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A skilled amateur cook


mojoman
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The constructive points are well taken.  I guess what I was getting at was:

1.  What are the core skills to develop to become a good home cook? 

A. Learning the nomenclature

B. Understanding and becoming comfortable with equipment

C. Identifying problems with their causes and solutions

D. Practice Practice Practice

SB (and then .... Practice some more! :wink: )

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I have a similar example.  One of my grandmothers couldn't cook at all.  Anything she attempted was awful.  Except for once a year.  Her Christmas dinners were legendary.  No variance in the menu - turkey, oyster stuffing, bourbon sweet potatoes and cheese stuffed baked potatoes.  Other offerings at the holiday table consisted of canned peas and an awful fruit salad made with canned fruit cocktail and, of course, the obligatory brown and serves - often burnt.  The last three dishes were up to her usual standard, but the first four were fantastic - and not easy things to make, certainly.  Where would she fall on this list?

Kim

If my mother were internet savvy I couldn't post this...

My mother continues to cook with the depression-era mantra that if you cook it to death the germs will die. What she does to Brocoli is shameful. I eat a couple of stalks out of courtesy and wash the taste out of my mouth with some beer.

The worst however is what I refer to as Green Slime. Green jello mixed with cool whip with canned fruit cocktail stirred in. I just got another cavity typing this in. My wife and I rarely let her cook for us anymore. We mostly take her out to eat or bring a meal with us. Since she is all but housebound taking her out solves 2 things at once. We don't have to eat her thrice-overcooked veggies and she get to see some part of the world other than the block she lives on.

So far as the scale of skill that started this thread I too think pastry should be a separate category. My baking skills are comparable to my mother's veggie cooking skills but I can handle entrees and side dishes from experience without the need for recipes. I do use some recipes for things that are not in my week-in/week-out cooking style. I am going to be making some French Onion soup on vacation using home-made beef stock. For this soup I always go back to Julia Child's recipe in (can't remember if it's the first or second) Julia Child and Company. I can't keep the preportions straight in my head so even though I have made it several times I will use the book.

We're doing a Santa Maria-style Barbercue on vacation also. I will use a recipe for the beans that is a generations-old recipe from a family that lives near Santa Maria ( I lived there in the mid-70s and fell in love with that local favorite.)

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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Oh, I think that baking/pastry SHOULD be included in the ranking! How can you call yourself a "skilled" amateur if you can't bake a loaf of bread or make a pie crust? Any competent 10-year-old who can read can get to Level 4--hell, the 4-H'ers at my niece's middle school can bust all the way up to Level 6...they cook competitively in contests with names like "Sugar & Seafood" (not in the same dish!) , "Poultry Que-ing" and "Dairy Day", all sponsored by the state Ag department. (But I readily admit that south Louisiana is a particularly food-centric part of the nation).

And the rankings are culture-specific, too...if you can't make a dark brown roux without burning in my neck of the woods, you ain't much of a cook, regardless of your other skills. My "local" index would need to include things like cleaning fish, prepping wild game, and cleaning softshelled crabs. Again, in my neighborhood, you wouldn't be considered much of a cook if you had to rely on someone else to do the dirty work.

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Hi,

I think that some of the criteria are far too difficult for what I consider to be skilled non-professional cooks.

Specifically, Level Number 3 should be revised to read, "incapable of making a Sandra Lee menu."

Tim

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As an amateur I have a limited amount of time to practice compared with someone who cooks or manages a kitchen and plans recipes all day. So I have to choose between being a jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none and being more of a specialist.

My inclination is that I'm not interested in bothering with cooking unless the food is going to be great, or at least interesting. So I lean in the specialist direction. I usually choose projects one at a time and work on them for however long it takes to nail them.

So my repertoire is small, and it grows very slowly. There are a few categories of food that I feel I've mastered to my satisfaction, a few that are in progress, and a few that I haven't touched. So there are some things I can improvise with a lot of confidence and little thought, some things that are more of a learning adventure, and some things that will force me to lean over a cookbook like a beginner.

And there's another set of choices involving complexity. Some people equate good food with impressive food--which often means complex food. I find from eating out that it takes a pretty high level chef (many notches above my usual price range) to put together a whole repertoire of food that is both complex and good. And personally, I find complex, impressive looking, but mediocre tasting food to be a major letdown.

So with my limited time resources, I focus on the simple, direct, and delicious. Working with fewer ingredients and flavors to balance can cut months off of the time it takes me to develop a recipe. I'm just as happy to dispense with the flash, learn something simple and tasty, and move on to the next project.

These kinds of choices must be common even if they aren't always conscious. And it means that assigning a skill level to someone won't necesarilly reveal what they've mastered vs. what they haven't even tried.

Well said.

I would add that, for me there is a difference between other people's perceptions and my own. I am considered a pretty good cook by my freinds and family simply because whenever they come over for a meal, be it a complex planned thing, or an off the cuff casual breakfast, they enjoy the food. It's usually simple, from fresh ingredients, mostly from scratch. They're as satisfied as they would be at a casual restaurant.

In my own opinion, I'm a pretty good cook for different reasons. Alot of it comes down to knowledge and being comfortable. I've got decent knife skills, a wide knowledge of techniques, and am comfortable with just about any recipe, (including bread but excluding pastry). I buy quality ingredients and treat them correctly. But the things I am the most proud of is that I'm not intimidated by trying new things. I've got wide swaths of cuisine that I feel comfortable with, and other segments where I know I've got alot to learn, but I'm not afraid to dig in and try.

I'm not sure how to distill that down to a number on a scale. Perhaps we should create a test for this similar to the Meyer-Briggs test, that maps to a number.

Questions like:

Describe your knife skills:

a) I can do a uniform dice in my sleep

b) Quick but sometimes uneven

c) Chopping is the hardest part of the recipe

d) A knife is that sharp thing in my drawer, right?

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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I think I agree that the skills go beyond amateur when the emphasis moves at the end of the list towards the memorisation of proportions. It is hard to see how this sets your food apart once it is made - is there any shame in checking the recipe? And if I "know" the proportions for shortcrust pastry (which is something I make a lot) then it is only because I am simply making the same Mastering the Art of French Cooking recipe over again without consulting the book. Yes - choosing good recipes is half the battle (it is a good recipe with a very high proportion of butter to flour.) Perhaps the key home cooking skill is knowing only that pastry needs butter and flour so that you can stop off and pick some up on the way home if necessary.

Catherine

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Something I notice that seems to set skilled cooks apart is that they pay more attention to the food ... flavor, texture, smell, etc. ... while less skilled cooks pay more attention to the instructions.

Some of this just comes down to confidence. I'm always trying to get my girlfriend to trust her senses more. She asks me "when should I take these out of the pan?" and I answer "when they're done!"

It's never the answer she wants to hear. She wishes I'd say "in 2 minutes, 45 seconds!"

Notes from the underbelly

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I don't think the purpose of this discussion is to hand out cooking report cards to people, nor is it to find ways to criticize other people's cooking. Whether we like it or not, not all cooks are of equal skill. We're not equal in talent, either. That' s not a put-down; it just is. I've met some incredibly talented and skilled cooks who are appreciative of other people's less skilled cooking (like mine), because they realize what it takes to put a good meal on the table.

Someone else upthread mentioned this, and I agree, that a linear scale (like climbing a mountain) might not be appropriate here. An art teacher once told me that she thought her students developed by jumping from one plateau to the next. They became interested in one aspect of their art, and explored it without seeming to make much progress. Then one day it all seemed to come together, and they suddenly jumped to another level of ability. Since cooking is an art, maybe this is more typically what happens in people's development.

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The constructive points are well taken.  I guess what I was getting at was:

1.  What are the core skills to develop to become a good home cook? 

A. Learning the nomenclature

B. Understanding and becoming comfortable with equipment

C. Identifying problems with their causes and solutions

D. Practice Practice Practice

SB (and then .... Practice some more! :wink: )

I think you should add E. Timing.

E.g. No point having the chicken ready and the potatoes aren't boiled. without timing everything can get messed up.

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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I have a similar example.  One of my grandmothers couldn't cook at all.  Anything she attempted was awful.  Except for once a year.  Her Christmas dinners were legendary.  No variance in the menu - turkey, oyster stuffing, bourbon sweet potatoes and cheese stuffed baked potatoes.  Other offerings at the holiday table consisted of canned peas and an awful fruit salad made with canned fruit cocktail and, of course, the obligatory brown and serves - often burnt.  The last three dishes were up to her usual standard, but the first four were fantastic - and not easy things to make, certainly.  Where would she fall on this list?

Kim

Idiot savant? :P

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If the proposed "ranking system" is indeed useless, that will show itself soon enough if the system ever gains widespread popularity and use (however that would happen, I don't know). :rolleyes:

If it bothers those who feel it is hurtful and exclusive rather than helpful and inclusive I guess at this point in time since there's been no legislation passed that demands amateur cooks participate in this, they could just stay away from the club that wishes to give each other rank and go spend their time cooking something good rather than ranking each other and drawing lines to help in whatever way this helps someone understand and categorize what they need or want to understand (mpff, I dunno, but "understanding" is a different thing for different people) so forward movement can then be made in whatever way they wish.

Personally, I was having a great deal of fun imagining the various "patches" that could be designed to designate the different levels attained, to be given to the cooks like in Boy Scouts or karate class. That was fun but the most fun was imagining that when one reached the level "10" that (whether they were male or female) they would be rewarded and shown to be at that level by being given the gift of cornrows/braids, just like Bo Derek in the movie "10".

So I've enjoyed this thread. :smile: Seems like fun to me. If one likes that sort of thing. No reason why they shouldn't. Maybe it will replace talking about sports scores. I could get into that. :wink:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Personally, I was having a great deal of fun imagining the various "patches" that could be designed to designate the different levels attained, to be given to the cooks like in Boy Scouts or karate class. That was fun but the most fun was imagining that when one reached the level "10" that (whether they were male or female) they would be rewarded and shown to be at that level by being given the gift of cornrows/braids, just like Bo Derek in the movie "10".

I would totally push for a 10, in that case, even to learn some fanciful desserts, or something. I always thought those braids looked so cool, always wanted to try them out! Only, in this case, the beads would have to be a cute food theme, like little sushi charms, or maybe baked goods.

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lSo I've enjoyed this thread.  :smile: Seems like fun to me. If one likes that sort of thing. No reason why they shouldn't. Maybe it will replace talking about sports scores. I could get into that.  :wink:

Amen to that one, sister.

Taking things too seriously is often taking thing too far in many walks of life, I think.

And perhaps there should be no scoring of runs, goals, hits etc in any sport except at a professional level. Good concept, Carrot Top

Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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I have a similar example.  One of my grandmothers couldn't cook at all.  Anything she attempted was awful.  Except for once a year.  Her Christmas dinners were legendary.  No variance in the menu - turkey, oyster stuffing, bourbon sweet potatoes and cheese stuffed baked potatoes.  Other offerings at the holiday table consisted of canned peas and an awful fruit salad made with canned fruit cocktail and, of course, the obligatory brown and serves - often burnt.  The last three dishes were up to her usual standard, but the first four were fantastic - and not easy things to make, certainly.  Where would she fall on this list?

Kim

Idiot savant? :P

:laugh::laugh::laugh: Ding, ding, ding! I think we have a winner! This was the grandmother that, when asked for a cooky, would offer me a Metrical (60's version of SlimFast) cooky - gack.

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As a truly amatuer cook I have found this most interesting. I know I am a much more inventive cook than my friends (mostly as a result of interest, travel, tasting) but never thought about the actual skills. Never could figure out why people can't follow recipes. Almost everything I've learned how to do I learned from books. Making a roux or dealing with shellfish, or even whole fish is not in my area of focus.

The question of memory....and being able to do things without a recipe....is a problem. I rarely need a recipe for main dishes, (unless new and/or unfamiliar ethnic) and I could make good simple yeast breads without one. But even for Mother's famous blueberry muffins I check the quantities. Then I might tweak it. Is that lack of skill , practice, or lack of little gray cells?

Also, much as I enjoy many kinds of foods I am at a complete loss to duplicate what I enjoyed beyond the most obvious ingredients. Memory is that I liked it, but memory of the actual taste disappears. Maybe more concentration is what's lacking. Is this a skill all high level cooks develop? Plus, do "real" cooks know how things will taste from the combination of ingredients?

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I have an idea. Why not score cooks according to Food Network stars?

Level 1: Sandra Lee

Level 2: Rachael Ray

Level 3: Paula Deen

etc.

That sounds like more fun!

There's something to this idea. Depends on the criteria of ranking. If it is understanding of food as science and art, the rank would be different than technical skill. Building on the quoted post, I propose the following ranks of people currently on the network:

Sandra Lee

Rachael Ray

Robert Irvine

Paula Deen

Giada DeLaurentis

Tyler Florence

Ina Garten

Alton Brown

Bobby Flay

Mario Batalli

Emeril Lagasse

I'm probably somewhere between Tyler Florence and Ina Garten, putting it that way. I know I'm leaving some out. Fill in the blanks on the missing ones, since I can't seem to figure out how to rank the remainder.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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I have an idea. Why not score cooks according to Food Network stars?

Level 1: Sandra Lee

Level 2: Rachael Ray

Level 3: Paula Deen

etc.

That sounds like more fun!

There's something to this idea. Depends on the criteria of ranking. If it is understanding of food as science and art, the rank would be different than technical skill. Building on the quoted post, I propose the following ranks of people currently on the network:

Sandra Lee

Rachael Ray

Robert Irvine

Paula Deen

Giada DeLaurentis

Tyler Florence

Ina Garten

Alton Brown

Bobby Flay

Mario Batalli

Emeril Lagasse

I'm probably somewhere between Tyler Florence and Ina Garten, putting it that way. I know I'm leaving some out. Fill in the blanks on the missing ones, since I can't seem to figure out how to rank the remainder.

I like this concept!

Where do y'all think Julia Child (yeah, I know she's not TVFN) fits into this kind of hierarchy? This may be sacriledge but I was never impressed by her cooking skills. Her food did not look that good to me and her knife skills, etc. were not great.

Edited by mojoman (log)
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Sandra Lee

Rachael Ray

Robert Irvine

Paula Deen

Giada DeLaurentis

Tyler Florence

Ina Garten

Alton Brown

Bobby Flay

Mario Batalli

Emeril Lagasse

I'm probably somewhere between Tyler Florence and Ina Garten, putting it that way. I know I'm leaving some out. Fill in the blanks on the missing ones, since I can't seem to figure out how to rank the remainder.

The Food Network Host who reminded me most of myself is David Rosengarten, although he's no longer on.

He style was knowledgable and competent but not flashy. I suspect he'd rank between Flay and Batalli in the above list. :hmmm:

SB (would be flashy .... if he could be :wink: )

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Oh. This is much more fun. So now, instead of playing "let's measure our skills against certain formal criteria to rank ourselves" it's "I'm just like a celebrity TV chef"?

:shock:

Whoof.

Something is coming to mind. What is it . . . I can't remember. Oh I know. It's from biology class so of course I can't remember. What are those animals called that survive by living off the host animal? Darn it, can't think of the term.

:rolleyes:

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Hello fellow foodies,

I did a search and did not find any threads that address my current query.

How do you define a skilled amateur cook?

I define a skilled amateur cook as someone who can produce a simple and tasty, nutritionally well-balanced meal for their family or friends.

The knife skills do not matter as long how the food is cut serves the family or friends well.

Knowing how to create sauces beyond a simple pan sauce would not be a requirement in my book, for the world of sauces as created by chefs were sauces not created for home use in general.

Three things define a skilled amateur cook, to me. Know how to purchase good fresh food; know how to roast, braise, and saute; know how to put it all together on a plate.

It helps to be able to read and follow a recipe but that is not required.

This is, I am assuming, home cooking we're talking about as the term used was "amateur".

I think this is a great idea and should be expanded, 1 - 10 scores for each cuisine should be required in everyones signature on eGullet and the site should allow you to filter out posts from people who score lower than 8 on Dutch cuisine. 

Now perhaps the "TV Celebrity Chef Level" can be attached to the sig lines, too. Just to be sure we all know where everyone stands.

Something I notice that seems to set skilled cooks apart is that they pay more attention to the food ... flavor, texture, smell, etc. ... while less skilled cooks pay more attention to the instructions.

This, is what makes any cook, amateur or professional, skilled. Pay attention to what is in front of you. Pay attention to it and think and respond.

There's something to this idea. Depends on the criteria of ranking. If it is understanding of food as science and art, the rank would be different than technical skill. Building on the quoted post, I propose the following ranks of people currently on the network:

Sandra Lee

Rachael Ray

Robert Irvine

Paula Deen

Giada DeLaurentis

Tyler Florence

Ina Garten

Alton Brown

Bobby Flay

Mario Batalli

Emeril Lagasse

I'm probably somewhere between Tyler Florence and Ina Garten, putting it that way. I know I'm leaving some out. Fill in the blanks on the missing ones, since I can't seem to figure out how to rank the remainder.

If I have been rude about this idea, I apologize just slightly. For instead of the original task of determining where one stood in order supposedly to improve, now the entire thing has gone to not only ranking amateurs but also ranking (yes, they are professional, those TV people listed above) professionals in the field and making personal comparison to them, which is so far apart and away from paying attention to the food in front of one that it is an alternate universe.

An amusing one in ways, but really if one is taking the idea of cooking *seriously* then it is a step backwards, for the attention is on surface not reality.

i.e. To give an example: I am an amateur physician. Every day I think of how to make people feel better, to give forth to the world better health, just as amateur cooks want to give forth to the world better food. I have my family to practice on, and my friends, just as amateur cooks do. I can offer ideas that I've studied in books but obviously have never called myself a professional as that is an entirely different level.

Would I be better off in this task of trying to be a skilled amateur physician by keeping my attention on learning more, or would I be better off by measuring myself against others in my peer group (who, of course, would be every other mother of children in the universe), or else maybe by deciding that my measurement of my skills would be based on the TV physician I most resembled? Of course, I'd have to be Dr. Kildare, based on my own self-measurement.

The question asked:

How do you define a skilled amateur cook?

My answer:

A skilled amateur cook pays attention to what is in front of them and responds to what is going on in the cooking process with common sense and some basic cooking skills.

A skilled amateur cook is someone who can produce a simple and tasty, nutritionally well-balanced meal.

Yours, always, in all attempts at overweening self-importance,

Dr. Karen Kildare

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This, is what makes any cook, amateur or professional, skilled. Pay attention to what is in front of you. Pay attention to it and think and respond.

Yep, that says it in a nutshell. Amateur cooks, people who cook because they like to, automatically learn because they're always cooking. We amateur cooks don't have to feed hundreds of customers and please the boss, but we do become more skilled because we (and our friends and family), are always--literally--eating our mistakes.

I've always counseled beginning cooks to just keep cooking. If something is stopping them, like a missing ingredient or a troublesome technique, I tell them to skip it, go around it, and keep cooking. (Cookbook authors who devote themselves to developing perfect recipes may hate me for saying that. Sorry.)

That's not to say a little organization wouldn't lead to self-improvement. A few years ago, while cooking, I mused about the techniques I was not so good at, and wrote them down in a list. Then I tackled the list in a burst of motivation and practiced the techniques. For awhile. Then it was back to just cooking what I like. :laugh:

Edited by djyee100 (log)
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I have an idea. Why not score cooks according to Food Network stars?

Level 1: Sandra Lee

Level 2: Rachael Ray

Level 3: Paula Deen

etc.

That sounds like more fun!

There's something to this idea. Depends on the criteria of ranking. If it is understanding of food as science and art, the rank would be different than technical skill. Building on the quoted post, I propose the following ranks of people currently on the network:

Sandra Lee

Rachael Ray

Robert Irvine

Paula Deen

Giada DeLaurentis

Tyler Florence

Ina Garten

Alton Brown

Bobby Flay

Mario Batalli

Emeril Lagasse

I'm probably somewhere between Tyler Florence and Ina Garten, putting it that way. I know I'm leaving some out. Fill in the blanks on the missing ones, since I can't seem to figure out how to rank the remainder.

I like this concept!

Where do y'all think Julia Child (yeah, I know she's not TVFN) fits into this kind of hierarchy? This may be sacriledge but I was never impressed by her cooking skills. Her food did not look that good to me and her knife skills, etc. were not great.

Ah. Poor Julia was not only *not* TVFN but needs to fit into a hierachy also?

And you say her cooking skills were not up to par either, nor her food nor her knife skills?

...................................

Perhaps my "take" on all this is different, coming from the background of having been an executive chef in a fine dining atmosphere, and also, of course, a home cook.

I like to think that people can and will respect their own ways of cooking and making meals at an "amateur" level, without ratings of any sort and most particularly without getting involved with the idea of comparisons to TV cooks except those ratings, or rather goals, that come personally, and from within oneself, as a way to improve *if they feel they wish to*, not because someone else is "better" in some way. Because, really, it is professional cooking that is less important than this thing which is called "amateur cooking" here. This "amateur cooking" is really the cooking the world runs on, and which the world has always run on.

Professional cooking is a job, a vocation. It can be a pleasure. It is not as glamorous as some might think who have not done it. But long before there were professional cooks, there were home cooks. Home cooks, who in this thread are given the name "amateur", are vastly more important in the grand scheme of things than anyone on TV or anyone who cooks at a restaurant. Professional cooking is just the fluff, the icing on the cake. It is the entertainment and it is something that people pay for. But it is not where the real thing resides. The real thing of cooking resides in the home, with home cooks, who cook daily for their families as they have always done, long before TV or the wide-spread availability of thousands of hip cookbooks with "how-to's" on knife skills.

P.S. Aside from the main discussion, but as it was raised, I must say that personally, I can't find a thing about Julia Child not to respect. :smile:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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