I consider myself to be a good, confident cook and this is not because I have years of experience but because I love very few things in my life more. Cooking is not difficult but you do need to have patience, tenacity and a little bit of creativity.
Here is a little bit of advice on how to be better without any formal training. (Though, up-skilling is never a bad idea)
1. Be Comfortable and Enjoy It
For me this means pouring myself a glass of wine and playing my favourite music, cooking things that I want to eat and basking in the aromas that fill the air. The point is cooking should be a pleasure, not a chore. If this sentiment doesn’t appeal to you and you simply don’t enjoy cooking, stop now and head to the nearest Woolworths.
2. Have a Well Stocked Pantry
When you are making your shopping list, always keep those pantry essentials in mind. Every time you reach the bottom of the bottle of olive oil or soy sauce, always write it down on your list so that you don’t have to dash off to the shops when you decide to make something and you realise at the last minute that you’ve run out of a key ingredient. If this is the case (and it sometimes is) you need to learn how to improvise and substitute.
3. Respect & Understand Ingredients
Having respect for the ingredients you’re using is essential. When you have respect for the food, you are less likely to waste it and will pay closer attention to its importance. Respecting the ingredients also involves learning about the food as a whole and using it to its optimum. This will also help enhance the flavour and value of the food naturally.
4. Be Organised
Plan what you’re going to make and set out all your ingredients. Make sure you have a well-lit, clutter free prep space to lay out all the tools and utensils you’ll need. If you need two onions chopped and seven carrots grated, do this before you start cooking. You don’t want to get stuck grating carrots mid-sauté!
If you’re using a recipe, read it from start to finish before you begin. Make sure you understand all the measurements. Make notes.
5. Have The Right Equipment
– Try to have the below in different sizes handy.
- Pots and pans
- Mixing bowls
- Roasting trays and oven-safe dishes
- Wooden spoons and spatulas
- Cutting boards
*Read about the kitchen tools I cannot live without here.
6. Invest In Some Good Knives
Nothing slows you down more in the kitchen than blunt, ineffective knives. You don’t need many knives, so buy less and and get better ones. Invest in a good chef’s knife and a paring knife as well as a knife sharpener to keep them in good nick. To save yourself time, learn to chop like a pro by watching YouTube videos. You might not get it as quick as they do but you will definitely pick up some technique and learn some safety tricks!
7. Learn The Basics
Develop a repertoire of effortless side dishes which can be paired with a quick & easy-to-prepare protein. Learn how to make a béchamel sauce, a good Napoletana sauce and a great spice mix then master a few of your favourites; think macaroni & cheese, a delicious, cheesy lasagne or a curry. Familiarise yourself with the various cooking times of meat, vegetables and pasta. Once you know the basics, becoming a bit more adventurous wont be as daunting as it seems.
8. Remember Your Roots
Think about your family’s history and the food you grew up eating. Even if there were negative experiences, you can turn it around for yourself. Trust me, I am living proof of that. I was a very picky eater as a child but I’ve managed to change that by being a more adventurous cook and eater and now I draw a lot of inspiration from food my family cooked. Bring it to life, those memories are there for a reason!
9. Understand Flavour Balance
Always remember that salt enhances, pepper alters flavour. This is however about more than just a few grinds of salt and pepper, it is about balancing the sweet, sour and bitterness too. Also, don’t underestimate the power of lemon. A squeeze of (always fresh) lemon juice or a sprinkle of zest can cut through anything creamy or excessively fatty as well as enhance the freshness of a salad or dessert.
10. Cook Often
They say practice makes perfect and in this case, it absolutely does. Cook as often as your schedule will allow, you’ll get better before you know it. An audience is always good too so get your friends and family over to enjoy it with you.
Go on, be the badass cook you know you can be!
“Once you understand the foundations of cooking – whatever kind you like, whether it’s French or Italian or Japanese – you really don’t need a cookbook anymore.” – Thomas Keller