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Jun 22, 2011 07:38 PM

What do you think are the important factors in making great food?

I read the thread-turned-article about the signs of a bad cook, and although it was fun scoffing at our imaginary idiots... what are the signs of a GREAT cook?!

here are mine:

1. Absolutely infallible, unfaltering patience
2. Comfortable multitasking (especially under pressure and time constraints)
3. A working knowledge of cooking basics acquired by effectively using recipes (for a while, at least)
4. A healthy curiosity towards restaurant menus and cookbooks (for inspiration)
5. A respect and excitement towards good quality ingredients
6. Understanding that something is ALWAYS lost when corners are cut
7. A heavy hand with salt and pepper :)



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  1. An understanding of how to approach good quality ingredients?

    1. Shoot, just posted a similar thread, but yours is better.

      1. gotta disagree with #1 - i don't think patience is always a necessity...though it does help with certain dishes and tasks.

        agree wholeheartedly with #2-6.

        re: #7, IMO, many cooks are too heavy handed with one or both of those at the wrong times, and i personally think some use salt & pepper as a crutch or substitute instead of developing more interesting & complex flavors with other ingredients. in fact, i think a truly great cook knows that it's important to exercise *restraint* with S&P in many cases.

        other signs of a great cook:
        - the ability to cobble together a delicious dish using the contents of a pantry/fridge that others would deem "bare" or "empty"
        - adaptability
        - tender scrambled eggs
        - confidence (but not over-confidence)

        1. I kind of disagree with #3. Not all recipes are that great at explaining cooking basics and techniques. If one is trying to improve their skills, it's better to look for instruction and resources that demonstrate how something is done and why certain steps are necessary.

          Once you understand how a technique or process works you have a better chance of looking at a recipe and being able to understand what it is trying to accomplish and adapting it. It's very hard to follow a published recipe exactly, there are always going to be differences in available ingredients, cooking vessels, ovens, etc.

          Not everyone is a fan, but Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen does a great job of demonstrating techniques and explaining why one thing works while another doesn't.

          2 Replies
          1. re: pamf

            I definitely see what you mean about Cook's Illustrated, although I would never actually use many of their recipes because they are exceedingly complex. I understand that their goal is to create "the best something," but sometimes it seems like a bit much...

            1. re: banjoman2375

              I don't really follow the recipes either, but when I read an article or watch a show, I learn a bit about technique and then remember that when I am cooking later.

              Having said that, I think one who aspires to be a good cook should always seek out opportunities to learn more. Reading and watching TV shows are good, but there is no substitute for hands on learning. No matter how long you have been cooking you can always learn by working with other cooks.

          2. I disagree with #7, because it simply doesn't carry across all cuisines. I rarely salt short grain rices that accompany Japanese, Korean, or Chinese food, for instance. Soy sauce, miso, seaweed etc. in the accompanying dishes make salt in the rice unwelcome.

            #1 is astounding to me, #2 less so, but again with the pressure and time constraints? What are we, cooking gods and goddesses?!? I'm mere mortal in the kitchen, and still manage to turn out good meals despite an occasional fluster bug.

            These threads on ideals are really starting to get my goat...I think the whole culture of competition is getting just a little deep in our psyches here. Can we all just relax and enjoy good food, and stop judging ourselves and one another on whether we meet some criteria?

            2 Replies
            1. re: amyzan

              Sorry, honestly a lot of the reason why I started this thread is because I thought "why do we have to make fun of bad cooks, and why don't we just think of how we can all become better at what we love?"

              And all I meant by number two is that sometimes pulling off a big meal (like a christmas dinner or something) Means that you have to have a number of things going at once, which can be difficult I think... at least I've always felt it's difficult...)

              1. re: banjoman2375

                Yeah, I appreciate the sentiment. I just decided not to get into it with that thread about judging other people's ability to cook on the basis of their fingernail length, or whatever the heck it was that started all that.