      As I said, not every person that wants to learn a thing or two about food and cooking has to seek becoming a world class chef or foodie. But why denigrate those that come here (a site that specializes in food knowledge) to expand their knowledge and become better cooks or eaters? It's a natural part of our discussion - our give and take - to not only give positive suggestions, but to reinforce staying away from bad methods, poor choices for ingredients, shortcuts that compromise too much, and restaurants that serve poor quality food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      If a pantry has boxed stock and canned tomatoes, that's a certain level of compromise. If it's full of Spaghetti-O's and Cream of Mushroom, it's a sign of a different level altogether. That is an observation worth discussing within the context of this thread. It doesn't make someone elitist to talk about these differences.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      We're certainly not all going to agree on everything, and that's the real value of this site - it isn't some monolithic tome or a learned professor in front of the class dictating what's right and what's wrong. This is the web, this is the Socratic method. We have a dialectic - we discuss and we argue. We cajole and we convince. But the very act of calling people elitist is a dampener to this process. It's worse than actually being an elitist, in my mind, because we are actually all elitists here - it's why we're on a specialty site. The first time you tell your friends that you like an all-beef, natural casing, spicy hot dog rather than that mushy, tasteless Fenway Frank they're serving, you're an elitist. The first time you decide that the bottled sauce you pour on your mushy pasta is too sweet, and you seek out an article about making your own simple Marinara and cooking your pasta al dente, you're an elitist.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      It is indeed sad when you see snark of any sort, but especially when directed to a new person - either new to the site, or new to seeking good food. And I agree that the mods should do what they can - in fact I think of it as their prime directive (aside from keeping away the shills). But I've also seen plenty of honest, well-intended responses to even the most simplest of questions. And I also feel that the requester needs to push back in some of these cases. It's just the playground bully that needs to be told off. It happens on a lot of sites, in workplaces, in all kinds of social situations. The best way to handle it is to challenge the bully - to show him up for the bozo that he is. He doesn't invalidate the playground experience, nor keep you from developing your own friends and resources.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        "We're certainly not all going to agree on everything, and that's the real value of this site - it isn't some monolithic tome or a learned professor in front of the class dictating what's right and what's wrong. This is the web, this is the Socratic method. We have a dialectic - we discuss and we argue. We cajole and we convince..."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Couldn't agree more, apple.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I guess my point is being misunderstood or you don't quite agree with me, but Im not trying to argue that criticism and sharing what does and does not work are bad things at all or that they make people seem elitist. However I do think that a few of the attitudes in this thread are. There are quite a few posts in the thread that seem to be making fun of people who have products that can be used to take shortcuts etc in their pantry, it's all about the tone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I cook sous-vide at home a lot and play with a lot of products with complicated names to manipulate food textures. I don't look down on people who don't have the same ideas as cooking as me. I don't make posts about people who don't have things common to me like sodium alginate lying around their kitchen not really knowing much about being creative with food because that would be a totally irrational (and elitist) conclusion to come to, much like many of the other posts in this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I don't think striving for excellence is a bad thing or that it makes you elitist. I think looking down on people who know less than you does.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I have a problem with calling people elitist on this site. We're all elitists on this bus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Shortcuts are a compromise, and the use of prepared foods as shortcuts is indeed a valid discussion to have on this site. We probably all learn a little something new each time we go through it. But the whole business of, "I don't like your tone." is never going to lead to a productive discussion.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            If you are not posting prodigiously about your MG (I hate that term) experiences at home, you're keeping valuable knowledge from the rest of us! I would expect you to be a significant contributor - a real subject matter expert - on any discussion we had about that arena. And I would never accuse you of being elitist, even if you did prognosticate that we were culinary simpletons.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            (I can't get past that bag of konjac gum (glucomannan) - trying to develop a non-traditional starch thickening recipe for gravies, etc. But that's another thread...)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              For the life of me, I can't figure out what MG stands for. Enlighten please.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Haha. Not me. (Not that I don't think it's incredibly interesting.) But that would credit my own cooking with too much precision. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I think it's twyst who is a practitioner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Lets just call it MODERN Gastronomy and avoid the slur

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        No slur intended. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I think MODERN is too broad a term as there's a lot going on in modern cooking that doesn't fall within the scope or approach of molecular gastronomy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          fair point, but I dont like the term molecular gastronomy either....partially because of the stigma, but also because all cooking, if you know the science behind what's happening (which will most likely make you a better cook), is molecular gastronomy. Sous vide, for instance, is considered to be part of molecular gastronomy. Using tapioca starch is considered nothing special, but using Ultratex, a modified tapioca starch, is. Agar agar is a natural derivation of seaweed, but it's use is lumped into molecular gastronomy as well. It's semantic, but I think "modern" is just a more inclusive term; I feel like "molecular gastronomy" conjures up images of chefs in lab coats eyedropping things in vials, making soups in centerfuges, and cooking with bunsen burners ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            "I feel like "molecular gastronomy" conjures up images of chefs in lab coats eyedropping things in vials, making soups in centerfuges, and cooking with bunsen burners ;-)"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            But isn't that the point? That's what this subset of modern chefs *is* doing. That's what distinguishes it (granting that there are degrees—that some of these things are seeping into mainstream cooking.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The problem with 'modernist cooking or cuisine' is that it would seem to include many chefs and techniques that have nothing to do with the actual movement in question. Sous vide, for example, has broad and excellent applications in otherwise classical cooking. And extensive use of hydrocolloids would seem to be in the domain of modernist cooks until you realize that gelatin is one too. Begs the question - Are you modernist because you use modern techniques? Or because you apply modern cooking philosophy? Heck, even if it's the latter that counts, the ultra-resourceful model set by Noma seems to have the philosophical momentum right now, and I wouldn't call it a part of the MG or Modernist movement.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              On the other hand, the problems with 'molecular gastronomy' as a term are many. It comes from a conference that had nothing to do with the movement. It is stuffy and off-putting. And even at their most inquisitive, MG cooks were rarely concerned with specific molecules.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ultimately, I think the movement is defined by a desire to drastically change the form and textures of otherwise familiar foodstuffs and to deliberately and calculatingly play with the expectations of the diner. Use of science to those ends is important, but not central. I don't know of any term that really conveys this. 'Magical cooking' would technically be a misnomer, but actually conveys the intended spirit of the meal much better than anything I've heard, IMO. YMMV.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Name calling is name calling, and that's what the elitist label is: a pejorative here.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I don't see it in this thread, where folks were asked for their opinions. Of course they differ and some are stated more strongly than others, but it's also what the OP's subject invited.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yes, but should elitism be even a negative word? It is an idea to govern based on specialized intellects and elites. You nominate the Chairman of the Federal Reserve with a PhD in economics and you nominate the Secretary of Treasury with a MBA.... These are all elitism.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The word has taken a bad reputation, but in its original form, it is the counterforce against populism, and I have yet to be convinced that pure populism is better. Both are important and useful. Populism often converges to the lowest common denominator which isn't necessary a good thing. Do we really want the head of the NASA without a college degree in science? Do we really want the Secretary of State never read newspapers?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The populism path of making a hamburger is probably using the mass production frozen meat patties because that is what MOST people do. It is popular, per se.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Right. I think what's happened is that unconsciously for some and quite deliberately by others, the two kinds of elitism -- elitism that's based on merit (good) and elitism that's based on social class (bad) -- have been conflated.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I don't think elitism should be used as a pejorative when what's really under discussion is discernment. I think folks often confuse "elite" with "snob." There are noxious folks who are elitist by nature and habit, but not everyone who aspires to high standards or who has attained elite status manifests such attitudes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Right. To bring it back to the chow, I see posts on here all the time that imply or outright state that because of their tastes and preferences they are *better* than people who have other tastes and preferences. This cuts both ways: people who disdain people who like cheap wine (for example), and people who are proudly claim that they can't tell the difference between cheap wine and expensive wine, and that people who can are poseurs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I was brought up to believe, and I truly do believe, that different isn't necessarily better or worse -- most of the time, it's just different.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            "I was brought up to believe, and I truly do believe, that different isn't necessarily better or worse -- most of the time, it's just different."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            So true.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Ruth - "it's just different" I wasn't raised that way, but I grew to learn it. I truly believe the world doesn't need to be 'this' or 'that' and I have often wondered why it can't be a 'both!' choice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: writergeek313

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    That post made my day, Writergeek! Thank you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    "Great cooks" are defined by fussy (sometimes called 'spoiled') people. Real Chowhounds are those who appreciate well prepared food, regardless of the price of the ingredients or the appearance of the results.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: condie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I don't think I care for either of those generalizations. "Fussy" is a pejorative term; you could as easily say "exacting" or "having high standards", both positive traits.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And most Chowhounds aren't blind; I don't immediately dismiss an unappealing-looking plate, or assume a beautiful one will be tasty, but I clearly appreciate a cook who thinks about the appearance of his/her product.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      But I do agree wholeheartedly that costly ingredients are not a sine qua non. It's practically a truism that straitened circumstances often drive innovation, creativity and deliciousness in cooking. I get just as much if not more pleasure dining in budget-priced restaurants as fine-dining ones.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        A spade can also be called a 'digging implement', but it is still a spade.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: condie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Not sure I understand what you're getting at. Yes, Chowhounds appreciate well-prepared food across the board. Well-prepared food is generally made by good (or great) cooks. Are you suggesting that "spoiled people" emphasize the cult of personality over the food on the plate or something?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: condie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            "Digging implement" and "spade" are value-neutral, rather different from "spoiled" vs. "exacting". Your rejoinder ignores the crucial element of connotation in diction. I dislike the valence of your chosen terms.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I think you've taught me more new vocabulary in the past week than I've acquired in the past year. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Of course the word 'spade' is much more exacting than 'cooking emplement. So is 'fussy'.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I like to cook, but confess a fairly low tolerence for those who wish their steaks well done when I grill perfectly good medium rare. They may not wish a delightful chocolate mingled with mint flavors for desert. Yoghurt anything tastes like sour milk to them. And heaven forbid the mustard comes into contact with cheese.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I try to avoid inviting fussy people for dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: condie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Those are called preferences, in less judgmental terms. I won't/can't eat steak well done, but when I invite guests for a meal, I aim to please them as much as possible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: condie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I'm talking about the negative vs. positive connotations of your word choice, not the specificity.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    But I think I missed your original point, which I now believe is that people with weird food taboos and aversions to specific flavor combinations somehow define what constitutes a great cook. If that's what you're saying, I still disagree: I think the opinions of such people are roundly ignored by serious food lovers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: twyst

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          great point............!!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3. When someone is unable to cook without a recipe in front of them, I doubt their seriousness as a cook. So that is something I can only learn by being around that person repeatedly since using a recipe is not, per se, the sign of less ability, but if you can't whip together some dishes out of your head well that concerns me.(I have two friends who cannot make a salad dressing without a recipe, even one they've made a number of times. Neither one of them is a good cook though they both think they are.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          13 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            And those who slavishly follow a recipe without being willing to improvise or alter anything fall into the same category. I get it if the recipe is so delicious you want to reproduce it many times, but once in a while, it won't kill you to throw some garlic in there!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              especially when they so slavishly follow a recipe that they end up causing a problem. I have a friend who ended up overcooking a gorgeous jambalaya because the recipe said 32-35 minutes...it was done and the shrimp perfect at about 28 minutes...that extra four minutes made the shrimp rubbery and took it from "fresh and perfect" to "overdone and is that canned vegetables I taste?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                and the sense of knowing when the recipe is just plain wrong, or not adapted to your elevation/humidity/oven temp glitch etc. is quite valuable

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Skilled improvisation is certainly a mark of a good cook in my book.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                More than that...it is KEY to being a good cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                If I'm preparing a casual meal I have no problem doing simple things like an aioli or vinaigrette, or roast chicken/vegetables, or pan-seared salmon, or gnocchi (and yes I would microwave the potatoes instead of use the oven) from memory. But if I'm planning a dinner party, I darn sure will be doing my homework—checking the original printed recipes for proportions, and cross-checking against similar recipes to see if there are better ways of doing something, etc. I won't literally have the cookbook in front of me, but I will have prepared a set of notes/charts for each course.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I guess one analogy is with jazz v.s. classical music. In classical, even at recitals at the highest levels of professional performance, the violinist or pianist will often have the sheet music in front of them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: calf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  "the violinist or pianist will often have the sheet music in front of them."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Not really. Entire concertos are memorized - every single note, every nuance. The point is that you work so long and hard at it that it's all in your head. Great cooking ought to be that way.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    and how was that concerto memorized? By playing it over and over and over again, EXACTLY as it was written, until it was committed to memory.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Ah, I sort of see your disagreement, but perhaps there is room for clarification. I agree that piano concertos are largely performed memorized. As another example, classical singers will recite from memory. But in a solo recital or chamber music, it is quite common for musicians to be reading from their sheet music, in fact I would venture that it is practically the majority. I also recall at least one newspaper article discussing this phenomenon as well, so fyi I'm not just making this up…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Perhaps after all it was a bad analogy. However, I'm not convinced that great cooking requires doing so from memory.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      sunshine842 has a good point as well. Greatness cannot derive from the rote following of instructions, whether memorized or not. It needs to be more than that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Here's another comparison—in laboratory work, a physicist or chemist would keep notebooks with them at all times, using them to maintain technical info, checklists, ideas, measurements. Perhaps the highest levels of cooking should aspire to follow that approach. Of course I'm not saying they ought to—there's no one right way to accomplish anything noteworthy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: calf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The hardest part for me is when I make a dish off the cuff, of course keeping no record of exactly how much of anything I used, and then find it to be so much better than the other attempts. Oh yes, it might have been the quality of the ingredients or the exact temperature of the pan, but I still would love to have some reference point for what exactly I put in the dish. Oh well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          that drives me nuts -- and you tinker with that dish forever trying to figure out what the heck you did that made it so good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Made lasagna last weekend -- made the sauce from scratch, but from the same recipe I've used for 20 years -- and for whatever reason, it was absolutely stellar. No idea why or how I might reproduce it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: calf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I guess I've yet to see the great chefs on TV or the ones I've worked with or seen in their kitchens with their heads down following a recipe. They do refer to checklists, maybe even start with a look at a recipe. But then they're off to the races.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          True, as a violinist, we use music in chamber music settings. Collaboration requires notations - you don't practice such pieces nearly as much as you do concertos, and you may not practice with ensemble enough to remember every nuance. But the great quartets and groups know each other so well that they get it right without a lot of notes (sic...). You'd be surprised how little we actually look at the sheet music when playing a piece we've played so many times before.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The analogy is that a great cook will practice the basics until they're in the hands. They'll know exactly how to attack a recipe even if they've never done it before, because they've done the individual steps so many times before. Technique is everything. But they'll also have a sense of the right outcome based on style and ingredients - most often, they'll have the standard repertoire well memorized, including an understanding of the various interpretations of the original.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          No doubt, there's jazz to this as well - lots of riffing and improvisation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Lots of wonderful musicians are great cooks. Ask Mr. Leff.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: calf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I think the development of most truly great cooks (I'm not one BTW, so if you decide I'm full of shit, fine - no need to reply and tell me so) often goes like this -

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Beginner - uses written recipes extensively

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Journeyman - attempts departures from recipes or even the odd complete improvisation with success

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Accomplished Cook - generally forgoes recipes except as inspiration, brainstorming, making very unfamiliar foods, etc

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Dedicated professional chef/phenomenal amateur - grudgingly accepts that recipes are necessary and begins writing things down and tweaking minor details in an attempt to get a dish perfect and reproducible

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Master Chef/yoda - documents all sorts of stuff. Uses recipes religiously.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I'm pretty sure Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria do a lot of work with recipes. Does it not count when you're creating your own? In any case, a recipe offers a kind of precision that you just can't get from improvisation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Of course after writing all that, I have to admit I almost never use a recipe for anything but inspiration, even in situations where it would probably be smart of me to. I just don't have the patience or mentality for it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. I couldn't help but notice that some of the things we complain about bad cooks doing/not doing can also be attributed to inexperience. My 16 yo daughter, for example, is new to cooking because I am a control freak who didn't let her in the kitchen as early as I should have. So she has limited skills, but good instincts. A few weeks ago, she made us a stir fry that came out somewhat overcooked because she didn't know how important mise en place was and started cooking before some of the veggies were chopped. But she also knew enough to question the recipe and had all these bottles of vinegar, tabasco, sherry, etc out on the counter so that she could taste for a subsitute if necessary.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I am not that great a home cook, but I think she has the drive to teach herself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        That is wonderful. I admire her moxie.Be ever encouraging and she can become great:)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Good for her! It's great that you're giving her the freedom to play.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I think it's all an evolution and we have to pass through the lower stages of learning. How many people, who have to learn to cook (unlike those who had cooking mothers/grandmothers to show them) just started off making their own bread or stock or anything really.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Echoing some of the comments upstream, dogmatic and immovable approaches to techniques and/or ingredients also give me pause. The stodginess of insisting that something is "THE BEST" or "THE ONLY" is a real hindrance to the evolution of a cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. With the level of ridiculousness I've observed escalating in the "nail art" field, I'm thinking that they could actually be an asset to a great chef. A santoku pointer, microplane pinky, anti-griddle middle finger. Also would work well with portion sizes in some joints.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: nsenada

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              That's right innovative of you, nsenada. The pinky hook could be a 1/4 teaspoon measure for all I know...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                And nicely seasoned over time, like cast iron.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. If a cook lives in an area with a great ingredient but has never cooked with it, I tend to wonder how they think about their food and cooking. I know a cook who lives on the coast of Maine who has never cooked with shellfish. Not for religious or health reasons but because they don't belong in her special 'pineapple and chicken' recipe. I've also never seen anything like that anywhere outside of the US but perhaps there are home cooks throughout Italy who have never cooked with tomatoes and I just don't know about them. : ) Interesting thread!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              JeremyEG
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              HomeCookLocavore.com

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: JeremyEG

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I would not be shocked by this, Jeremy, because tomatoes are new world and there was hundreds (thousands?) of years of cooking in the region before the introduction of tomatoes. The romans, who invented mac and cheese and had their own complex cuisine, never even saw a tomato. Be careful, because I think it's a common misconception to over identify italian cooking with tomatoes and red sauce when there is so much amazing regional cuisine that doesnt use tomatoes at all. And if you've never seen anything like that outside of the US, I would suggest more extensive research.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Well, and even now, tomatoes aren't as prevalent in northern Italian cuisines as they are in southern. Just got back from a week in Alto Adige and I think they appeared exactly twice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  As everywhere else, the once-sharp regional distinctions are beginning to blur slightly; just as Southern food is a trend all over the States, so in Italy different regions are borrowing from one another here and there. Still, it's generally true that for the past 2 centuries (since they arrived), tomatoes were far more important to southern Italians—who were by far more likely to immigrate here.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Hey SonofAllston.You're right, tomatoes are not a good example. My close friends in Italy are food and wine consultant and my wife has lived in Italy on and off for years. Having a fluent speaker makes for much more interesting travel there! I'm well aware of the differences in Italian cuisine by region. We usually visit friends in Rome and then stay with friends in Tuscany and the food could not be more different in the two regions. Perhaps olive oil might work as a better example? : )

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: JeremyEG

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Sorry Jeremy, didnt mean to jump ugly on your post ;-)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I like the olive oil example and another apt example might be japanese cuisine and soy sauce

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My apologies if that came off terse

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. I couldn't even wear lipstick to class (Johnson&Wales) so good call on the fake nails. I hate finding the tomato end or sticker from the bell pepper in my salad. Whoever made that just didn't care. If I can see the cook/chef, I hope I don't see him/her touching their face or hair, or see them wearing aprons outside the kitchen. I also judge chefs on their soups and breads. If those 2 things aren't right, nothing else is going to be.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: shecrab

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I make great soups but couldn't bake good bread to save my life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    But to me, baking is a very different animal from cooking. It's temperamental in a way that cooking is not and in my mind requires a greater level of attention and devotion in order to consistently produce great results than is the case with many cooking techniques or processes. If I opened a restaurant, I'd be more than comfortable serving people my cooking, but I would either hire a baker or outsource my baked goods to people who do it all the time, as I do with cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: shecrab

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      That happened on Top Chef Masters, I think it was, this year. The sticker on a piece of apple, IIRC.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Plastic, I do so agree with you about artificial nails. (From a nursing perspective: they're an excellent harbor for bacteria. Have resulted in neonatal infections and deaths.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      But I did have to laugh a little at some of the responses to this thread, as someone who likes to cook, does my best, friends tend to ask for my stuff. I'm hearing a bit of the same tone that Twyst is hearing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I cook 2-3 meals 5-6 days/week. Yet I keep a blue box of mac-n-cheez around for my occasional childhood nostalgia (I also like boxed cake mix for cupcakes about 3/x per year. Taste like mom's.). My favorite bottled dressing is Brianna's vinagrette. We had Taco Bell for dinner after work on Saturday. I plan to make some home-fermented ketchup, but right now there's a commercial bottle in the fridge. My husband can't do more than heat things up: so there's a couple of cans of Progresso light soups in my Pantry-of-Shame so that he can eat in a pinch, without injuring himself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Sometimes after a 15-hour day, a shortcut make life a little easier. Every night won't be Per Se or Alinea. But despite the horrors lurking on my kitchen shelves, I might occasionally wow you.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      :^)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        But there's a difference between having some stuff on hand for the nights you're just plain out of time and give-a-damn, and having a pantry full of the stuff. If there's a couple of boxes of mac and cheese and a jar of spaghetti sauce, I'm probably not going to judge, especially if there's a can of artichoke hearts and a jar of dried mushrooms hanging out on the shelf with them (just to pull something out of mid-air)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        It's when that's *ALL* that's on your shelf that we start to worry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. I don't know anyone who brags about how well they cook. But I suspect all will not be well in a kitchen when the cook of the kitchen is "out" of olive oil or baking powder, or can't find the cheese grater or knife sharpener, or has spoiled ingredients sitting in the fridge. You can buy certain things, but then one expects you to use them. You can decide to cook something, but you have to have the ingredients available. Another tipoff is when the cook has not been able to decide, in a timeframe of years, to buy decent pans for his/her self. You know you spend your money on something every year. If you want to cook, it should be at some point spent on tools!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          You don't know anyone who brags about how well they cook? I'm surprised by that. I run into people regularly who do--I wonder what the difference is between us.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            In all my life, I've only known one person to brag about her cooking, and that's someone online, elsewhere. I've never known anyone else to do so.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Possibly our age. I am an early baby boomer. Many female boomers do not cook at all. Crazy, but true. I know very few women who cook. I know plenty of them who heat stuff up, or buy take out, but few who cook. I also know of women who say they cook, but who obviously cook only rarely. It is their kitchens I was thinking of in the previous post.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. Someone who says that they "can't tell the difference" (or "it's just like") between various ingredients, like margarine and butter, or real lemon juice and bottled lemon juice, or the full-fat version and the nonfat version. Not that there isn't a place for some of those products, but I if you can't tell the difference, then I'd find your cooking abilities suspect.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. "Oh, I have the BEST cake recipe to give you!!! You take a box of cake mix,mix it with canned butter pecan frosting...It's incredible!!!"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              "I ONLY drink Kona coffee at home."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              "We have our filet mignon well done." This one because the person was being snooty about filet mignon. I really don't care what/how people eat their steak.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              People who follow Hungry Girl religiously.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  :D

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  *wipes tears*

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I have heard every single one of these.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    So have I- and I brought my coworkers a bag of Starbucks Kona coffee from Maui, and to tell the truth it sucked- really pissed me off because it cost so much and wasn't anything special at all.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I can't even say where I've heard most of these types of statements because they're too close to home. but they say it with SOmuch authority and confidence you hope you aren't sipping an iced tea because you might accidentally blow some out of your nose trying to be a good straight audience.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. I rarely say I'm a good cook, because it sounds like bragging. But most of my family and friends, including my father who was a restaurant critic for 12 years, tell me I'm the best cook they know. And I love Kraft mac and cheese and regularly keep a box of the three cheese and shells on hand. You'll find Taco Bell packets in the seats of my old car. I make a family recipe for tacos that my southern grandmother used to make that involves iceberg lettuce. My Italian grandmother regularly used dried basil. No one (NO ONE) can tell me that noting processed foods in the pantry or a taste for the low-brow is the mark of a bad cook, or even someone without taste. Maybe I'm slow on the uptake, but the last time I checked, low-brow foods were very much an "in" fad. Using ketchup and Coca Cola to make sauces are considered au courant. There's no place for snobbery in cooking.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  That being said: Kraft grated parmesean. That's a bad sign.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: babydoctor

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Hmmm, only if you're eating your kraft mac and cheese with your fingers.;-) But, I'll bet it would be good in an iceburg lettuce wrap, with the crispy and softness together--don't forget the sriracha and bacon!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      y'know there was a day when I might of conceived of that. and liked it, it's sort of guiltily tempting even now.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I made homemade mac and cheese a couple weeks ago and my inner hipster couldn't resist bacon bread crumbs and a heavy dose of Crystal hot sauce. Don't tell! ;)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          That sounds great--I'll have to try that one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. While I can completely understand where this question is coming from (I would likely have the same thoughts as you did as soon as I saw those acrylic nails), I think this is a hard one to answer. After reading all these replies, for example, I can say that my Mother in Law (from India) would likely fall into many 'hounds' "questionable" categories, as she doesn't have the knife skills/knowledge of salad dressings/wine pairings/expensive cookware apparently required for being considered a "serious" cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      That being said, I'm pretty sure she is able to make better yogurt in all types of weather conditions, make crispier dosas and tastier dals and grind more complex spice mixtures than almost everyone on this message board. Which, I think , just goes to show the cultural relativism inherent in judging good cooking skills and techniques. So, actually, this is a fascinating question -- but let's not assume that the things *we* consider important in judging a cook's credibility are somehow the same ones that should be used around-the-world. A French cook, an American cook and an Indian cook will have very different standards, and one isn't necessarily "better" than the other.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: anakalia

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Great point, anakalia.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        We are often biased in the French tradition when judging a person's cooking ability. It's the basis for our culinary school curricula, and in many ways, for good reason. But I couldn't agree more that there are lots of techniques and traditions overlooked in this perspective and that there is a very valid relativism in that respect to determining who is a great cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: anakalia

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          ana - I can guarantee she makes a crispier dosa than I (and I have tried) what I think it comes down to is she proud of what she does well or proud across the board? somebody upstream asked something to effect of (paraphrased) 'does the bark equal the bite?' since she grinds her own spice mixtures, I wouldn't question anything unless maybe she was going for something Escoffier using 7-11 ingredients.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: anakalia

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Good points. I agree--my MIL can do more with her inexpensive chinese cleaver and a wok, even on an electric stove, than a lot of great cooks I know. She doesn't have fancy knives nor any training but I'm amazed at how quickly she chops, dices, juliennes. Some of the best cooks don't need the fancy accoutrements.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I've made great meals when camping, on one gas burner with a frying pan and one pot, one knife and one wooden spoon, all done outside.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                You could camp w/ my husband and make gourmet meals. He's won awards at camp, apparently. I think it says a lot about a person who can cook w/ little (compared to people w/ those big fancy kitchens, state of the art appliances and can't boil water).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: anakalia

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Absolutely, which is where context comes in. I think the commenters who are taking umbrage to some of the answers are assuming that those answers are meant to apply in all cases, when rather they're simply examples.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            3. Since someone I know just posted a recipe (not here) where she put in raw chicken breast, a jar of salsa and a can of corn and said it was the most delicious dinner, I'll add anyone who says you can just put everything into a crockpot and have a fabulous meal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Admit it, chowser. You were watching Hungry Girl...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Yum, there's nothing more delicious than fat-free, sugar-free pudding! I've actually never seen her but I live in Stepfordville where far too many women follow her religiously (and Sandra Lee-- doctoring up non fat boxed cupcakes). Pass me a steak, thanks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Oh yes there is, and it's a taco made with a fat free tortilla, shredded non-fat cheese, black beans right out of the can, storebought salsa, all topped with a delightful dollop of fat free sour cream. WAHLAH!!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I've never visited her site, but seems from what y'all keep saying, Hungry Girl might not be so hungry if she actually ate FOOD, rather than foodlike substances once in a while.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Hungry Girl needs a sitdown with sunshine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. Mocking me when I get excited about food. I've had decent, perfectly edible food from such people, but it never goes beyond that point.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Terrieltr

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Awww. I feel your pain. I've been mocked for the same reason.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You ask them "Have you ever had food so good that simply the thought of eating it makes you smile?" and they answer "No." I pity them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. I know plenty of well-to-do folks with Architectural Digest-worthy kitchens tricked out with luxury appliances, gorgeous copper cookware, crazy-expensive Japanese knife sets, and gadgets galore. Our favorite running joke is the couple whose nearly-million-dollar kitchen is equipped with a pot-filler (!), which virtually no home cook needs. They dine out at a crappy local pub most nights of the week.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Very few people I know with these elaborate kitchens and tools can cook worth a damn. Indeed, some of the best cooks I've known operated out of tiny galley kitchens with two good pots, one good pan, and one good knife.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    21 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      People often become indiscriminate eaters when they're constantly refilling their pot...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Who are we to begrudge those with nice shinny kitchens and gadgets galore? Who cares if they can cook or not.I'd love to have a pot filler(besides myself) I see it all the time in the catering biz.Multi million$ homes with top of the line kitchens brimming with the latest and greatest toys and equipment.And I'll bet money that most of them don't cook(that's what nanny's and house keepers are for) But they entertain often,and where do people naturally gravitate to at a party?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        What's the point of having such a fabulous house and not spending money on the kitchen?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        So I say "let them have their Architectural-Digest tricked out kitchens" Makes my job a hell of a lot easier

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: petek

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Not begrudging them: the thread is about indicators of dubious cooking ability. Ultra-high-end kitchens are a pretty reliable one, in my experience.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: petek

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I have a client who actually does cook, but not to her kitchen's potential. The kitchen exists mostly for me. I breeze in to do a party and have to take little besides the food. Two ovens, grill in the range top, huge fridge, warming drawer, good cookware, and miles of counter space. She didn't know me when she built it (or I would have modified a few things) but it was designed with catering in mind.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: kdweeks

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              My point exactly.Just because someone has a high end kitchen,doesn't mean they can't cook well.Entertaining and fancy dinner parties are a part of their lifestyle.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              They'd rather be part of the party and not "slave' over a hot stove.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The rich are very different from you and I ... :D

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: petek

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Agreed: just because someone has a high-end kitchen doesn't mean they can't cook well. I'm saying that I've seen a hundred of them in my time, and fewer than ten of them belonged to skilled cooks. That makes it a handy leading indicator, in my book.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: petek

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  True. But I must brag that as someone who lives alone I've become quite accomplished at dinner parties that require little time in the kitchen once guests arrive. A skill that has served me well when doing large parties by myself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kdweeks

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    You're not bragging,you're a pro.Most non- pros(or civilians as I like to call them) have a hard time cooking for large groups of people and enjoying themselves at their own party,which is not a bad thing or else I'd be out of a job :D

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            MC,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            You know, you just made me think of something:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            If I was looking for a new home, and ran across one that had a traditional Claw Foot Bath tub, I would probably be all over it (assuming, all of the regular things that we are looking for were also there). Here is the thing: I only shower and never take a bath. I have not had a an actual bath in over 20 years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I am curious about the pot-filler people. So they fill their pot on the stove to avoid having to carry a pot full of water from the sink, but when they are done cooking the lobster, pasta, whatever, don't they have to bring the big heavy, pot full of hot water back to the sink to drain it? Or does the pot-filler gadget also come with Alan Asbestos-hands, the pot emptier boy?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              FWIW, I have known one (1) person with a high end kitchen (but no pot filler), who was an astonishing cook. She has, sadly, gone on to her reward, leaving her husband to cope with the two dishwashers, commercial stove, etc. Everyone else I know with a high-end kitchen (and there are plenty here) fits your description perfectly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                What I would buy, if money was no object, is the pasta pot with drain set into the counter. You press a button and it fills with water, then it boils the water. When all is done, you hit another button and the water drains out. What a wonderful idea, especially as we age or decide to have that extra glass of wine!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Agreed; the only use I could really see for a pot filler is for filling giant stock pots on the stove that would be troublesome to fit in the sink and/or haul and lift onto the stove.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Whether they will ever use it (and I'm guessing they have never once used their pot-filler) is beside the point. They were likely talked into it by their designer and/or builder, who were only too happy to include every possible add-on in their books.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I can easily imagine an arms race going on among neighbors doing status-kitchen remodels "What, you don't have an induction range?" They're showrooms lined with Veblen goods, not working kitchens.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    are you sure thats the right link? i get something about some bar

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    and as an architect, i have to say that designers generally talk with their clients at lenght about every aspect of a kitchen. yes, it may have been the designer who first brought it up, but its not like we get to charge an additional fee for every item we include, that would be the contractor.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I always thought that pot fillers were faster than the kitchen sink. For example, when I'm filling a big pot, I'll just run it under the tub faucet for a few seconds instead of waiting... and waiting... and waiting... for the sink to fill it up.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    But if they're just for convenience in filling and nothing more, you're right, that is rather silly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I've cooked a thanksgiving dinner for 20 all from scratch including home made rolls on a tiny apartment stove and now have a kitchen I designed for cooking, and depending on your perspective may be high end. My husband gave it to me for our 25th wedding anniversary. I didn't want jewelry. No potfiller-couldn't see the need and what if it leaks?(My son is a plumber). I did talk to cook who had a small sink right next to the stove in his kitchen. He cooked a lot of pasta. A good cook can cook with a hot plate, but it is nice to have good tools. One of the restaurants here has "dorm room dinners" with guest chefs from some of the best places in town cooking with minimal apparatus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: wekick

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      ""dorm room dinners"" whoa whoa whoa!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      spill. or we will hunt you down. by your profile I may be in that metroplex on occasion and would like to give that a shot (did that sound creepy? I just meant track your ISP and find your location and 'real' name to see if we're in the same geographic area - that's not creepy is it?)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I really like the idea of seeing what can be done on nothing more than a campstove really (there is a thread out there on that)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I was just thinking, having been on another board for a couple of years, that now I understand why people have complained about not being able to PM on Chowhound.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          That was an old Top Chef Masters challenge--very cool to see Thomas Hubert and others cooks in a dorm room.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            It may be the toughest table to get.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            http://www.stlmag.com/Blogs/Relish/Ja...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            You may also be interested in Chef's night at the Mud House on Cherokee. I can't find anything recent about it though.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: wekick

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Thanks! I do make it into STL every few weeks or so. one of my favorite Italian places in SF turned out great food nightly with only an oven and a hot plate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. I believe that some of these may have been mentioned earlier, but my reasons for snap and often unfair judgments. I'm reticent to eat at the home of those that:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1) Order steaks well done;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2) Save ketchup packets;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3) Profess to allergies galore and ignore them regularly [you know who you are];
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        4) Are easily squicked;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        5) Buy mail-order food that is available at a better price and quality at their local markets;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        6) Indulge in color-based diets;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        7) Regularly drink "Lite" beers;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        8) Are vegetarians;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        9) Are bad in bed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Contrarily-wise, my snap and unfair judgments of who I think have good cooking skills. Those that:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1) Dine out at a variety of places that I like;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2) Are vegan;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3) Hail from a distant country;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        4) Have the gadget I've been coveting;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        5) Have a killer wine/beer/liquor stash;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        6) Speak French;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        7) Work in a restaurant kitchen;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        8) Feel bad for the lobster, but eat it anyway with gusto and reverence.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: sailormouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Too funny. Hope soy sauce packets don't count. Do explain the vegetarian/vegan discrepancy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I was wondering about that too. I've had some pretty badly cooked vegetables made by vegans in my day, as well as some marvelous food cooked by vegetarians (especially Indian vegetarians). Though an example or two hardly makes a rule.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Like I said, snap and unfair judgments. I've been lucky with vegans, unlucky with vegetarians. Perhaps the level of dedication required for veganism ennobles it in my primate brain. (I also suppose it could be coincidental with my #9 reason, but that's likely more than you needed to know).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Indian vegetarians get the distant country bonus, so I guess it balances out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              And eww, have you seen how long people keep ketchup packets in their kitchen drawer or glove compartment? Soy sauce packets I view as guilty by association, though are certainly more in the misdemeanor category, but please, just buy a bottle.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sailormouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I have a bottle too, of course—it's the fear of accidentally running out that makes me hoard the soy packets! A bit of a problem I admit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  nothing wrong with holding on to packs (for a while) the difference is Ketchup (sp?) is foil lined and soy is plastic - no rust.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: sailormouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I wasn't trying to make you feel defensive or anything. I was just curious. Your local vegans may be better cooks than my local vegans.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                +1 on the ketchup packets. One never knows when one will get really hungry on a long drive.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              3. re: sailormouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I'm a life-long vegetarian and I'll blow your mind. That sounds dirty, but I'm sure someone with the name "sailormouth" can hang. ;)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Oh, I'm hung enough for that challenge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Still, you ketchup pack defenders frighten me, almost as scary as those Canuck fans that thought they would win.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: sailormouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  You know eat with people who you know are good in bed?? You must have some pretty wild diner parties lol

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                3. It's easy to spot problems with a cook when you're in their kitchen or eating their food. But how do you separate the real cooks from the faux cooks in a social setting? I think the answer is do they THINK about cooking? They can use cream of mushroom soup in a casserole, but have they considered or tried golden mushroom soup? If not, why not?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Do they seek out the freshest ingredients - and even more important do they know when and how to substitute? Lynne Rosetta Kaspar was going on about fresh herbs the other day, but often dried herbs work as well - I have a lot of problems with fresh herbs as a fetish. My mother cooked all winter using herbs she dried herself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  What's their favorite cooking discovery? I discovered - on my own - adding anchovy paste to tomato sauce and cayenne to apple pie. Turns out the first was an old Italian trick but the latter is still largely unknown.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The fake nails are a pretty good indication, but the only way to know is to talk about cooking. A fake cook can't fool a real cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kdweeks

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I dont think it's impossible to cook with dried herbs, kdweeks, but fresh herbs are always, always preferable. Much of the flavor lies in the oils within the herbs, and drying them dulls the flavor. Is there a place for them in certain applications? Of course, but for the most part, as is true with most produce, fresh beats the hell out of dried.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      It's impossible for anything good to come of dried parsley. But I think the point was more about the giant economy sizes; they're usually pretty aged and less than potent by the time they're used up... I have dried herbs on hand, though I almost invariably use fresh, but I keep them cool and in the dark and toss them out and replace regularly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: SonOfAllston

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Much of the flavor in fresh herbs is in volatile oils which evaporate while cooking - just as they do during drying. The freshness of herbs added at the beginning of a braise is irrelevant but they can shine when added at the last minute.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: kdweeks

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I think I'm mostly with kd on this one. Fresh herbs and good quality dried herbs are often just different experiences, with fresh being a better option in some contexts and dried being preferable in others.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I'm going to make quick pickled jalapenos and carrots tomorrow. I usually fry some dried Mexican oregano in a bit of oil to pour into the pickle as a flavoring. I don't think fresh would be preferable in this usage. On the other hand, I always prefer to use fresh basil in my pasta sauce and I find that dried is a workable, but not great, substitute.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Fair point; I indeed also have mexican oregano in my space rack, as well as epazote and a scant few other dried herbs. I would amend my statement to say that MOST common herbs (basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage, etc.) are not even close to as good dried. When it comes to braises and long cooked things such as stews and the like, I think your almost always better off adding fresh herbs to finish the dish once it is plated or finished cooking and has cooled. For my tomato sauce for instance, I always take it of the heat and cool it and then hit it with a coulis of fresh basil and oregano.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: kdweeks

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This is probably the best response on the thread. Poor equipment, lackluster ingredients, and slow knife work are not 100% indicative of a poor cook. Exceptions can be made for all those things. But for a real cook there's no substitute for a questioning attitude towards cooking and a constant drive for improvement. In my mind a real cook is someone who is critiquing and mentally improving his own dishes as soon as they are done, no matter his level of actual skill.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Well said. Except that I think level of skill factors in too. You described someone who may be a great cook already, or else will eventually be a great cook given enough time and practice. The important part is there, but you can't start cooking last week and dub yourself 'great' just cause you have the right attitude. That's why stuff like terrible knife skills are often (though not always) a sign - because they tend to indicate a lack of practice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          But take those attributes, add work ethic to the list, and give a cook enough time and practice, and they'll be a great cook, lame-ass equipment or no.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            We are mostly in agreement but I think that somebody’s current level of skill is not actually that important because like 80% of cooking is not very hard to learn. For example basic one-pot dishes have a very shallow learning curve, so if a beginner cook has a self-improving attitude he can turn out a decent chili or stew after only a few attempts.