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What tasks do you excel at in the kitchen?

I'm not talking about a specific recipe. I'm talking about tasks.

I consider myself a very good cook and baker, but I excel at food prep and cleanup. I believe this is because I worked in fast food for a couple of years as my first job at 16 and then went on to waiting tables for many years. When prepping for a recipe, I chop, dice, measure, mix, etc. everything (very neatly I might add) and have it all ready. I've done this for years; way before I ever heard of the phrase "mise en place." Then, I clean as I go. This part is ABSOLUTELY attributable to my days in fast food and waiting tables. By the time I am done cooking, almost everything has been either washed and put away or rinsed and in the dishwasher. All I have to clean after dinner is a stray pot or pan and the dinner dishes.

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    1. I also excel at prep and it is actually one of my favorite parts of cooking during which I feel very focused and in control. What makes me really good at prep are my knife skills. I have never taken a class and never worked professionally, I but somehow I have honed excellent knife skills. Also, I suffer from adult ADHD, so I think there is something mentally satisfying about being able to deeply concentrate on a particular task, finish it, then the next, etc. I always thought my enjoyment of chopping veg was a bit odd about me - figuring that prep is a hassle to many. I also am very efficient as I go and like the feeling of having almost everything cleaned up by the time the dish goes in the oven (or on top of the stove) to do is own thing.

      Ocassionally, DH likes to take a swing at cooking. He is a good cook, but is far less methodical than I am. His style is more laissez-faire and I don't think he has ever used a recipe. But he has a natural gift for creating flavors. HOWEVER, sometimes I ask him if I could at least do the chopping. I cringe a bit when I see the chunky uneven pieces of onion floating in what will end up being a very tasty sauce. And, of course...I always end up having to clean the kitchen after dinner, when he cooks. It looks like a tornado went through it. But, even though I would rather plop down on the sofa after our meal (which I can do when I cook, because the kitchen is already clean), it's okay. I am never going to complain about having a nice meal prepared for me.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Justpaula

        I could have written verbatim the second paragraph of your post about my partner. Says a lot about the type of people we are Justpaula. :)

        1. re: ttoommyy

          I think we all married the same person!!!!!

      2. With both of us having cooking training (Mr. S still currently in the biz, me, not any more), we share a lot of the work.

        He likes the meditation-like tasks of chopping stuff and I often give him a list of the veg, etc needed for dinner or he'll measure out stuff for a recipe if I have to do some quick after work baking. I feel like I'm on a cooking show sometimes, with all my ingredients ready. He's also better at things that require stepping back and being patient...I'm always wanting to flip things too soon or toss the pan too frequently.

        I do the majority of the baking (and altering recipes), although Mr. S does love to make cookies. I'm also the go to for imagining flavour combos. He can do it, but tends to the traditional.

        both of us are good at tidying as we go, but not washing dishes as we go. That's from working in a professional kitchen, where clean as you go often means, clean your work area, but throw the pots, bowls, etc in the dish pit for the dishwasher or stewarding dept. to deal with. When we're done cooking the stack of dishes looks like it was for 3 meals instead of 1.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Sooeygun

          "I feel like I'm on a cooking show sometimes, with all my ingredients ready."

          I know what you mean. Which reminds me, when I was a young boy cooking on my own (and even in my later years) I used to make believe I was doing a cooking show. This was way before the Food Network. I guess all those years of watching Julia Child and Graham Kerr got to me!

          1. re: Sooeygun

            "He likes the meditation-like tasks of chopping stuff"


            Yes! That is the perfect way to describe what I enjoy about chopping stuff. Mediation. Thanks for putting it into words.

          2. Over the years I have had dozens of people turn to me for gravy lessons.
            I'm called into the kitchen at holidays to make the gravy for the turkey. I recently helped a friend duplicate his deceased mothers gravy, a quest he had been working on for 10 years. He was so thrilled to be able to have this taste of "home" again. He knew the seasonings and style, but had been unable to master the technique and understand the ratios and when to vary from them.

            I guess the traits used are patience, ability to see subtle change and rudimentary understanding of the ingredients and how they interact. I'm also able to break down processes visually and verbally to help the "student" learn what to watch for and why.

            2 Replies
              1. re: Monch

                "Infuriating my lovely wife."

                Many husbands seem to be good at that. And it's not limited to the kitchen either! :)

            1. Two skills come to mind:
              Perfectly even dice, slice, whatever cut is needed (inherited ability from my Dad).
              Packing leftovers - I am a savant at looking at a pile of leftovers and knowing exactly what size container it will fit in to. Probably also in my genes, as Grandpa had a moving business, so packing stuff is in the family skill set.

              2 Replies
              1. re: BeeZee

                "Packing leftovers - I am a savant at looking at a pile of leftovers and knowing exactly what size container it will fit in to."

                This skill eludes me. I am okay when it comes to some meager leftovers after a weekday dinner for two. But after a holiday or dinner party? I cringe if someone wants to take something home. I always wind up mangling the food being packed and always choose the wrong size or wrong type of container.

                1. re: BeeZee

                  I slice and dice better than anyone I know. I won't rave about my knife skills, because I am totally self taught and not super fast. But I do like to pre cut my ingredients into pleasing bits. If I am cooking with family, I am always assigned the slicing and dicing.

                  And like BZ, I can usually tell what size container to get out for whatever quantity is in the pot.

                  Also, I can generally hit the trash can from across the kitchen with whatever I choose to toss.

                  My other skill is knowing when the boiled eggs should be taken off the stove. I don't know how I know, but I always know.

                2. Good knife skills. Very good at combining flavours and blending herbs/spices. I do teach various cooking classes, too, so am skilled at instruction and inspiring people who call me to tell me how excited they are to go from hating lamb to loving it, for example.

                  1. I don't think I excell at anything in the kitchen. I'm OK at a number of the required processes to get food on the table; I'm poor on some other aspects; and some aspects (like being tidy) hold no meaning for me whatsoever. But there's nothing I'm really good at.

                    1. I have an uncanny ability to tell you where, exactly, something is in the refrigerator. I know that sounds odd or mundane or perhaps not even a talent, but it's to the point where my husband can actually call me when I am out of the house and I can tell him exactly where something is.

                      I realize this is making my husband sound odd (who can't navigate a fridge?) but the universality of his lack of talent (and the depths of mine) were driven home one day when the CEO of my company grumbled "why can't I find the XYZ I brought in last week in here?" while standing at the fridge and from 3 offices away I called out "It's behind the whatever on the right middle shelf next to the whosamabob".


                      3 Replies
                      1. re: owen_meany

                        Same here! I can tell you exactly where something is in my pantry as well. Or where each of my 500 culinary books are (not precisely but very close). I am so methodical and in touch with each ingredient I buy. Weird. Slight OCD perhaps?

                        1. re: owen_meany

                          My Mother hasn't been able to do anything in the kitchen for several years due to health issues. But she still knows exactly where things are and can direct my Father and her home-health aid lady.

                          1. re: owen_meany

                            This is me with my spice cabinet. Which varies in organization based on how things fit. I also know where my mothers cookbooks are on her shelf. Mine change often because of lack of room that It is much more difficult.

                          2. Cutting/Prepping Vegatables.

                            Cleaning/Trimming/cutting meat and poultry


                            Roasting Meats

                            Making Soups

                            Knowing how much food to make to feed the expected number of diners, as well as yield per pound/quart, etc of both cooked and raw food/ingredients.

                            I know how many pounds of raw brisket or turkey I'll need based on the desired preparation. How many pounds opf chicken to produce X quarts of soup or stock, etc.

                            Cleaning/scouring any pot/pan/oven rack that needs steel wool

                            Polishing Silver

                            I love to make main courses, I don't excel at salads or appetizers, or desserts

                            1. Coming up with a dish on the spot daily from what is available in my kitchen. I don't plan menus, just buy what looks good or is a good buy and then make something with it on demand.

                              Fair with a knife and enjoy the prep work.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                I can vouch for the scubadoo97's as wonderful dining hosts. He is a great grill man. May I have the recipe for the grated brussels sprouts?

                                Thanks, Veg

                              2. I am good at making magic out of leftovers. I never just reheat them; I make them into something entirely new. My family says the leftovers are usually better than the original dish.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: bitchincook

                                  This is my dad. I am hit or miss. Sometimes it is genius and sometimes I have to toss it. Luckily the better leftover turn out better. Although there have been a few dud meals I have salvaged as a leftover meal.

                                2. 1. knowing when baked goods are done by sight and touch.

                                  2. not in the kitchen, but picking the best fruit, vegetables, meat, loaf of bread, etc. at the grocery store or farmer's market. It makes people crazy when they shop with me - I spend waaaaay too long in the produce department - but my raw ingredients are as close to perfect as possible. No mushy berries, wilted lettuce or gristly meat.

                                  1. Eating while standing in front of the fridge, with the door open.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Me too. But, I find that I particularly excel at this skill very late at night or very early in the morning. When no one is looking.

                                    2. I'm great at improvising - substituting for unavailable ingredients, being creative with new ones, or working around sub-optimal facilities.

                                      On the third point, so far my best effort was creating a full Christmas dinner for guests (roast turkey, homemade stuffing and gravy, cranberry sauce, etc) with kitchen facilities that consisted of two gas burners (without a simmer setting), a toaster oven, a microwave, a rice cooker and a sukiyaki grill, and with everything ready to eat at the proper time.

                                      I can also make delicious meals that look like they were deliberately planned, out of the stuff left in the fridge the night before we go grocery shopping, or what's around the house after getting home from a trip.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                        How did you ever do a roast turkey? In pieces in the toaster oven? I'm intrigued.

                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                          I cut it into pieces. The whole breast got poached early in the day, along with the backbone, neck and gibblets. This gives a very moist breast, plus broth in place of pan drippings.

                                          The toaster oven was big enough to fit one hind quarter + wing at a time for roasting, and was done in two batches.

                                          The stuffing I did in a sukiyaki grill - I prepared it as normal, then drizzled some stock over it, covered and kept it at low heat for a few hours, which produced a moist, flavourful stuffing. The remaining broth was reduced, to make a pretty decent turkey gravy.

                                      2. Timing dishes so they are all ready at the same time and a specific time.

                                        Cleaning as I go. Clean up after dinner is easy peasy as long as no one else is involved.

                                        Prep...as others said my kitchen often looks like a cooking show ready to go.

                                        Making gravies and other roux based sauces.

                                        Mac & cheese...if we ever have a Chowhound cook-off I am entering my mac and cheese and will put it up against anyone's :-)

                                        Braising meat.

                                        Seasonings....one of my huge issues with my husband is he terribly underseasons food.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                          Me too on timing things to be done at the same time, but then, I have an exquisitely accurate internal clock, whether I want it or not. Another me too on cleaning as I go.

                                          Otherwise, I excel at all things yeasty or crusty (i.e. pie shells and the like). However, I'm not so good at exactly following recipes--I see finding shortcuts as a challenge.

                                          1. re: pine time

                                            I'm scared of yeast :-) I have never cooked with it and find it very intimidating....lol

                                            1. re: pine time

                                              I am really not good at timing, particularly towards the end of preparing a meal. Of course my timing is generally weak in all things. This is the one thing that frustrates me about my cooking. Any quick tips?

                                              1. re: Justpaula

                                                For me, it's just an automatic way of thinking, both for cooking and other tsks (i.e. I'm never late for anything), but guess one way is to plan backwards--want to serve at x o'clock, so meat needs to be in at y o'clock, allowing for rest-time, other long-cooking items next, then short cooking items in stages. While things cook, have all serving pieces, including needed utensils, lined up in order. Sounds very humdrum, but works like a surgical procedure. When in some friend's kitchens, I'm shocked at how disorganized they can be.

                                                1. re: pine time


                                                  I also am never late for anything.

                                                  My brother's kitchen is an absolute nightmare and if he's having dinner for us it's typically 1+ hours late and his kitchen is a complete disaster.

                                                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                    Yup, was invited to a friend's house, and she made it clear that dinner would be served at 6, so told us to be there at 5 for drinks, apps. At 5:30, she announced "Guess I should get the [refrigerated] chicken [whole, to be roasted] in the oven. Oh, better turn the oven on." I just cannot understand such a thing! But she's a dear. Bless her heart (the cover-all-sins southern statement).

                                          2. I'm fairly decent at using a knife. I am quite good at sharpening knives.

                                            Sauce-making in general. I can usually improvise a wide variety of delicious sauces for pretty much anything from any half-stocked pantry/fridge.

                                            I have a very well tuned sixth sense as to exactly when foods (meats especially) are done. Though I seldom use a timer, I usually pull a roast or a steak or a piece of fish, etc, out of the oven to find it cooked to the perfect doneness. Usually, I'm not even thinking about the meat as I do something else, when all of a sudden it's as though a bell goes off in my head just at the right time. Strangely, I'm quite bad at timing an entire meal to be finished all at the same time, so often my perfectly cooked meat winds up sitting around far longer than I'd like as I begin to prep vegetables or other sides.

                                            1. Cooking/roasting/grilling meat to the perfect doneness.
                                              Making great sauces.
                                              I am skilled at making caramel (i.e. spun sugar).
                                              Really enjoy and am great at making something wonderful out of very little. For example, when I am visiting family, I usually do all the cooking. Much of the time there are far fewer ingredients for me to work with than at my house. Sort of like black box cooking with time pressure - thrive on it.
                                              Love and am good at making many, many types of preserves and condiments and seasoning blends from whole spices/chiles.

                                              1. A lot of people have pretty much said the same things.....mise en place, clean up, storing leftovers.

                                                I find I have the unusual talent of following a recipe and executing it perfectly, even if the technique or ingredient is unknown. I can bake and cook, which I understand not too many people can do. I also learned that once I follow a recipe, I no longer need it and can alter without negatively impacting the completed dish.

                                                My best skill though is tasting and seasoning, except for dishes I make with ingredients I can't eat. DH becomes taster for me then.

                                                1. I was originally going to say that I excel at making everything come out at the same time (I *am* pretty good at it), but I think my most underrated skill is sneaking the best parts of a roast (of any kind...poultry, beef, pork, whatever) in the kitchen without anybody else knowing. I guess it's underrated because I always get away with it....if nobody knows, they can't comment, and can't complain!

                                                  1. Loading the dishwasher. I'm fairly competent at cooking what I like to eat, and at mise en place, and at cleaning as I go. But dishwasher-loading is where I really shine. There's a scene in the 2008 film Rachel Getting Married in which the groom competes with the father of the bride in a dishwasher-loading contest (one of the onlookers yells "get the schematic!"). When I saw it, I started laughing and couldn't stop, partly from the joy of self-recognition, and partly from the shame of it.

                                                    1. > Pie crust and pie making. My "job" since I was 14 years old.
                                                      > Making perfect gravy (my sister has given up and hands it to me to do at her house - I learned from our Mom).
                                                      > Being able to come up with what *I* think are flavorful meals with what's in the pantry and freezer. Thanks in part to an overstocked spice cabinet.
                                                      > Ensuring that the leftovers are stored in the perfect-size containers.
                                                      > Loading the dishwasher for maximum stackage.
                                                      > Timing so everything ends up cooked properly at the same time. (Also learned from Mom - it's a think backwards thing.)

                                                      And I'm one of those that love prep work. The "zen" of getting everything done beforehand is often what I'm looking for after working all day. My knife skills, while not superb, are good enough to keep most ingredients uniformly sized.