If you like cooking, you may also like watching cooking shows on TV or reading recipe books from your favourite celebrity chef. There is a lot to be learned from someone who has worked as a professional chef for many years, but there are also plenty of things to ignore. Knowing when not to take a celebrity chef’s advice is an important skill that every successful home cook needs to acquire.
You need to understand that to be a professional chef, you need to eat everything. To run a successful high end restaurant you need to serve a wide array of dishes as you have a wide array of customers, each of whom generally likes to try something new every time they come back to the restaurant. You can’t master cooking a recipe if you never actually taste what you are cooking, so chefs are by their nature extremely open minded and adventurous when it comes to trying something new. And because they are always pushing the envelope to create new and bold flavours, they have are much less sensitive to strong tasting foods. The average home cook, and particularly the friends and family members that he or she is cooking for, tend to have much less adventurous culinary tastes.
A huge proportion of the North American population eat pretty much the same thing over and over. Tacos are about as exotic a food as half the population has ever eaten, so when you want to try to impress a dinner guest with something new, you need to sometimes be careful not to try something too new. Maybe that Asian stew with the fish sauce and habanero peppers is not the way to go. Also, a lot of people don’t like their fish to be looking at them while they eat. Celebrity chefs love to serve a whole bass, but your neighbours are not celebrity chefs, so perhaps serve them a filet instead.
There is not a single chef in the world who likes their steak well done, or more accurately, there isn’t a single chef who would admit to liking their steak well done. The prevailing wisdom in the cooking industry is that the less a food is cooked, the more flavourful it will be, and so sophisticated diners who appreciate great food will have their food cooked as rare as possible while the uncultured, simpleton diners will lean toward well done. Don’t listen to any of that. Cook your food to whatever level of doneness you and your guests prefer. You are the one buying the food, not the chef on TV, so cook it however way you like it.
It is also important to know how to adjust recipes. For example, I find that most cookbook recipes call for at least twice as much garlic as I can handle, so whatever recipe I see, I always cut the amount of garlic in half. I also find that many recipes will overdo the onions, so I will often cut back a little bit, sometimes by using a small onion or substituting with shallots. When I see fish sauce I either omit it from the recipe or omit the recipe altogether. If you like the taste of rotting fish, feel free to add it. The point is that you need to adapt the celebrity chef’s recipes to your tastes, not adapt your taste to their recipes.
So right! I also feel like celebrity chefs can be a little out of touch when telling people what tools they should have in their kitchen. It seems like everywhere I turn another celebrity chef is saying I shouldn’t have a garlic press, on the philosophy that it’s a tool that only does one job. I think they’re forgetting that the food prep priorities in restaurants and home kitchens are different (and so are the skill levels of the people involved). I get that a restaurant chef needs speed and can’t waste time rooting through drawers during a dinner rush, but when I’m making dinner at home, my tools are about convenience. If I use it a lot and it makes my job easier, it wins a spot in my drawer, even if it only does one job. Plus, I don’t have professional knife skills, and garlic is sticky. Sorry, Food Network, by my garlic press stays.