Trained chefs are supposed to be good cooks, but I have had lousy meals at famous restaurants. I have also had five-star meals in friends’ homes. One friend served pork tenderloin, sourdough bread, Napa cabbage slaw, and chocolate souffle. Her simple meal was a gourmet meal in every sense of the word.
In the dictionary the word cook is defined as “to prepare food by the action of heat.” I think there is more to cooking than that. What makes a good cook?
A good cook understands recipes. Before the cook starts to prepare a recipe he or she reads it all the way through. The cook understands abbreviations, cooking terms, and follows the recipe step-by-step. After the cook is familiar with the recipe he or she may change it to suit personal tastes.
A good cook can use equipment. The cook can use a mixer, food processor, blender, immersion blender, grill pan, and other appliances. This cook is also familiar with kitchen tools like a whisk, mellon-baller, and microplane.
A good cook masters basic techniques. The cook knows how to saute, poach, braise, steam, grill, shallow-fry, stir-fry, and microwave food. In addition, the cook knows how to make a white sauce, thicken sauces with flour and cornstarch, beat egg whites, and temper eggs.
A good cook relies on fresh ingredients. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are the starting point for meals. The cook buys fresh fish and flavorful cuts of meat.
A good cook sharpens knives. As the old adage says, a dull knife is a dangerous knife. For this reason and cutting ease, a good cook cares for knives properly, keeps them sharp, and stores them safely.
A good cook practices food safety. He or she washes hands thoroughly before touching food and during preparation. Separate cutting boards are used for meat and chicken and washed well after use.
Cold food is kept really cold and hot food is refrigerated promptly after a meal.
A good cook plans interesting menus. Some cooks prepare recipes from one culture, while others prepare recipes from many. Each part of the meal fits together like a fascinating puzzle.
A good cook makes simple things well. Only a good cook can make rich coffee, fabulous soup, and fluffy scrambled eggs. Though the cook is able to prepare complex recipes, he or she excels at the simple ones.
A good cook cleans up the kitchen. My mother told me this when I was a teenager and I have never forgotten it. She was an excellent cook and I learned a lot from her. She taught me to take good care of pots, pans, and dishes.
A good cook always adds love. You cannot rush when you are adding love, you must pay attention to what you are doing, and take the time to do it. Whether it is the first ingredient or last, a cook’s love is what makes food so delicious.