I’m a pretty good home cook. I have dinner parties, I know my way around the kitchen. I can chop things without cutting my fingers off, know enough about flavors and ingredients to create things from my pantry with no recipe, and everything tastes good and looks pretty. I can follow a recipe. I have a well-stocked pantry. I’m single, and unless I’m having a party, I usually cook for two people at the max, so I don’t keep a lot of fresh ingredients in my refrigerator, but I know how to shop for a meal. I try not to buy a lot of processed food.
I learned to cook from my grandmother. My mother, whose idea of cooking generally involves calling for pizza or putting it on Amex, insists that the cooking gene skips a generation. This is funnier than it initially sounds, because we’re both adopted. My mother is great at cleaning. Thankfully, I have a little bit of that in me, too.
Grandma was known for her baked goods: our extended family looked forward to holiday gifts of almond-scented tea rings with candied cherries on top, Mexican wedding cookies, and hand-decorated sugar cookies. She cooked nearly every meal in my house until I was 14 and she had a stroke, after which I took over cooking duties. Her cooking was standard 40s-50s housewife: jello salads, spaghetti and meatballs, overcooked roast beef, tuna casserole.
I fell deeper into a love of cooking when I discovered The Frugal Gourmet. Say what you will about him, he taught me the basics. My Christmas present for my 13th birthday was a KitchenAid Mixer (which I still have and use). I remember writing an obituary for tuna salad in the sixth grade, and The Frug was one of its survivors (because it had a lot of “gaaah-lic”). I remember David Rosengarten’s Taste, Justin Wilson, and Food TV before it was overrun with Rachael Ray.
So now I’m trying to apply what I’ve learned to this blog, and Cincinnati dining. In talking with my friend Drew, I realized that I probably need to do some more in-depth exploration of food beyond “I like X” and “This tastes like Y”. He gave me a list of books that might help me, and helped him in his forays into gastronomy. Unlike Drew, I don’t have the time (nor the money!) to go to culinary school. I also don’t want to be a chef. I don’t really have any desire to work in a restaurant, but I do want to have a firm foundation in what goes on behind the doors of the restaurants I frequent.
And everyone needs to know how to make good stock.
So, as I read Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute, I’ve gotten a little inspired. Ruhlman, a food writer, spent time at the Culinary Institute of America learning, essentially, how to be a chef. Again, I don’t have those resources, so I’ve come up with Julie’s At-Home Plan to Be a Better Cook and Food Writer.
(I know. It’s catchy.)
I ordered a copy of the The Professional Chef, 8th Edition from Amazon and I’ve decided to use it. I won’t report back on stuff like sanitation, but once I start practicing my mise en place, knife skills, all of that good stuff, I’ll document it here. It should be a learning experience for both of us (meaning you, the reader, and me) and I’m sure Terry won’t mind eating my experiments.
So I won’t become a chef, but I think I’ll have some good practice. I’ll see if I can supplement it with a few cooking classes, and I have a ton of other books and cookbooks to read. I hope you’ll follow along!
(And don’t worry. I’ll continue the reviews. I hope to have another one this weekend!)