Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Calling All Foodies! Your Help is Desperately Needed!

I'm asking for help answering this young cook's difficult, but thought provoking question. I will post my official response in a few days after comments, and discussions, from you foodwishers.

There are no wrong answers to this question (or right ones for that matter), so please chime in with any and all advice for this future chef. Thanks!

Photo Credit (c) Flickr user tracyhunter

Hello Chef,

You were kind enough to respond to some simple questions I emailed several months ago. I hope you will take a minute to respond to this more involved question.

I have finished my education at Johnson & Wales University. I am very confident with my knife skills and my understanding of the wet, dry, and combination cooking methods. However, I feel very nervous when it comes to flavoring food.

Recently, a friend of mine invited me over and said, "Oh, since you are a big culinary school graduate, make me an awesome meal with whatever you find in my fridge, freezer, and pantry." I turned white.

I can prep any ingredient. I can make any recipe. But the challenge to "make an awesome meal" out of random ingredients (i.e. without a recipe) made me want to throw up.

My question is this: "What approach did you use to learn to transform random ingredients into awesome dishes/meals."

Is it just experience? I hope not! I am trying to develop a framework to carry with me anywhere I go that will help me "make a daily special", "make an awesome meal", or just simply put some common ingredients together so they taste good. I hope you won't reply and say this is what the whole business is about...because that is the answer I have received from the best culinarians in Charlotte, NC!

Maybe I am looking for the holy grail of cooking, but I am hoping you have more insightful and instructive words. After all, I have told you in the past (and I still believe) your approach to cooking is the most simple, flavorful, and intuitive of any public chef I have investigated. :)

Thank you Chef for whatever words you can share.

Jim

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

Travel - Travel - Travel... live with locals and spend time in their kitchens as they prepare meals. My mother had a narrow but delicious repetoire but it wasn't until I started traveling that I saw how other people cooked and how they just threw things together. Their use of fresh herbs and spiced completely changed the way I cook - and no more cans of cream of mushroom soup (unless I'm sick or really craving bad comfort food).

CharGeorge said...

I have amazing respect for anyone that can do that. I know I generally can't (read %99.999 of the time), but when I can I feel pretty good about myself.

One of the challenges, especially with a friends fridge, is that you'll never know the quality of what's there. Inspiration is simple when confronted with perfect tomatoes, crusty bread, and well marbled beef. I know some chef's carry their own ingrediants, apparently Alice Waters brings her own Olive oil wherever she goes. I don't mean to be down on anyone, just to point out that, "Iron chef" style creativity isn't a skill out of nowhere.

The (few) times I'm sucsefull generally comes like I was keeping in shape for a sporting event. I've been looking at cookbooks, I've been thinking of food and preparations, I've been reading food blogs. Then when I see something it hits like a connection in my brain, and I start cooking. It's still about 50-50 whether it will be any good at that point though ;). I'm sure with your excellent training you'll do much better.

I look forward to dining in your inevitable 4 star restaurant, or your funky alternative bistro, your choice chef :)

also, here's that article with Waters that i was talking about, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/19/dining/19wate.html
there may be inspiration for you in there too.

Stephanie said...

I was in the same situation less than a year ago. I felt EXACTLY the same way. Unfortunately for me the answer was and is "time" and more importantly confidence.

It wasn't until after I started working and honing my skills, and being introduced to hundreds of things I don't/didn't have access too or was too afraid to use. What also helped was getting a job working for a Chef that used to be my instructor at the school I graduation from. I got really lucky landing that job, and even more lucky about how passionate he is about food and still runs his kitchen like a classroom.

One time I mentioned I never had a blood orange before - he gets on the phone, and the next day we had a case of blood oranges.. and we made together several dishes using them.

I believe it doesn't take much time to come out of that shell, you just need to pass that point where you say "Screw being scared, I know what I'm doing."

Pano said...

I would say that experience helps in creating new dishes, since you have a feel of what goes well with what.
You can start by altering some existing recipes by swapping ingredients or adding or removing ingredients you think will enhance the flavor of the dish.
I also think that tasting a lot of different foods, and drinks for that matter, is very important for developing you palate.

P

KristenM said...

For me, seasoning is all about scents. What smells good together? A working memory of what each herb & spice smells like, coupled with a sense for how they smell when combined, helps me know what will and won't taste good. Then, to determine the amounts, you can add a little at a time, then smell it again, then taste it, then add a dash of something else...

LisaRene said...

You have to have an acquired or natural skill. Just because you attend culinary school doesn't mean that you will be a great cook any more then someone who attends art school will become a great artist.

Experiment and be creative. To me, the BEST part about cooking is taking random ingredients and making a fabulous meal. I seldom follow a recipe and if I do use one as a guide I typically adjust it to my taste and style of cooking.

I agree with what you were previously told, that cooking IS about taking random ingredients and making a fabulous meal. Anybody (trained chef or home cook) can follow a proven recipe but the talent lies in preparing delicious meals without a recipe.

The good news is that, like art, food (taste) is subjective, there is really no right or wrong so have fun, experiment, create and enjoy!

streamrdr said...

Check out Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book. It it will give you some ideas to get you started.

jeff said...

Taste. Experiment. Observe. Repeat.

That's the best I usually can do when asked that question. In my case "intuition" had to be honed and worked at. There has to come a time where you get out of the books and into the kitchen. Do you see a perfect ____ and get inspired to cook? Start trying to identify why you like certain tastes, textures, etc and dig deep into them.

You have to cook. Try making a dish with no recipe. How can you make that dish better next time? Also start trying to identify flavor components of certain cuisines. I know if I look in the fridge and see ginger, lime, and carrots I'm probably not going to make shepards pie. I know those flavor components are Asian-right?

What was in your friends fridge?

Sorry if I rambled,

Jeff

DawnsRecipes said...

I have no professional training, but I still have a reputation with friends and family for being a great cook. I have had people make that same request to me: "Here's my pantry. Make me something delicious!" Sometimes you can only do so much with what you have at hand. At least in a restaurant you should have unlimited choices for your daily specials. All I can say is that it really does take practice...and confidence! Both of those will come with time.

Bill W, NH said...

My family and friends think that I'm a very accomplished home chef(hope I can use that term without offending anyone). Nine years ago I was touting my spaghetti and meatballs as the best around. Today, I don't make it unless my girlfriend wants it and it would be only in the Winter. Nine years later I still need my cookbooks and sites like this. But, I can whip up something without them too. I say "time and experience". Probably not what your young friend wants to hear but for me that's the key.

What I appreciate the most from the past 9 years is that we rarely go out to eat anymore, we just don't get the quality we get at home. But, again, it's taken 9 years. On the other hand though, as a working restaurant chef it won't take your friend nearly as long as me, after all, I'm only cooking one really good meal a day and only for usually two people.

wordlily said...

I say confidence is key. Also, start with ad-libbing from a recipe — pick one you don't have the ingredients for, and don't just go buy them.

Really taste the ingredients, and daydream about them; what would be good? Tasting foods you're not familiar with and paying attention as you eat them is also helpful.

So much of my cooking is by sight; do those proportions in the pot/skillet, etc., look right? What's missing?

Lyndon said...

I rarely use a recipe, and like mentioned above, if I do it is merely a guide.

I use my nose and combine things that smell good together. If they compliment each other, they are going in the pot,pan, etc. Travelling helps you find unique flavours. However, even in your home town when you go out, try something on the menu that may be completely foreign to you. While your eating, you may think, "This would be even better if ____!"

It really comes down to your ability to accept it if you made a mediocre meal. I've made a good number of those, but while eating them I usually figure out how to improve on them. And once you've improved them, then you can show them off.

Variety is the spice of life...Spice you say?

Brucifer said...

(in mock yoda voice) Fear not the food and your mistakes eat you must.

Anonymous said...

A genuine passion for what you are doing is the best ingredient to add when you hope to succeed.

Hold your head high, your knives clear of your knuckles and know that trying and failing is as much the foundation of success as are your successful results. Any opportunity is a chance to learn. If you like to cook, you will find your way to be good at it.

foofifofum said...

You, dear young chef, are either a foodwishes foodie-type, willing to experiment and fail on occasion, or you are a food wuss. You make the call!

Anonymous said...

I have no formal training, and have actually only recently started cooking. People tell me I'm a good cook, and by that I mean that the food tastes good (I'm not as good with presentation.)

Pretty much the only time I use a recipe is when I'm baking. And half of the remaining times, I don't even have a clear idea of what I'm making until it's time to cook, so I often have to make due with what's around (and it's usually not in my kitchen.)

The best advice I can give is to emphasize what some other people have already said: don't be afraid to experiment.

When I'm cooking up some chicken (my favorite meat) I don't limit myself to "meat spices" and "meat sauces." In fact, some of my best-tasting chicken dishes have been heavy on spices normally found in pumpkin pie.

Once I made a salad with chicken cooked in a mixture of honey and lemon, then used cottage cheese as a dressing. Try everything (within reason) and see how it goes. If you don't already have an intuition about it, I would be that you do after messing up enough times.

Also, and this is more of a personal thing: use lots of spices. Some people say it's a crime to crowd out the flavor of one ingredient (such as meat) with that of another. I don't like to always be limited by such a notion. Sometimes it's nice to use a particular ingredient (especially if it's not 100% fresh) as nothing more than a nice texture for flavorings to cling to.

Anonymous said...

Well, usually there are eggs,cheese and veggies(maybe bacon, sausage or other meat) in the 'frig You can almost always make a pretty darn good frittatta. If you're lucky enough to have fresh herbs, be generous with them. Also, if you have mayo,catsup, mustard, relish, salsa.... you can usually dress most stuff up with a mixture of a couple of ingredients to make a darn good quick sauce.

Also, I think it's crucial that the folks you're feeding kinda know what to expect in terms of flavor. I owned a small bistro for a while and served little loaves of bread with the soup. I made several pans of raw loaves ahead and stored them in the 'frig so I could bake them right before and serve them hot. One day, I noticed that they smelled a little like sour dough (they'd been in the 'frig a little longer that normal) so when I served them, I commented that I was trying something a little different today--sour dough. They said the bread was delicious.

Like most folks, I will say that it simply takes time and experience, but whatever you do, show confidence in what you've cooked.

Oh, yeah, one other thing. Remember, PRESENTATION IS SO IMPORTANT. If it looks good, it will taste better than it's supposed to.

Pyrofish said...

Look for the centerpiece of the meal first. Whether it's chicken, beef, pork, fish (American style meals), or couscous, rice, pasta. You get the idea. Find 1 thing to focus on, and then move on to what goes well with it.

More often than not, in a friends kitchen, you'll have to get very creative. At least my friend's kitchens. Many of them don't even know what a caper is... They think unsalted butter is gross, and what the hell is Balsamic vinegar... it's a dreadful desert of good eats. However,

Sauces can be your saviour. Know how to build a good set of basic sauces. If your friend isn't a foody, then what they have in their kitchen probably won't be top notch. A good sauce can put a dull piece of factory poultry over the top for most non-foodie-types.

If they are foodies, however, keep it simple. Sometimes just properly cooking something is beyond your friend's skill set. I had to teach my buddy, who is older than me, and grills 4 times a week, how to cook steaks and burgers a couple of weeks ago. He was flipping, squashing, sticking, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Simply cooking the meat the right way earned me thanks from his family. Once I explained it to him, he thanked me as well. Nothing special, just done correctly.

So don't be afraid to keep it simple when someone tells you to make them something delicious with what they have in the house. Experience is a HUGE help, travel experience is also a great inspiration. Until you get those, just rely on your skills and techniques.

Disclaimer: I am not a chef, nor do i play one on TV.

Lucia said...

For me it was just that the fact in my house we cook like a lot of poepole in our town, adding "as much as it needs" and cooking "until it is ready". It is kinda lame really, but it is more about looking, smelling and feeling instead of following the writings of a piece of paper.

Unless for cakes and pastries, or when we get exotic and try new recipes.

Of course a lot of times we achieve something so awesome we never manage to replicate because we didnt even write down what we did.

I think one thing is at home, check what you have, think of recipes using those kind of ingredients that you learnt in school. Or try a recipe you know and give it a twist, try a basic stew adding some exotic spices to turn it into something different. beef stew with marrocan spices, turns into a taijin!

Get in the kitchen and have fun. Get just some basic ingredients (3/4) and think what you can do, then when you get some stuff with those, add more ingredients to the party?

Just my 2 cents, but I hope it is good for something.

Pyrofish said...

BTW the Iron Chefs don't even do the Iron Chef thing. They are given a list of 3 or 4 possible secret ingredients beforehand. One of which, will be featured on the show. Then they are "surprised" by one of the ingredients from that list. Both versions do that, which makes for far better TV than if it really were a surprise.

just sayin'

Anonymous said...

A lot of good answers here... for me I just use what my parents gave me, my mouth and tastebuds. I just follow what everyone say, you can always add but never take away. So i add a fair amount of salt and other things and if it needs more i add it, better safe than sorry am i right? this is a good question because i'm still young (high school) and my brothers tell me to always make stuff with what i have in the kitchen and i'm like there is never anything good in the kitchen but sometimes i can actually make things, but i'm just to ignorant to know that

Anonymous said...

This is one of my specialties! First, look over everything. Next, as you look, see what is most appealing to your tastes and see what you have to work it with --- Let's say you find a pork roast in the fridge, well, see if there are some apples anywhere - no! - any apricot jam? - yes - any brandy? ...... you get the idea. Then look for things that will complement the main dish. Finally, ..... go to the store and buy dessert! LOL

Hope that helps.

John T. Rhoe

Anonymous said...

As with teaching, it's the first year out of the starting blocks that tend to overwhelm you.
Start with basics. Get comfortable with them, and then start to add some experiments on a theme.
As you grow in confidence, you'll take more chances.
Don't believe all theTV hype that you see, believing that in order to be successful you need to be a culinary genius from day one. Most chefs who have created success for themselves started out in the same position you are.

Good luck! You'll do fine.

Zach said...

I'll keep my suggestion short:

An integrated (rather than analytic) approach would allow you to associate certain ingrediants with recipes. For instance, when I think of lamb, I think of Chef John's slow roasted lamb shank, and other lamb recipes, and I try to figure out what is common amongst them. In the case of lamb, it's garlic and rosemary.

Next, try to figure out WHY they go together. This is harder, but you don't really have to solve it mathematically. Just figure out how sweet, sour, salty, rich, etc. tastes interact by looking at the recipes that you already know.

That's my 2 cents.

Scott - Boston said...

Oh Jim. Jim, Jim, Jimmy, Jim, Jim. Come over here. Take that ridiculous ramekin off of your head, I can't even see your face. (How the hell did you get that over your entire head?)
Anyways. Okay. I just want to say one word to you... Just one word... Are you listening?... Plastics.

Scott - Boston

Greg said...

I like the TRAVEL answer best.

If you can't do that go grubbing in a city like NYC and wander about eating different and interesting stuff.

Where I grew up (northern NH) I never encountered the kind of food I make on a daily basis now. Last night I made an African inspired stew with chicken, real peanut butter, chiles, sweet potatoes, cilantro, chick peas, green beans, lime juice and other good stuff.

I remember my first bowl of Pho. I still think it is the best soup on earth (followed by Pozole rojo).

They changed how I view and make soup.

motherzucker said...

Dear young chef:

I was lucky. I worked in a restaurant with a French woman who believed in the daily special. We usually had three on the menu, one each from the sous chef, the saucier and her. She would take the junior chefs out with her to the farmers markets and the fishing dock at 5:30 AM, and challenge us, half asleep, to come up with her recipe by looking at what was there.

Moreover, she would challenge our ideas. "Where will the sweet come from," she would ask. "The bitter? How will you add richness, or set off the richness? How much of it can you prep ahead to make service faster? What stations will need to be shown the recipe? Can you keep it on the board if you run out of something (other than the protein), i.e., are there substitutions available?"

But the MOST IMPORTANT question she taught me to ask is, "What's in season?" She did it because the things in season are always the cheapest, and she was trying to run a profit. Now, I do it because of flavor. So when peaches are in season, grilled peach granita (which really is as easy as it sounds!) it is. When it's not, something else.

There are only four flavor elements (sweet, salty, bitter and sour) and what the Japanese call Umame (sp?), mouth feel. Think of every recipe you currently know in terms of those five elements, plus richness. Deconstruct them. All of them. From the simplest vinnaigrette to the most delicate sauce you make, think about them in terms of the balance of those elements they have. Then, try to bring those same proportions together using what's in front of you. You'll find that, in place of a hollandaise, you might like an enriched reduction of stock with a hint of sherry vinegar. Or something COMPLETELY different. But it will all come together, and, in your mind, it will be easy because it's just a hollandaise but replacing the egg "custard" with reduced stock and cream. And it will be COMPLETELY yours.

My favorite night I ever worked, we were faced with perfect little hungarian sweet peppers. We bought every pepper the farmer had and smoked them (back in the days before everything on earth was being smoked) in the afternoon, before the prep cooks showed up. Then we used those in a pan sauce for a rack of lamb preparation. We added a touch of sour cream at the end, and, for lack of a better name, whimsically put it on the board as "rack of goulash." And all because these perfect peppers called our names. I was GOING to find a way to use these, and, with her guidance and help, we created a wonderful dish.

Marie passed away about 4 years ago, and it's been years since I cooked for a living. (You must know it by now, but cooking for a living is one of the hardest ways to make a living I can imagine.) But as I walk through the market with my wife, deciding what we're going to eat that week, I still ask myself all of the same questions she asked the scared 20 year old untrained me. And when a dish sings, I still thank her.

Good luck. I mean that sincerely. I hope you run into a chef as smart, as talented and as willing to teach as Marie was, and that you find satisfaction and creativity in your career.

kylegardneryoung said...

The ability to make something out of nothing has very little to do with experience... unless, of course, you have experience with making something out of nothing.

Think of all the recipes you were taught at your overpriced cooking school (no offense). Those weren't recipes... they were guidelines. One musn't follow the recipe, only the guideline, young Jedi.

Now look in the pantry. See that old box/bag of pasta? Gold.

Now look in the fridge. Any fresh veggies? Moldy? Don't need 'em. See all those year old, never used jars of mushrooms and peppers and olives (oh my!)? Use them.

Got butter? Got pepper? Got... dare I say... milk?

Put them all together, make yourself a sauce.

Boil the pasta 'al dente' and toss it into... blah blah blah.

Yeah, it won't be "gourmet," but you will have done the best you could with what you had, and your hosts should toast you with their 2buck chuck.

Keep cooking.

Pano said...

Talking about umami... a couple of weeks ago I was on holiday in Indonesia and Singapore(If you love food you must go to Singapore...), and had some beautiful fried tempeh. Now if you don't believe umami exists or have never experienced it, you should try tempeh. Umami overdose is what it was.
Travel!
Oh I wish I was back in Singapore now.

P

Anonymous said...

hello chef!

i have made pizza dough and farmer's cheese from your recipe and i am happy with it. i would like to know if there is any home made recipe for yogurt.

thanks a lot.

Jane

Gulfdiver said...

Anything can be made a banquet with ketchup or spaghetti sauce ;) Don't fear the tomatoe product!

scallywag said...

I believe when you make something without a recipe at hand it calls for your imagination with the combo of your taste buds and memories to fully understand what your dish is going to taste like. It is like your tasting in your mind, each ingredient then finally when you have all the ingredients together you have your dish. This is what sets chefs apart from others, its the creative side of their brain and not the following everything by the book because anyone can do that! Hope this helps somewhat, btw if all else fails try try again

Ryan said...

These are some really good comments, but I think wordlily hit it on the spot with confidence.

I'm not a culinary student nor specialist, but you've learned the skills, probably learned what absolutely not to do, and you've made a lot of dishes. Look at the ingredients you have available and visualize/imagine what kind of flavors they make using your knowledge of each ingredients characteristics from experience. Substitute or leave out ingredients you don't have if you have something in mind and don't be afraid to experiment. You've got the degree so you've got the utility belt! Be confident and have fun.

Anonymous said...

First of all, the friend who invited you over has way too much gall--how rude. "you're a guest in my home, please cook me something spectacular." Puh-leeze.
If you'd just finished up your surgeon's degree, would your friend want a free appendectomy? If you'd just finished an art degree, how about a free work of art with the materials on hand? And the list goes on.....
My advice, look your friend straight in the eye and say, "I'm not your personal chef." or something stronger, depending on your mood.
Jackie

bigbuufootballer said...

I am not a professional so my advice may not hold a whole lot of water. My biggest advice is be a foodie first and formost. That love for food and not necessarily the preparation of it may be your ace-in-the hole. I am a foodie myself I love food lol as apparent by my waistline.... but I love to see a steak sizzle. I love the smell of fresh bread. Those things bring recipies to my mind. Like those two foods make me think of a steak panini with fried tomatoes, pepperjack cheese and and a mayonaise dressing.

I think that you have to genuinely just love the food and anything you make will taste good and the more you taste the better your ideas will get....

Love the food and have fun...

Dan

Sami said...

Blatant plagiarism is my go-to for cooking on the spot.

More politely put: spend time trying different recipes and techniques from people (and peoples) who've done the grunt work of finding out what tastes good (e.g. Chef John). Experiment on your own, too. That way when you're confronted with "cook for me" situations, you can pick some core ingredients and wing it.

In other words: learn by doing.

Sami said...

Also, Jackie: Chill, dog.

bwise said...

There is tons of good advice here. I agree with a lot of it, and I can go on about specifics....but you know how to cook obviously. I am only adding to the confusing mix because I am shocked that everyone missed a huge point:

Cook to your audience.

If you know a few things about what they like (spicy, sweet, asian, mexican, etc) you are golden.

I wish I had this challenge, rising to the occasion always gets me to make stuff my guests never expected(or myself for that matter). And if you taste it towards the end and it is terrible...just use those knife skills for some extra fancy presentation, everyone will be impressed.

Have fun!!

Anonymous said...

i think there are two approaches here which we can use in combination.

First is analytical. you have a body of factual knowledge: lamb likes rosemary, shrimp likes tarragon, tomatoes like basil..... you can rely on these rules of thumb always.

Secondly, someone mentioned an integrated approach. When I look at a recipe, I don't follow it to the letter, but try to recognize the principles the chef is using, both in terms of flavor combos and prep methods. By thinking this way, you will start to see correlations between different recipes. you will notice similarities in approach even when the dishes are quite different. With time and experience (sorry)this will lead you to a deeper understanding of how to put things together.

You CAN do it. Practice.

By the way Chef John, love the blog.

Steven.

Nate-n-Annie said...

Being a culinary student, you have been exposed to various cuisines. Which one do you "speak" in your food? I would use that as a base vocabulary. Then I'd go and find the ingredients ("words") that are most common within that vocabulary and also occur within your "friend's" stores. Once you have the words you need, you can begin writing the story.

dandelion said...

Be fearless. Use the best, absolutely freshest, local ingredients. I go to the market every Saturday and look at what is available and make fabulous meals on the fly. You can too.

Carl said...

"You're a chef; cook me something good from what ever I have in my fridge."

Your reader is posting a classic reaction to the higher learning dilemma. Do I go to school for education or to learn a skill? A great education: the classics, history, physics, science, culinary arts included, can leave a graduate void of skills. Companies hire skill sets: architects, teachers, programmers, nurses, chefs and assume education. Often if one focuses in on skill related work in college, one might be deficit in broader education. If one pursues the broad education, they are not the most attractive candidates coming out of school (read here the value of internships).

So, what is your reader left to do? If he went to school simply to learn recipes, he is out of luck. I assume culinary school arms a student with many approaches, techniques, and tricks on how to create great tastes. When confronted with a recipe, or a list of ingredients in a "stump the chef" situation it is not merely a how can I combine these to make something tasty, but more of a maximization problem where given these ingredients, how can I bring the techniques I've learned to this situation to put something together to maximize what I've got? And always, always, remember; know the audience you are playing for. Cooking great food to impress is have what you know and half expectation management.

Superdude said...

sounds to me like you just need to relax, look at what is there, and start creating. Draw on your experience, think of techniques you know how to use and implement them on the given ingredients. You should know what tastes good, just throw it in a dish, taste and adjust.

Wolfgang said...

I think this guy has the wrong profession. I am not trained as a chef. I have never "learned" to cook. As as student I simply had not the money to eat out, and being used the good food from my mom I simply started to "throw things together". Cooking after recipes came later.

So my cooking was always looking into the fridge and use whats there. The result is seldom "awesome", but was mostly so good my guests were asking for the recipe. What recipe?

Cheers,
Wolfgang

PC said...

For me.. it's a matter of understanding the individual flavors and imaginging the results of possible combinations.

Unfortunately.. it IS experience, but imho, not so much as a chef, but as someone who loves food. When you eat out, try and figure out what's in it.. and you'll have a rough idea. Over time, you'll calibrate and develop a sense of the various combinations.

Chef Gregory Clausen said...

we would do this with young cooks to test there skills, we would get a basket of random items and say cook something with this. Look for a key ingredient and use it as the main ingredient in the dish, a meat would be the focal point and everything else would compliment it. but yes years of cooking will give you a lot of ideas in your head so when you look at a ingredient, recipes and ideas will come up. Go to a market and look at things and write down how many things you can make with it.

Suzanne said...

Hi Jim,

I guess I have to answer your appeal for help with a question of my own: what do you cook for yourself at home? What's in your pantry that you use "on the fly" for your very own self? That's where I'd start.

If you are like most people, even culinary students, I expect you have a pantry of items and a few types of foods that you really enjoy when you cook at home. I'd say THIS is the basis for cooking "on the fly" for friends like this one.

True, your education has meaning and value. But when it comes to making "something" from "nothing," I'd go with what's familiar from your daily life... rather than your newly acquired book learning.

Seems like over time your intuitive cooking (done at home for yourself) and your culinary training will mesh into a great combo.

Good luck!

Jim said...

Hello Everyone! Thank you for your amazing and insightful comments. You (and Chef John) have helped transform my thinking about cooking and food. What a difference my new attitude is already making in the kitchen. I am now back in touch with why I went to culinary school to begin with. Thanks again for your wonderful thoughts! :)

Jim said...

Hello Everyone! Thank you for your amazing and insightful comments. You (and Chef John) have helped transform my thinking about cooking and food. What a difference my new attitude is already making in the kitchen. I am now back in touch with why I went to culinary school to begin with. Thanks again for your wonderful thoughts! :)

Don Dailey said...

Jim, dare I say you might have just been given at least as much useful cooking advise from this blog than you did in all your years at J&W. Most of what I read here sounds like it can from years of experience, which always means lots of failures. I studied music in my undergrad days and composition specifically. After two years of being taught every rule in the book and how to apply each correctly, my final exam in music theory was this- "forget everything you were taught here. Imagine a golden sunset. Now compose a piece of music." So forget everything they taught you at J&W, open the fridge and COOK! When you screw it all up, try to figure out why and take a different route the next time. It will happen for you - please don't throw up!