We're launching a series on the show called The Key 3. It's conversations with good cooks (not just professional chefs) about the three recipes they think every cook should know. Recipes they feel will serve all cooks well in their own kitchens.
It's been great fun to develop, and the answers are very revealing about the cooks themselves. The series will begin in February and launches with Andy Ricker, the chef who brought authentic Thai to Portland, Ore., and is in the midst of establishing a presence in NYC. The series has gotten me thinking about what exactly makes a good cook and how to become one.
Good cooks don't waste anything. If a cup of celery is needed for stock, the leftover leaves are stashed in the freezer. As are bones (both raw and roasted), pan drippings, the last dribbles of olive oil, vegetable peels and trimmings and the remains of the wine glass. Stale bread is made into croutons or breadcrumbs. The last handful of rice thickens soup. You get the idea.
Good cooks clean as they go. I have never once walked into the kitchen of someone who is a good cook and seen it trashed. Cleaning as you go keeps a cook organized and on task. It's about being in control and knowing where you are going. Which brings me to my third point ...
Good cooks read a recipe from beginning to end before they begin. They understand the final goal and have a map of how to get there.
Good cooks taste as they go. How can you know if your chili powder is dead or if your soy sauce is off if you don't taste it?
Good cooks use their hands. One of the best reminders of that for me came from chef Daniel Patterson of Coi in San Francisco. When asked what his most important tool was, he answered it was his hands. Toss a salad with your clean hands once and you will understand. Each leaf is gently coated, you can feel the salt and you can taste what you've done.
We'd love to hear what you think the characteristics of a good cook are. Get in touch.