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Technique versus flavors, which should you learn first?

I'm starting this thread because I was reading another thread about what to get a budding young 13 year old cooking enthusiast.

The majority felt getting him a knife and teaching him knife skills would be the better gift (yes, people were concerned about the danger but that isn't the point of this thread). I felt something like a panini press would be better so that he could experiment with flavors by throwing random stuff between bread and seeing what he thought about it.

But it made me think - which is more important to instill first in a young gourmand - appreciation and understanding of technique/skills or flavors?

In the end they are both important of course but which do you think should be taught first or is maybe more fundamental?

While I've already given away my position, maybe I'll chime in again later too :D

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  1. I would think technique would be easier to learn.

    Kinda like playing music. Some need to read music and can play really well and others can play by ear. So which is more important in music. I'd say technique.

    Anyone can follow a recipe for flavor combination.

    2 Replies
    1. re: scubadoo97

      Depending on the music..... I was also going to make a musical analogy: melody and harmony taught at the same time. As a classical violinist, I was trained with a heavy emphasis on melody and technique. Many times at the expense of the music. As someone who has "crossed over" to traditional styles of music, I find that and understanding of "flavor" goes much further than technique, musically speaking.
      Also, differentiating those that "can play really well" and "others can play by ear" is misleading, some of the best players of music, that thing that stirs your soul upon the hearing of it, can't read a note.
      So, I would say flavor, combined with technique. So, a round of cutting skills, like with potatoes, while using different flavors, basic techniques that are changed up with different spices, textures, etc... would be the way I'd approach teaching a 13 yr. old. A panini press is a great way to start, too. One can cut a variety of things that lend flavor, so again, both at the same time. Without being too long, involved, complicated.

      1. re: wyogal

        "Also, differentiating those that "can play really well" and "others can play by ear" is misleading, some of the best players of music, that thing that stirs your soul upon the hearing of it, can't read a note."

        Wasn't a put down of those that can play by ear (I play by ear and can't read a single note) but just pointing out that some need to read music to pay well and others don't. Still the basic playing techniques are important if you are to play music by ear or reading music.

    2. Technique. Because it would be frustrating to keep burning your flavor experiments.

      1. Both important , of course. But if you can't cook it right, then you won't appreciate the flavour.

        But take him out to different restaurants where he can develop his appreciation of the flavours

        1. My first thought was technique, but at that's flavor experimentation might be fun. Sure, pork tastes good with apples but what about licorice? May be fun to try without preconceptions. On the other hand, a few really gross tasting results might turn the kid off cooking. On the other hand (this is an octopus answer, too many hands), couldn't he learn about flavor and technique at the same time? I like the knife idea, could make the lesson slicing, chopping cabbage and all sorts of things that go well with it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: calliope_nh

            Technique all the way.

            Calliope -- I think the important part here is that, yes maybe experimentation would be neat... but a horribly overcooked pork tenderloin with applies or licorice is still horribly overcooked and not going to taste that great.

            Teach fundamentals: how to sweat, saute, sear, braise, simmer... proper doneness standards (especially for meat, and the aforementioned pork), important ratios (vinaigrettes -- which, interestingly, is very similar to most sauces that are fat:vinegar based), etc.

          2. Thimes,

            "The majority felt getting him a knife and teaching him knife skills would be the better gift"

            I personally wasn't set on giving a knife. It was, however, the original poster's question to us, so I answered Phil and said it is a good gift.

            "In the end they are both important of course but which do you think should be taught first or is maybe more fundamental?"

            Like you said, both are very important. To some extends, they are intertwined. I know I learn technique before flavor. Based on my memory, my first cooking task was to learn how to fry eggs, sausage, bacon. Of course, there are salt and pepper, but I would classify the lesson much more on "technique" side than the "flavor" side. For example, how not to make the egg stick to the pan (important skill indeed), how to cook the round sausage so it is cooked through, how to cook the thin bacon without overcooking it. So there was a lot of timing, food control, heat control...etc. Then, I think I learned to grill chicken on a barbecue fork. Something like this:

            http://image.made-in-china.com/2f0j00...

            In this case, the emphasis was how to start to fire, how to put the charcoal together... then it was about how to properly grill on fire. The lesson was more about technique.

            In my view (based on my experience), technique probably comes first because it is more fundamental. For majority of cooking, the "flavor" depends on "technique", but the "technique" does not depends on "flavor". I can master the skill to fry an egg without learning how to flavor it, but I cannot properly apply different flavors to the egg if I cannot fried an egg (like burning it or making it sticks all over the pan). Surely there are exception to this rule like using these kits, but that is really not the point because they are exceptions:

            http://youtu.be/iL_hPJr51co

            This is like many things in life. scubadoo used music as an example. I can use chemistry as an example. It is more fundamental for a young chemist to learn the lab techniques: how to use a balance to weight, how to measure volume, how to wear a goggle, how to use a Bunsen burner..... all of these should be taught before how to run a chemical reaction. A student cannot run a good chemical reaction unless he/she has the techniques down. Can you run a reaction without a Bunsen burner? Of course, there are many cases you can, but it does the students good by teaching the students Bunsen burner early instead of limiting the reaction he/she can run.

            Of course, I can also talk about driving which is probably easier to relate to.