Blogger and author of Secrets of the Best Chefs Adam Roberts picked up on a few things while doing research for his book, and eye candy was one of them.
"When I went to various chefs' homes for my cookbook, I noticed that many of them had baskets and bowls full of gorgeous farmers' market ingredients out on their counters. I didn't think much of it until I started to realize there must be something to this; so, when I finished my research, I bought a basket and started going to the farmers' market every Monday, hauling back… ingredients … and displaying them in my kitchen. What happens is these ingredients act as cooking triggers: you come home from a long day and instead of ordering a pizza, you see your tomatoes or your apples and you get inspired. So that's why… I've put ingredients on display on Monday, [to] keep myself inspired throughout the week."
Oven, meat, whatever, have them in stock. Renowned and award-winning chef Charlie Palmer swears by them because they’re reassuring and they only encourage confidence in the kitchen. If you’re unsure if the meat is done, use a thermometer. Want to make sure your grandmother’s birthday cake is absolutely perfect? Look at the oven thermometer and make sure your oven is working. Whenever you’re cooking, have the trusty friends nearby.
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Everyone can agree on this, but we heard it first from the mouth of chef Chris Peitersen, executive chef of Johnny Carino’s in Fort Collins, Colo., and one of only 75 people in the country who is a Certified Research Chef based on his culinary experience and background. Just as how cooking is never perfected, it also knows no limits, so if you’re able to experiment and investigate new things with cooking and recipes, you’re a good cook.
Credit: David Sacks
Always Have Citrus and Fresh Herbs on Hand
Pastry chef and owner of Pix Patisserie in Portland, Ore., Cheryl Wakerhauser thinks that every good cook should always have something fresh in their fridge. Citrus and herbs are inexpensive to keep on hand and they add that special burst of freshness to anything you’re creating.
ROOTS cookbook author Diane Morgan says that any good cook should sit down once a week and take the time to plan out their meals and grocery lists. It saves time and money, and makes you a more conscious and organized cook.
Temper Your Proteins
Tempering, or heating something, is done most commonly when you’re adding eggs, or anything that changes its structure once cooked enough, to a hot dish or liquid, and New York City chef Jesse Schenker says it should also be done with your meat. Whenever he’s cooking at his restaurant Recette, he eases the protein into the cooking process by leaving it out a bit before cooking. This ensures even cooking and a tender, juicy meat.
Grocery Shop Like a Chinese Menu
This one had us saying "what?," but when Sara Moulton explained, we thought it had the makings of a good cook.
"On a day when you have a little time, like a Saturday or Sunday, go to the grocery store and stock up [like] a Chinese menu. [Buy] five items for column A, the protein, five for column B, the vegetable column, and finally five for column C, the starch column. It doesn't even matter if you have a recipe in mind for these items. Just getting them in the house is the goal. Then, on Monday night, you can look in the fridge/cupboard and say, hmmm, which thing from each column do I want to make tonight?"
Keep a Stocked Pantry
It’s a no-brainer, but it has to be said. Morgan says that there’s no better way to be prepared than keeping a stocked pantry, and being a good cook is all about being prepared. She likes keeping her pantry stocked with flavor-boosting things like an Indian simmer sauce because it quickly adds flare to any boring dish she’s making.
Know How to Dress a Salad
Seems like a pretty simple suggestion, but not for award-winning physicist Nathan Myhrvold, founder of Modernist Cuisine and co-author of Modernist Cuisine at Home.
"To dress a salad, put the dressing in the bottom of the bowl, and then toss in the greens to give them a thin, even coating. Lettuce can become oversaturated quickly if dressing is poured over the top."
Test Your Recipes
Wakerhauser swears by every single one of her dessert recipes served at her restaurant, and you should, too. If you’re going to be a good cook, you have to know how to write a recipe, and you better make sure it works.
It’s your best friend in the kitchen, says Joseph Lessard, head chef of The Goddess and Grocer. While we’re always trying to lower our sodium intake, a good cook knows that they need to use at least some when cooking, because it brings out amazing flavors of even the most basic recipes, says Lessard.
Use a Scale
Fitting coming from a pastry chef, but Wakerhauser says that scales are a great tool to have in the kitchen for all types of cooking. Think of it like the thermometers: it ensures confidence and confidence equals greatness.
Credit: George Doyle
Know How to Sear Your Meat
Cooks can really struggle with this one (even we have), but Palmer believes one of the key strengths of a good cook should be searing meat. Make sure the protein is dry before you do it, and don’t salt it until just before you add it to the pan because it’ll draw out the moisture.
Rest Your Meat
While we’re on the topic of meat, we should probably mention that Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts author and award-winning cook Alice Medrich believes that every good cook should know to rest their meat. Not only does it give you time to tie up some ends with the rest of the meal, resting allows the juices to return to the meat so that it is as juicy and tender as it can possibly be.
Clean as You Go
Another thing Roberts learned when cooking with some of the country’s best chefs is that you have to be a diligent cleaner. We know, it’s the worst part of cooking, but cleaning throughout the process, rather than all at the end, makes it a much easier job.
Too Much Is OK
Grocery shopping and getting the right amount of ingredients is a honed skill (and one that can also make you a good cook), but knowing that cooking too much isn’t the end of the world, says Wakerhauser, makes you a good cook. Wakerhauser always cooks large, planning for leftovers that she can eat throughout the week or use to make another meal. It’s about being creative and organized, which are a couple of other pointers that you see on this list.
Interestingly enough, it’s something that a lot of people are intimidated by, says Medrich, but if you know how to roast a chicken, you know you’re a cook (and a good one, of course).
Have a Book Nearby
Or a computer, or an iPad, or whatever, but always have a trusted resource nearby when you’re in the kitchen. No good cook is too good to look it up if they’re unsure of something, so you shouldn’t be either.
Always Cook with Love
Everyone on this list can agree, without love the food won’t taste good.
"The best-tasting food isn't necessarily from the fanciest restaurants or the most expensive places. Cooking with love for others, passion for the ingredients, and the simple joy of creating a meal from scratch are all at the heart of great home cooking," says Lessard, and we couldn’t agree more.
Credit: Creatas Images
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Do you think Julia Child scoffed at the sound of someone giving her a cooking tip while she worked in her kitchen? Would José Andrés fire his chef de cuisine on the spot for suggesting something new on the menu? Do you think James Beard never had a question about a technique?
We don't think so, and we don't think that any other legendary culinarian would act in this way, either, because learning the craft of the culinary arts is never complete. With varying opinions, different training, and new techniques and ingredients being introduced every single day, there is never an old tip or suggestion when it comes to cooking, and we as cooks are committed to an unending quest to discover how to be better in the kitchen.
The Cook editors at The Daily Meal never stop asking questions about cooking. In fact, we have contributors telling us new tricks of the trade on a daily basis. While cooking advice can be narrowed down to the most specific questions (like, say, how do you use a pressure cooker?), we also want to know what those overarching skills and qualities are that make so many talented chefs, cookbook authors, and bloggers as great as they are today.
Want to know how we found out? We just asked them, and now we have a neat and easy list of their thoughts for you to refer to. We didn't just go to one expert, but to several, from big names like TV personality Sara Moulton and legendary inventors like Nathan Myhrvold to talented and hard-working chefs that are, probably right now in fact, ferociously working away at the stove to create beautiful and delicious masterpieces with food.
These tips range in topic and scope; some are ones you should remember every single time you're in the kitchen (like salt!), and others are things like roasting a chicken, because if you don't know how to do it, then you can just forget about being a good cook. Some had us going "right, right..." and others had us raising an eyebrow, but at the end of the day, the tips listed here are things that we think you should know (and pass along to others) if you ever want to join the ranks of Child, Andrés, and Beard. So put your pride aside for a moment and take a look, we think some might surprise you.