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Cooking or Eating Out: What is more important in making who you into a food expert?

Based on another thread, half of the responders eat two or less meals a week from restaurants, and 2/3rd eat five meals or less. This is actually lower than I would have guessed. :)


My following question is: "What do you think is the most important aspect in making you a good foodie, gourmet, food epicurean, food expert or whatever you may call yourself? The ability and experience to cook gourmet meals? The opportunity to taste and appreciate vastly different cooking styles from restaurants?"

What do think is the more important in shaping your food adventure?

A) Almost all about cooking and food preparation (>90%).
B) Largely about learning to cook, but eating out is important too.
C) About 50:50.
D) Largely about eating out, but learning to cook is important as well.
E) Almost all about eating out (>90%).

For myself, the answer is (B).
The act of making the foods makes me understand the foods beyond what tasting alone can ever bring. For example, I have had numerous cookies since I was young, but it wasn't until I started to learn to make these items that I finally appreciate all the details. The act of cooking enhanced my ability to detect these foods in finer details which I won't have otherwise. There are differences between a person who has played football versus a person who has solely watched many games. On the other hand, the mere act of cooking can be limiting. First, learning to perfect a food item is time consuming. I cannot possibly learn to cook even 1% of the world dishes in my lifetime, so eating out can increase my food exposure. Second, eating out provides me realistic meters/comparisons which cooking alone cannot.

Thank you for your input.

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  1. I wouldn't call myself any of things, and think that "expert" is a status that cannot be attained by any simple formula such as you have given, but only through a lifetime of devotion to the subject, by whatever path. And it can be bestowed only by the acknowledgement of others.

    In my opinion, James Beard was a food expert, but his path to expertise cannot be duplicated by others.

    1. I would say "B" as well. Eating out is what inspires me in the kitchen. It also teaches me other flavor profiles. Nothing beats working, working, working in the kitchen, though. Also, by eating "out" I would include eating at other people's homes, not just restaurants.

        1. I'm just a food dummy… The more I learn, the more stupid I feel.

          Both, C. It's a feedback loop.

          1 Reply
          1. re: calf

            <I'm just a food dummy>

            Food dummy actually sounds adorable -- like Butters.

          2. Hi, ChemicalK!

            I learn about food differently from cooking in and eating out. Eating out certainly gives me exposure to varied cuisines, ingredients, plating options and generally ambitious culinary undertakings that I couldn't or wouldn't attempt at home. But cooking at home gives me an appreciation for techniques, equipment and ingredients.

            There are some things I could probably make at home but don't because of the time and/or effort involved. Or sometimes I just don't have access to certain ingredients. But also, I'd never equate myself to a professional chef, so even if I were to attempt a challenging dish, it wouldn't be the same as having it prepared by someone who really knew what he/she was doing.

            One other thing -- my home kitchen and restaurants aren't my only primary sources of food learning. I learn a lot from books and TV, and of course from right here on Chowhound.

            7 Replies
            1. re: CindyJ

              < I learn a lot from books and TV, and of course from right here on Chowhound>

              But would that not be part of home cooking?

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                No, I wouldn't necessarily consider it a part of home cooking. Here's an example -- some time ago, I began noticing mentions of the word "umami." I saw it in articles in food-related magazines and heard it mentioned on various TV food shows. It was a concept I had difficulty grasping at first. So I posted questions here, and googled it, and I finally came to understand it. It required neither cooking at home or dining out.

                1. re: CindyJ

                  I see. Thanks. I thought you meant you read some recipes and tried them out.

                  Still, you found out the definition of "umami" by reading, and then associated the word to a taste which you have already knew. The actual understanding is still through tasting it from your own cooking or tasting it from dining.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    It's funny, Chem, my family and I recently had a long discussion about umami and concluded that it's really not a taste, per se, but more a sensation of an enhanced or "elevated" flavor profile. It's not like sweet or sour or bitter or salty, which are easily identifiable. It's that "Je ne sais quoi" attribute -- you can't quite identify it, but you absolutely know it's there.

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      Well, the definition of "taste" is a difficult one.

                      It is like "Is Tomato a vegetable or fruit"? Culinary, most people treat tomato as a vegetable. Scientifically, tomato is a fruit.

                      If we want to definite taste as in something very noticeable, then "spicy/hot" would be one, and in fact many people considered the 5 tastes to be: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy. However, from a biological point of view, spicy is not a taste. It is very noticeable -- even more so than all the others, but it is not uniquely generated from the taste bud. Scientifically speaking, it is actually a sensation of pain. In this regard, umami is a taste. It is not as noticeable, but it is a sensation detected by the taste receptor on the tongue.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        How interesting! I can absolutely understand how "spicy" might be considered a taste because its sensation is easily detected, much like sweet, salty, bitter and sour. But biologically, it's not a taste at all. Umami, OTOH, IS a taste, just not as noticeable as the other tastes. So on which part of the tongue are the taste receptors that detect umami? It occurs to me that I may be equating "taste" with "flavor" and I'm beginning to see that those are two different characteristics.

                        I know we're going way off on a tangent here, and maybe it deserves a thread of its own, but I'm intrigued by the concept of umami.

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          <So on which part of the tongue are the taste receptors that detect umami?>

                          I believe you can taste umami anywhere on your tongue, but it may be more focused on the base of your tongue, according to this old article.


                          But I have read that umami receptors are really all over the tongue.

            2. I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I do have more experience than the average person.

              For me, it's hard to say what's more important. There are many dishes that can't be produced at home for a number of reasons. I learned how to prepare home-style as well as restaurant-style Cantonese dishes because my parents owned a restaurant.

              My gas range at home simply isn't hot enough. I also don't have an oven that would allow me to roast a duck. Because I learned these at our restaurant, I can often tell when restaurants cut corners.

              Having both experiences gives me an idea of what is possible and also what can be done within a reasonable amount of time, cost, and effort, whether it be at a restaurant or at home.

              1. C because I love the aspect of eating something out to see how it is made and then trying to recreate it myself. But sometimes I do fall in the D category since I think I eat out more then I cook. Because when I do cook, it usually last me 2 or 3 meals.

                1. Definitely C - due to either limited time, talent or resources there are certain cuisines/flavor profiles/dishes that I have no ability to replicate at home. But I like and appreciate far more types of food than I can make for a variety of reasons.

                  That being said, I always find that I hit a point where I am saying, "I don't (or can't) make x" - and it's not until I am able to push through that where I get far more excited and interested in food.

                  That being said, I also have a very different approach to food at home versus eating out. I am very much so the child of a dietician and so when I aim to master very cooking techniques - I can not break the habit of "recipe rehabbing". For instance, in the pesto I make I use very little oil and instead substitute tomato paste. Not traditional, but how I am most happy to cook at home.

                  So I think for me I also have a split brain in regards to "food I eat out" and "food I eat at home". While they compliment and influence each other - there are also areas where there is no crossover.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: cresyd

                    <I am very much so the child of a dietician and so when I aim to master very cooking techniques - I can not break the habit of "recipe rehabbing">

                    I am a bit like that. It depends. For foods which I don't eat very often, like once every 6 months, I do follow what I think is best for taste. For example, I don't worry about putting a lot of butters and fats into my cookies because I don't bake very often, and when I do, I usually only eat 3-4 pieces and bring the rest to work to share.

                    For regular though, I am try to cook much more healthy like a lot of vegetables, lower salt, lower fat...etc. Partially because of health as mentioned, but partially I want don't want to dull my taste by heavy favor. I like to lean on the subtle side.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      It's pretty ingrained for me - even when making various holiday treats, I basically have to assign to other people dishes that are heavy in butter/cream/oil because I just mentally can't go there. I can eat those foods (whether made in a restaurant or friends) - but I have trouble mentally making them.

                      Either way, I've always seen it as a major barrier to having my cooking at home ever reach an "expert" or even diverse place.

                  2. B. I will never be a good cook by CH standards, but I learn the most from friends who cook better than I do and talk me through their process. I agree that restaurants provide a "score to beat".

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Veggo

                      Man, people are getting super humble. :)

                      < I agree that restaurants provide a "score to beat".>

                      For me, restaurants also provide a benchmark especially for ethnic dishes which I don't know much about. Different cuisines have different criteria, and I can never learn much about cooking Indian foods, if all I have is the cookbooks and me. I can venture deeper and deeper in the wrong direction. Restaurant foods will at the very least allow me to know where I should be heading toward.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        HUH? IMO, your cred is just fine. I've certainly learned things from you. And thanks, by the way!!

                      2. My quick answer is practice.

                        I began a C and graduated to a B as my family grew and grew older and my career changed.

                        I try to surround myself with teachers and explorers. I find the rewards have added to my appreciation and experimentation as a cook.

                        1. What do think is the more important in shaping your food adventure?

                          F) Intrepid curiosity

                          1. Thanks. Update.

                            Chemicalkinetics B
                            mrssmithcooks B
                            Uncle Bob B
                            calf C
                            vttp926 C
                            cresyd C
                            Veggo B
                            HillJ B

                            1. I would say C because (to me) it's a circular argument. I love to cook and love to eat out. One leads to another and back again.

                              Often in reading new cookbooks, reading reviews, perusing web sites etc I get curious about a cuisine, a dish, a spice and that leads me to want to try it which sends me in one of two directions-the kitchen or a restaurant.

                              Sometime the mere act of eating out challenges me to try making something at home.

                              Sometimes trying to make something at home is an epic fail so that send to restaurant to see how its done "right".

                              All that said I would not call myself in "expert", a foodie (someone who loves food) maybe.

                              1. First of all, I prefer food geek (food dork is also acceptable).

                                I began cooking as a kid. I started by helping out while Mom was at work. Similarly, my Grandmother used to sorta trick me into assisting by doing things like making a game out of cleaning the crabs we caught. Plus, what little boy doesn't like getting a chance to play with a knife.

                                Later in life, I was young, making substantial money as a white shoed lawyer, and had access to restaurants in several big cities. Throw in a decent expense account and professional mentors and clients who knew how to eat and drink, my knowledge grew exponentially. I always, however, ate with an eye towards my cooking.

                                These days, I spend a lot more time in the kitchen. First, it's healthier. Second, I live in a small beach town. Third, I "retired" from the fourteen hour day lifestyle a decade ago. At bottom, I couldn't apportion credit accurately, but if I had to use the old Number 2 to fill in a circle, I'd hem and haw between (B) and (C) until the proctor called "time" (otherwise, I might go with (F) as well).

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: MGZ

                                  <f I had to use the old Number 2 to fill in a circle,>

                                  At least I am old enough to know what you are talking about. :)

                                2. I would say B but only because I travel and get new food experiences in my eating out. At home it would be A.
                                  I was lucky to be raised by a mom who was a good cook and welcomed my involvement in the kitchen. We lived on a farm, raised and butchered our own meat, had a good variety of fruit trees and a big vegetable garden.
                                  My parents were foodies before it was cool. After dad retired they experimented with things like drying their corn to make cornmeal etc... We didn't eat out much both for cost reasons but also because the food was not as good as we had at home. The only exception was Chinese food which was the most exotic 'ethnic' food available in out town 50+ years ago.
                                  I enjoy cooking, enjoy learning about the history and culture of food and have the opportunity to travel which has expanded my horizons hugely. My biggest challenge now is to focus well enough to get skilled at the new techniques I learn in restaurants and homes when I travel.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Hecetamom

                                    <I enjoy cooking, enjoy learning about the history and culture of food and have the opportunity to travel which has expanded my horizons hugely.>

                                    This describes me completely. B when I travel and A at home because I cook on average seven nights per week. Cooking says so much about a culture and I enjoy replicating dishes at home (if I can source the ingredients, of course!). Food history is one of the most fascinating topics out there in my mind and travel really brings it to life, whether it is eating at someone's home or in a restaurant.

                                  2. Depending on what stage of my life, I have ranged from A to D. And I would never consider myself a foodie, gourmand, et al as I have not spent the time and energy to become expert. After spending 40 years quaffing awesome appelations and vintages, my knowledge of wine is abysmal. I just enjoy it.

                                    Living in Germany, I collected Michellin stars like others collected stamps. We would leave the house at 4:00 am to get to the Brussels flea market and then spend the rest of the cash on food and chocolats. Went to the culinary olympics. Culinary weekends to Dijon, Lyon, Florence, Strassburg and more. And all the German wine regions. Especially Frankenland and the Bergstrsse.

                                    I have always enjoyed reading cuisine and cultural specific cook books. And experimenting with them. But I am most comfortable if I have been there and eaten the local stuff. Afte a month in Japan, I cooked mostly Japanese for a year. In Louisiana. The nearest Japanese restaurant was in Houston. Where I went at least once a month.

                                    Due more to location than desire, I am soundly in the B.

                                    1. I'm going to go w/ C. I certainly don't consider myself an expert but I do know a lot about food (compared to my friends). Compared to my family I am a pathetic cook. I learn a lot by cooking but try a lot of new things eating out that I would never tackle making at home.

                                        1. B
                                          The word foodie bugs me, so I consider myself a "fof", friend of food.
                                          I love to dine out, but by the time my plate is clean I'm already thinking about how I can recreate the dish, or tweak it at home so it's more to my liking.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: alliegator

                                            <friend of food. >

                                            That sounds like something from SouthPark.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              That makes it even more fitting for me :D

                                              But somehow I picture the South Park version as an uptight lady showing up to reform the school lunch system. That wouldn't be me.

                                          2. A or B. I can't decide.

                                            When I decided I wanted to learn to cook, it was in response to eating at certain friends' houses whose mothers were great cooks. Also, I had kind of a "default" Italian palate, developed in response to the cooking of my father's boyhood next-door neighbor. The only really good food I got at home was either from Lina, or what my father made that she taught him to make. She was "Nonna" to us two Irishmen.

                                            My mother didn't like to cook, and eating out usually meant a steak house. I would always order fish, as I've never been able to think of anything more boring than "a good steak."

                                            When I moved out of the house, I didn't want to replicate the food I ate in restaurants nearly as much I did Lina's food, Edie's food, or Audrey's food.

                                            Eventually the world caught up with me. Restaurants became better. My mother -- MY MOTHER!!! -- turned me on to Julia Child.

                                            Eating out is nice (as long as you don't have to put up with a-holes taking pictures), but eating at home has always been more important to me.

                                            I concentrated heavily on Italian food and Mexican food in the 1980s, and there really wasn't anything I could get eating out that was as good as I what I could make at home, using cookbooks from Giuliano Bugialli, Marcella Hazan, and Diana Kennedy, and then Martha Stewart and Alice Waters. To say nothing of Maida Heatter.

                                            So, I'm an A-/B+.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: Jay F

                                              <as long as you don't have to put up with a-holes taking pictures>

                                              People take pictures of you while you eat? Are you a movie star?

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                No, silly. You know what I mean. People with phones taking pictures of their dinner.


                                                1. re: Jay F

                                                  I was gonna say, am I corresponding w/ Brad Pitt?

                                                  1. re: mamachef

                                                    Nah. I just hate being disturbed by people taking pictures.

                                                    1. re: Jay F

                                                      It's a peeve of mine. One quick shot; okay. But I see it carried to a ridiculous extreme.

                                                      1. re: mamachef

                                                        I think Jay is mad at people taking photos of the foods instead of him. He is the jealous type.

                                                  2. re: Jay F

                                                    Oh the foods. I thought you mean people taking photos of you while you eat.... I was like.... I don't remember ever worry about that. :)

                                              2. Update. It seems the gravity leans toward cooking more so than eating out for learning about foods.

                                                Chemicalkinetics B
                                                mrssmithcooks B
                                                Uncle Bob B
                                                calf C
                                                vttp926 C
                                                cresyd C
                                                Veggo B
                                                HillJ B
                                                foodieX2 C
                                                MGZ BC
                                                Hecetamom B
                                                INDIANRIVERFL B
                                                JerryMe C
                                                mamchef B
                                                alliegator B
                                                Jay F AB

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  Since nobody else is claiming an A, I'll do so on your next summation.

                                                  1. re: Jay F

                                                    Be careful, people may start taking more photo of you. :P

                                                2. Thank you all for your help. Now, I see tha most responders valve the experience from hands-on cooking over the experience of eating out.

                                                  Final Update

                                                  1. I'd like to weigh in with a "B". I eat out a lot when traveling, but don't get chances to be all that adventuresome. Probably because I usually am in some small town or suburb, not some big city with lots of exotic choices. I will often try to eat local, and if that means I can try a local dish, great. Many times, that "local" item is just the local IPA or Porter ;-)
                                                    It is at home that I will try to make new things, experience foods in a different way, try a new preparation, etc. Oh, that too is tempered by my surroundings, usually in the form of others saying "I won't like that" (Just try it! It's food, and it's not something I just invented. People eat it. Just eat it. Why NOT?! Oops, sorry... this is a different rant), but I try to forge ahead anyway. I'd like to learn to cook even half of the things I read about just here on Chow. Yup, make mine B.