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Who taught you to cook?

  • Musie Aug 20, 2012 08:15 AM
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Are you self taught or do you have someone that showed you the ropes?

Both my parents cooked, nothing fancy but they knew how to throw together a family meal. So guess they got me interested in cooking and showed me the basics. Anything else is self taught and I usually keep trying a new recipe until I get it right.

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  1. I taught myself how to cook and lost 85 pounds in the process.

    Growing up, my mom always cooked (my dad too, occasionally--he was the breakfast and grilling guy!) but I never really learned for myself. She didn't really ever teach me--not out of neglect or ill intentions--I just don't think the thought really occurred to her, or maybe little me showed no interest. Regardless, I had thankfully been exposed to my parents cooking in at least some shape or form in my childhood, a phenomenon which is actually shockingly absent from some households.

    I learned to cook around age 21, a time coinciding with finally making the first steps towards ridding myself of the extra weight I had been carrying around since puberty. I was obese and living on fast food, candy, and processed snacks in college. I realized the importance of eating real food for optimal health, so that's what I did; I cut my carbohydrate intake drastically. This alone forced me to learn how to prepare meals without resorting to boxed meal kits, "spice blends," or the like.

    I slowly began with the basics--learning how to sauté, roast, steam, boil, and chop. I knew absolutely NOTHING about how to check meats for doneness, or optimal temperatures, or how to properly season meats and veggies. This knowledge came with time, and lots of experimentation usually resulting in dry, chalky pork loins and rubbery chicken breasts. My knowledge came from practice, thorough online reading, and YouTube videos, amusingly enough. I still consider YouTube an indispensable source of knowledge.

    Two years down the road, I'm alarmed at how much I've grown as a cook and shrunk as a person! I'm at a healthy weight, I eat well, and no longer fear those mysterious, nebulous, often demonized foodstuffs like coconut oil, butter, and fatty meats. :) I can roast, sauté, and chop with the best of 'em!

    1. Necessity.

      1. Autodidact.

        1. My parents and my uncle taught me in our family restaurant.

          1 Reply
          1. re: raytamsgv

            Pretty much the same here. Although my my was my biggest influence, with a nice helping hand from my grandmother.

          2. I watched and helped both parents cooking.

            Later, I read cookbooks. Still later i watched cooking shows and certainly picked up techniques from that. (You too can debone whole fowl!)

            Finally, I sometimes want to re-create dishes I have been served.

            1 Reply
            1. re: FrankJBN

              This is me to a Tee! Parents->cookbooks->tv & internet. Also the recreating of restaurant dishes. Wow.

            2. Me, Myself and I. I took a few lessons, bought a ton of books, and looked things up online. I started doing it after living in Thailand for a short stint, and wanting to recreate the dishes I had there. Then I sort of worked backards, if you will, to learning some classic American dishes.

              1. Self-taught. A combination of cooking shows (ranging from Julia to annoying Food Network types), reading cookbooks/food writing, and mostly, by eating. You can't be a decent cook without knowing what the desired outcome of a dish is.

                1. The basics I learned from Philipino cooks, never stopped learning from then on.

                  1. At home, Mom..

                    The old man was in the restaurant biz so.....

                    1. Grew up watching my mom in the kitchen. Julia Child & Joyce Chen got my dad in the kitchen. Not til I got married, did I really start to get an interest in cooking. So, I guess I'm self taught. So much so...it finally led me to cooking in restaurants before I gave up the long & late hours. I do give great credit to my mom though, because if it weren't for her GREAT "tired & true" recipes, I would have thrown in the towel...years ago!!!

                      1. My mom, who is a pretty damned good cook herself, started it by requiring that my brother and I take turns preparing meals when we were about nine and 10 years old. When I was in high school, I worked in a couple of restaurants where I learned basic prep on a larger scale and expanded my repertoire that I'd learned at home. Eventually, I learned to improvise when I was in charge of making the staff meal at one of the restaurants where the staff wanted something different every day but I had limitations on what I could use from the stock on hand.

                        1. The Moosewood's Low-fat Vegetarian cookbook taught me how to cook. That and a healthy respect for trial and error.

                          As I've gotten older, I've learned that my mom comes from a certain Eastern European tradition of home cooks where she refuses help in the kitchen. None of my favorite food from growing up I learned from my mother, and had to either dig up the recipes or recreate based on guesses. That's how my mother learned how to cook from my grandmother - and it appears to be a tragic family tradition. I loath 'help' in the kitchen as well. Sigh.

                          1. My three sisters and I were always helping my mother in the kitchen (she was a good cook). By the time I was in high school, she was working full time, so the four of us girls alternated dinner cooking duties, and Mother did the dishes. So, between that and the home ec. cooking classes in junior high (where I learned technique and terminology!), I was comfortable in the kitchen by the time I moved out on my own at 18. After that, lots of cookbook reading and lots of cooking.

                            1. Lots of people.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                +1! Mom started the basics for me. But many other people showed me new tricks.

                                1. re: Crockett67

                                  It's really true. My mother did some dishes wonderfully. Others, not so well. I learned to cook in self-defense. I learned a lot working in kitchens as a teenager (hotels, Chinese, Korean, steakhouse, breakfast joint). Friends showed me things along the way (Cuban fishermen, chefs, rancheros, Italian scientists, hillbilly relatives, etc.) The only thing I don't do is bake, because my wife has a yeast allergy. My philosophy; if you like to eat well, you should learn how to cook well. Being a good cook is like being a good musician. You can't stop learning. People get tired of hearing even a great song, if it's the only song you can play.

                              2. Despite mandatory 'home economics' (cooking) classes between the ages of 11 and 13 (for girls only), I taught myself to cook when I left home at 18.
                                What a combination of those home-ec classes and my mom's 'ingredient interventions' taught me was that recipes are not laws, they are at most loose guidelines - even for baking, where experimentation educates by results. (My mom always varied the recipe mandated by the home-ec teacher, so I always ended up with something different to my classmates; often edible).

                                1. Both of my parents, & one set of grandparents, were all FABULOUS cooks. Particularly in authentic Bohemian/Czech cuisine. Those memories are mouthwatering. So I learned - & early - from all of them. Will never be able to hold a candle to them, but learned enough to earn me a lifetime of a love of cooking, eating, & trying new things.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Bacardi1

                                    my dad always bragged that my mom was such a good cook because he taught her everything he knew! of course, the fact that her dad was a butcher and she must have picked up a few tips herself in her family of 8 kids and she was the oldest girl, never entered his head. i used to help do little things to help her in the kitchen (stirring white sauce, buttering and flouring pans for cakes, peeling potatoes, etc. but when i was first put in charge of puting a meal on the table i made the mashed potatos first without realizing they'd be cold by the time i put everything else together! when i went out on my own i read james bead's theory and practice of good cooking and perfected french onion soup complete with home made beef broth, omelets,roasted chicken from his writing! still called mom occasionally for advice on her potato salad, chili, etc.

                                  2. My mom and Nana (French Canadian) and my Napolitano dad and all his sisters, my aunties. The key, I think, is that none of my beloved departed fam were freaked out to have little inquisitive hungry me in the kitchen---they saw it as what it was, a teaching opportunity. I'd get all the little tricks and stories and folk wisdom too. I so wish I could experience that again with them.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: pinehurst

                                      Mine was my grandmother...but I echo your sentiments about wishing we could do that again.

                                      My grandmother would flip her lid to see where I am now and what I turn out of my kitchen on a regular basis. She was mostly meat-and-potatoes, too -- Swiss/German was the heritage, so that wasn't unusual, but she's be shocked (and I like to think happy for me) to see how far and wide my repertoire has spread from her tiny little kitchen.

                                      But I'm still struck how much of her teachings I still use on a regular basis...homemade egg noodles...how to make a light, fluffy cake...light, flaky pie crust...feeding a lot of people for not a lot of money...canning jams and jellies and whatever is fresh and in season this week (just today I canned a huge bowl of tomatoes that had gone ripe all at once)...the basics are still the basics, and her guidance is still evident every day in my kitchen.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        As someone who is *not* good at making homemade egg noodles, or anything resembling light n flaky in a pie crust, or canning, I give big respect to your grandmother. She sounds very cool.

                                        1. re: pinehurst

                                          she was. She was my best friend when she passed away -- and there aren't many 21-year-old girls who could say that (or would!).

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            :) my grammy was my best friend from my earliest memories until we lost her a few months ago. Not only would I say that to my friends, I often blew them off to hang out with her!
                                            Your grandmother sounds like a really neat lady.

                                            1. re: alliegator

                                              thanks!

                                      2. re: pinehurst

                                        French Canadian cooking is an art and life is a food celebration full of traditions.

                                      3. My mom taught me to bake cookies and fry bacon and eggs, but the principal lesson was just getting me comfortable working with food, utensils and heat. Her dad was my greatest inspiration and role model, having become a truly good cook due to his German Mennonite culinary background, his love of good food, and his twenty years of bachelorhood while divorced from Grandma (they re-married in 1951). The first unfamiliar dish I made was stuffed pork chops; Mom had gotten the ingredients, but had to stay late at her office, so she called and told me where to find the stuff and the recipe. I was delighted with how easily it went together and how good it was. I was eighteen then, just about to go into the Air Force.

                                        As for later, I can't remember whether it was my discovering how much I liked to read cookbooks or how much I loved feeding myself and friends, but it went from a hobby to a craft to a fairly effortless skill, and I think my favorite one.

                                        1. I learnt to cook watching my Mom, at some point dinner was delegated to me. My Mom didn't mind passing the torch.

                                          I also learnt to cook from my husband whose background is French Canadian and Italian. I learnt from him and as well his Mom. We both like to entertain and cook.

                                          Finally I have learnt from the cooking shows, I especially enjoy Laura Calder for French cuisine and from Anna Olsen for baking. I have learnt much from both shows.

                                          1. Had family influences but I would say self taught

                                            1. My mother showed me the basics, but I remember being interested in food and cooking from a very early age. I would read her cookbooks, watch the Frugal Gourmet and Martin Yan, and beg to help in the kitchen whenever possible. I continued to learn from cookbooks, the internet and cooking shows throughout college, and by the time I graduated I had earned a reputation as a damn good cook (and a far better one than my mother!).

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: biondanonima

                                                I used to baby sit for a family where the husband collected cookbooks. He had upwards of 450. Over the years I worked for them, I read most every cookbook cover to cover. He used to let me borrow a stack to take home. It was great!!

                                                1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                  That is wonderful.... what a way to occupy your mind during nap time!!

                                                  1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                    Way to take advantage of a great opportunity! Good for you! (I collect cookbooks too, I have almost 850 books, it's an awesome collection, if I do say so myself, they're almost all in my living room, and it constantly amazes me that I never see anyone browse through them, which anyone would be welcome to do. I need new friends.)

                                                2. Self taught by watching others - family, cooking shows and pros. 

                                                  1. My mother was a horrible cook (canned spaghetti in orange sauce, e.g.), so I didn't learn from her. When I was 23, I dated a Lebanese Christian guy, so the first cuisine this Polish-American girl learned to cook was Middle Eastern.

                                                    1. My story is the same as yours, except that my parents (actually my father, who did most of the cooking) never exactly showed me how, I just watched him doing it. I've kept just one family recipe, Pop's spaghetti sauce, and I only have it because after I started cooking for myself, I asked him for it.

                                                      1. Honestly, it was Emeril Lagasse. My mom is a great cook but I had to learn the basics from TV as an adult before appreciating the level of her skill. Now I'm learning from her bit by bit whenever I get a chance to see her.

                                                        1. Julia Child and Graham Kerr (way back when he was still fun).

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: NE_Wombat

                                                            Rachael Ray. It wasn't until I started watching FN that I attempted to cook anything beyond heating
                                                            Canned sauce. My mom cooked one or two meals per year (and these were under protest) and all other meals were strictly frozen dinners. My grandmother on one side was completely burned out after 50+ years of nonstop cooking. She was horrified when i asked for a cookbook for christmas one year.

                                                            1. re: NE_Wombat

                                                              He is a bit of a stick in the mud today isn't he? He was often very happy by the end of his show sipping on wine!

                                                            2. I watched my mom cook when I was growing up and she's a pretty good cook. Other than that, I'm self taught.

                                                              1. Learned my way around the kitchen from my Grandmother. Dad did too... by necessity. My mother died when I was young (8yo) and younger brother and sister. My Grandmother stepped in ran the ship. She was someone who cooked many things by what I call the "dump" method... can't remember her consulting recipes for anything?? By the time we were old enough to be alone for any length of time... like after school but before Dad got home when he was on 1st shift... we were starting dinner.

                                                                When I went away to college was surprised how much my fellow students DIDN'T know about cooking? Remember 2 girls who literally ate spaghetti and Ragu sauce EVERY night for a full semester? Also remember getting sent back after a weekend at home with 2 lb of frozen short ribs, a big can of tomato-something, a bell pepper and an onion. Room-mate and I ate like QUEENS!

                                                                1. The food at my friend's house was better than ours, although my mother wasn't a bad cook--just not very adventurous. My friend's mother had grown up over a bakery in Europe and she was not only a great baker, but made a lot of interesting dishes that never graced my family's table across the street. Let's just say I spent a lot of time in their kitchen! That sparked my interest, and I have to give her credit even if she didn't exactly "teach" me how to cook.

                                                                  I was born in the 60's, and grew up in the 70's-80's when cooking shows were exploding on PBS. Yan Can Cook and Julie Child were entertaining, but it was Nathalie Dupree's gentle approach that really pulled me in. God, I love her still. Before that, at around 12 or 13, I had started with things like cookies and spaghetti sauce and lentil soup, using recipes from my mother's old cookbooks. Starting in high school, I worked in restaurants and watched their techniques. I developed a passion for cookbooks (HOURS spent in bookstores/libraries looking at recipes), until the internet arrived. Over the years, I developed many friendships that were based more on food (and drink!) than any other interest--and those friends taught me the most as we cooked (and went out to eat!) together.

                                                                  I don't think anyone can ever be done learning how to cook. I've mastered some things that other people find too laborious (like roux for gumbo or homemade turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving) but the pay-off is just too great to ever go back to shortcuts/processed elements that most people use and that I had grown up with. Yet I still manage to screw up every other layer cake I try to make. But it's the mistakes and the things you become known for after you've perfected them over time that are the real "teachers", and I guess it's the time spent in the kitchen alone when we do the most learning. One thing cooking has taught me is to know what is UNnecessary in certain recipes and what combinations of flavors I don't like but never knew quite "why" until I prepared the food myself.

                                                                  1. My mother just cooked for utility to get us fed, but my grandmothers and great aunt were amazing. We lived in a small town and they were within 3 blocks of us.

                                                                    My great aunt was like a pastry chef. She brought big train cakes to birthday parties and dolls in a cake dress, she made a huge wedding cake for me when she was in her late seventies. She made cinnamon rolls to die for and brought boxes of decorated christmas cookies, divinity, & fudge with nougat centers for the holidays. She also ran a small diner for a while, (she made the best roast beef sandwich I have ever tasted).

                                                                    She happened by one day when as a young teenager I was attempting cream puffs and they had not puffed, they were rocks. She told me I didn't let the batter cool enough before adding the eggs. I tried again. Perfect. She was a cooking god to me!

                                                                    My grandmother, who worked 6 days a week, always cooked fantastic things, huckleberry pies, awesome baked beans, strawberry rhubarb jam, homemade ice cream, steamed pudding with hard sauce, oyster stuffing in the turkey at Christmas, fried chicken and pheasant my grandpa hunted. She made tomato aspic with shrimp too, for my father, I hated that!

                                                                    My other grandmother was a gardener. We always had fresh garden tomatoes, homemade brown bread, lemon meringue pies, fresh string beans, garden carrots. Seriously, I don't think any Italian foodie family had anything over my American foodie family. It was a fantastic childhood!

                                                                    1. Justin Wilson, Julia Child, Sarah Moulton, Nathalie Dupree, Jeff Smith, Martin Yan, Jacque Pepin and a few more of the PBS greats. My dad and I used to watch the shows together on Saturday and any other time they were on. My mom would let me play around and experiment some (she wasn't a good cook.) I also took home ec and a world foods class in high school. I was a really solid cook by the time I was about 18.

                                                                      1. Was always interested in cooking ~ "Berta" a Creole lady of color (family cook and second Mother) was an early and continuous inspiration/influence until her death a few years back. ~~ My Grandmother, and Mother taught me a thing or two as well!!! ~~ Eugene "Cap" Coleman, John "Peter Rabbit" Bracey, and Virgil "Sugar Man" White.. three of the best Pit Master's (and friends) that ever made a track on this earth... taught me the art of BBQ at an early age. After that, I suppose I am self taught, but it's always a work in progress........

                                                                        1. My grandmother and grandfather.

                                                                          Grandma taught me how to cook inside, and Gramps taught me, "man cookin'" on the grill.

                                                                          I figured the rest out on my own.

                                                                          1. Julia Child + other PBS cooking how-tos, Mom & aunties, home ec. teachers (showing my age -- LOL !)

                                                                            1. My mother in law. Taiwanese cooking is GREAT.

                                                                              Jeff Smith (remember him?) hada show I loved to watch. I wooed my (now) wife with his Chinese roast chicken.

                                                                              Mark Bittman taught my wife and I the basics.

                                                                              Nigel Slater on how to cook on my own.n Appetite is a fine book.

                                                                              1. I caught the cooking bug while serving in the USN as a Supply Officer, in charge of four galleys and the Officers' Mess. Thanks to CSC Hoag, and Lt. W. E. Egan,USN. they showed me how to cook, for a small group, or a crew of 800+ hungry sailors. Then damissus, a Purdue U Home Ec grad finally told me to help in the kitchen after I retired, and I've done so since, even venturing into some exotic dishes, the recipes for which can always be found on the "net".

                                                                                Now she tells anyone who listens that I am a better cook than she is.

                                                                                The comments about Jr & Sr high Home Ec classes are on point. Damissus taught Home
                                                                                Ec for 17 years, and it was an unusual year when a graduate, or several, did not appear on the doorstep to thank her for teaching them how to cook.. Usually, they would comment that she saved them from starvation, or junk food.

                                                                                We'd always smile at each other, and revel in the fact that the lessons were appropriate and to the point.

                                                                                1. Irma Rombauer, author of the original old Joy of Cooking. The summer I was 15 I shut myself up in the kitchen with her.

                                                                                  1. I learned watching Sara Moulton on Cooking Live.

                                                                                    1. My parents, neighbors, Miss Payan - my home ec teacher, sea scout cook, yacht club members preparing club meals - i.e. mass quantities. Reading my mother's cookbooks, watching the Galloping Gourmet, and George Carcionne who appeared on local news casts and local evening magazine shows.Bon Apetit magazine' my stepmom and many friends. My exes' parents also taught me a few things like making sushi and Japanese New Year's foods.

                                                                                      When I was a teen one of my chores was to cut up whole raw chickens for family dinners. I actually learned to like it. Dad was the breakfast and grilling guy. hamburgers or steaks on Sundays Mom only made scrambled eggs.

                                                                                      When mom was away, Dad fixed beef tongue, German sausages and sauerkraut, liver and onions and fish, all things Mom wouldn't eat.

                                                                                      I love that I have a palate a wide range of tastes. And I always like to learn more.

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Beamzy

                                                                                        Make that "Joe Carcione". As in, "This is Joe Carcione, yer green grow-sah." I loved that guy!

                                                                                        1. re: ricepad

                                                                                          Thanks for the spell check. He was great!