When our ancestors discovered fire a whole new world was opened up to them and it’s a good job they did or else your plate of avocado and poached egg bagels wouldn’t be sat on your (or my) Instagram page right now.
Cooking allowed humans to absorb more nutrients in through their diet thus leading to an expansion of the brain due to the increased vitamin and nutrient intakes that cooking allowed for. Don’t let your inability to cook hinder your nutrient availability! This article should give you a kick-start to get on your way with your culinary endeavours.
Where to start?
Start basic. You don’t need to start learning how to perfect your crème brûlée just yet. If you are a complete beginner, I would personally start with a few how to’s on Youtube to get you up to speed, things like how to season, how to chop (SAFELY), how to cook pasta, etc. Many people claim they can’t cook because they don’t know how to, but cooking is relatively simple for the most part, it can just be overwhelming knowing where to start in the massive culinary world.
Shows like Masterchef and Great British Bake-off often bewilder beginners into thinking they will never be able to pick up a spatula if that is what is splashed allover the TV and social media. However to start all you need are the basics which can be learnt in an afternoon. Too many people are too comfortable to say they can’t cook and just microwave their meals daily.
I can’t remember the last time I sat down and microwaved or even put a ready meal in the oven (maybe with the odd exception of a pizza when I’ve been hungover) for my main meal at night. I was lucky to be taught from an early age how to cook, even though it was just the basics like how to fry an egg, boil rice or make a stir fry, it all helped kick-start my love for making food and enabled me to divulge further into more complex meals.
I definitely like to back up my claims that getting started is simple, so, I asked a few ‘experts in the field’ for their opinions and what they would recommend doing when learning to cook.
First up is Luiz Hara from The London Foodie, his food and travel blog has been named as one of the Top 50 food websites by The Independent as well as guest writing for the BBC Good Food channel and having his own column in the Heathrow Express. Luiz certainly knows his stuff and he has shared some of his knowledge with us.
What inspired you to start cooking?
“I come from a family where food is very important so when I arrived in London as a student, I had very little spending money but still a big appetite!
I realised very quickly I could not afford restaurants or meals out, so that prompted me to start experimenting with cooking, buying cookery books and getting completely hooked by food.
At that time, Delia Smith was the UK’s most popular food writer and TV personality; I became fascinated by her cooking and how easy and delicious she made it all look – she was my biggest inspiration and made me realise I could cook too!”
What advice would you give new ‘chefs’?
“Be curious about cooking, flavours, techniques, ask questions. There are a lot of interesting techniques to be learnt and the chemistry of food and how flavours and ingredients come together are fascinating for any aspiring new chef.
Be curious also in the sense of trying new ingredients and dishes to develop your palate, and if you can afford do travel for food for your learning, you will never be a great chef if all you like eating is beans on toast!
Get some training – DIY (read books or watch You Tube for cooking techniques and recipe inspiration), go to a cookery college or volunteer at a restaurant to get some experience and basic skills under your belt.”
Name 3 of the most important skills to master in the kitchen
“Planning – it is all very well to be passionate about cooking but ultimately you will need to have great organisational and planning skills to cater for a crowd.
At my Japanese and Nikkei supper club, I cook for 31 people each evening from Wednesdays to Saturdays, I make extensive use of Excel and other tools to help me on the way. For example, I have a detailed time plan broken down in 15 minute intervals that tells me all the mise en place (food prep) I need to make for the 10 dishes I serve on the tasting menu, so I know pretty much everything I must do from the moment I walk into the kitchen to the time I wave goodbye to my diners at the end of the night.
Precision and speed – be fast but precise. There is no need to take your time peeling onions, time is better spent plating dishes to make sure they look great, or trying the food and ensuring the seasoning is right just before you serve it, things so often overlooked when one is pressed for time.
Good kitchen etiquette and knife skills – cleanliness, organisation and good techniques particularly knife skills will make sure your kitchen work will go smoothly, but don’t forget to work through your time plan!”
Luiz is a very well accomplished chef as well as blogger, be sure to check out his website mentioned above, you can also follow him on Twitter. He also has his own cookbook which features a whole host of Nikkei cuisine recipes.
Next up is Joe from Man Fuel Food Blog, I reached out to him because his blog is packed full of delicious looking recipes and he also seems to be well travelled so has sampled a wide range of cuisines. Here are some tips from Joe himself.
What inspired you to start cooking?
“I used to cook very basic meals as a kid, like overcooked eggs and warming things in the oven for my brother and myself. I really started cooking sometime around my Junior year of college while living in Boston, MA. I moved off-campus and didn’t have easy access to the dining halls when I wasn’t at school. Additionally, my mother, who did all the cooking when I was growing up, didn’t live nearby so that I could mooch food from home. That meant I needed to prepare meals myself.
Rather than eat sandwiches and instant ramen noodles every day, I wanted to see if I could replicate some of my favourite foods. I started with simple foods like boiled pasta and rice before moving on and trying more complicated items. Eventually, I realised that I not only succeeded at making some edible food, but I rather enjoyed cooking for myself as well as others. It was a great way to know exactly what I was eating and feel good about accomplishing something on my own.”
What advice would you give to new ‘chefs’?
“The best advice I can give a new chef is patience, prep, and practice (alliteration!).
Patience is important so that new chefs don’t get frustrated when things don’t turn out like they hoped. Everyone from the most seasoned chef to the most novice makes mistakes in the kitchen. Things get burned, overcooked, under-cooked, or they just don’t taste good. New chefs shouldn’t get discouraged, but rather be patient and learn from the mistake so that next time is better.
Patience is also important for good cooking. For example, just some dishes take a long time to prepare while others take not as long. In both cases, however, things can’t get rushed. Even grilling a burger for a few minutes on each side requires patience to keep from flipping the patty unnecessarily.
Preparation is also important. New chefs should make sure they have not only all of their ingredients, but also the proper equipment to cut, measure, and cook with. Taking it one step further, making a plan before even starting to cook is a great way to make sure things don’t sneak up on you. For example, a recipe may say to add chopped onions at a certain time. It’s far better to chop those onions before starting to cook rather than trying to quickly chop them right when they’re needed.
Lastly, the saying goes that “practice makes perfect,” for a reason. Every skill takes practice in the kitchen and time is on a new chef’s side. Be adventurous and take chances, but master the basics first.”
Name the top three skills to master in the kitchen
“It’s hard to pick just three skills to master in the kitchen, but if I had to choose, I’d probably go with cutting/slicing, cleanliness, and using your senses.
Cutting or slicing is more than just using a knife properly or cutting things quickly like on a TV cooking show. It’s about knowing where and how to cut certain foods so that they yield the best flavors. Does that food item need to be chopped, diced, julienne, or left whole? It all depends on the recipe and the flavor the chef is trying to achieve. Knowing how to cut foods properly saved time, makes food easier to cook, and makes everything taste better.
Before or after prepping as well as during and after cooking, cleanliness is incredibly important. It helps to keep surfaces clear that a chef may need to use at a moments notice and of course, it helps to make sure no one gets sick from any of the food. No one should cut vegetables on an unclean cutting board that was just used to cut raw meat for example. Cleaning as you go, makes it easier to organise and keep from getting distracted by the mess. It’s easier to find things when they’re not buried by a mess.
Lastly, a chef’s senses are incredibly important when cooking and they take time to develop (patience and practice!).
A good sense of smell can let a chef know when certain food items or spices might work well together even if he/she’s never used them before. It can alert a chef that something is done cooking or even burning.
A sense of taste is obviously important as well to test the final product or to taste during the cooking process. Many of the best chefs are always tasting their creations while they cook rather than just at the end to make sure everything is just right. The way things look and feel are incredibly important.
A piece of brisket, for example, can look and smell cooked, but many of the best chefs in the world will rely on their sense of touch to see if its done more than anything else. Even hearing plays a large role because the sound of how something cooks can tell an experienced chef what is happening.
Any new chef has these senses available to them, but practice and learning from mistakes are the only way to hone those senses properly.”
Be sure to check out Joe’s blog mentioned above as well as his Twitter page to keep up with his culinary travels!
So there you have it, some expert opinions and some not-so-expert opinions from myself. The general consensus seems to be that cooking is an art that takes time and patience to master, you need to open yourself up to the wide range of skills and ingredients and put in the effort to make something happen.
Sharpening up on your knife skills will aid you when prepping which will save time and allow more time for the delicate processes which will take your food to the next level. Throw yourself in there with the basics and go from there. There are a million different ways to get started so just choose one and if you enjoy it then continue, if not try another.
Who knows, maybe it will be you featuring on the next cooking article!