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What are the 20 Basic Cooking Skills?


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I saw a cooking demonstration by Dan Witherspoon and during it he remarked that there are only 20 basic skills to cooking and beyond that it's just a matter of combining the ingredients. He seemed to allude that sauces or sauteing was one of the skills.

Dan Witherspoon teaches classes at the Seasoned Chef (www.seasonedchef.com) and one of them - "BASIC SKILLS EVERY COOK SHOULD KNOW" - probably divulges the skills. Its course description includes: "knife skills; mise en place; sautéing, roasting, grilling; sauces, vinaigrettes; pastry techniques and more".

So, what do you think the other skills are?

Edited by johnsmith45678 (log)
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I saw a cooking demonstration by Dan Witherspoon and during it he remarked that there are only 20 basic skills to cooking and beyond that it's just a matter of combining the ingredients. He seemed to allude that sauces or sauteing was one of the skills.

Dan Witherspoon teaches classes at the Seasoned Chef (www.seasonedchef.com) and one of them - "BASIC SKILLS EVERY COOK SHOULD KNOW" - probably divulges the skills. Its course description includes: "knife skills; mise en place; sautéing, roasting, grilling; sauces, vinaigrettes; pastry techniques and more".

So, what do you think the other skills are?

Maybe he's just going down the index of a standard culinary school textbook?

-MEP

-knife skills

-protein fabrication

- stock

-sauce

-soup

-roast

-saute

-grill

-brasie

-pan fry

-deep fry

-shallow poach

-deep poach

I mean... "pastry techniques" is pretty broad. But I guess the general goal is to wean people off their recipes and just look at the ingredient list and cook from their heart. Or their brain -- there's certainly some kids 'round here that are all "well the recipe calls for 8 bunches of parsley, and we've only got 7"... sometimes "Just make it happen" is all you need to hear.

Anyway, my post clearly rambled, but I did get *some* point across. :wacko:

Rico

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Sorry, but what's MEP?

Yeah, the guy also stressed that recipes are just a guideline.

Oh, he also demonstrated making Mayonnaise, Vinaigrettes, Hollandaise, Aioli, etc. and while doing so he conveyed that they're all basic variations of vinaigrettes, which is apparently one of the twenty skills.

Edited by johnsmith45678 (log)
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I seem to remember reading, either here on eG or in a cooking magazine, that the only really important cooking skill is learning to use salt properly.

I'd enjoy hearing comments on that.

And aside from formal training, I'd like to hear what y'all think about the qualities (which I think are a separate matter from skills) that make the difference between an okay cook, and an excellent cook. I'm not trying to hijack the thread, here; I think all of these things are parts of the same discussion.

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I seem to remember reading, either here on eG or in a cooking magazine, that the only really important cooking skill is learning to use salt properly.

I'd enjoy hearing comments on that.

And aside from formal training, I'd like to hear what y'all think about the qualities (which I think are a separate matter from skills) that make the difference between an okay cook, and an excellent cook.  I'm not trying to hijack the thread, here; I think all of these things are parts of the same discussion.

I think one of the qualities is -- PAY ATTENTION--- both to what you're doing, and to what the food is doing as you're doing whatever you're doing to it.

"Fat is money." (Per a cracklings maker shown on Dirty Jobs.)
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I seem to remember reading, either here on eG or in a cooking magazine, that the only really important cooking skill is learning to use salt properly.

I'd enjoy hearing comments on that.

Yeah, I think the same guy also said that the number one thing home cooks did wrong was not use enough salt.

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Another important 'skill' besides proper seasoning with salt is proper searing (browning). Whether it's a quick sear for a steak or searing before braising, the caramelization process, to me, is one of the most important things to learn. Even getting a good sear on ground meat to make tacos can make the difference between just ok and wow, this is great! What'd you do differently?

Stop Family Violence

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Indeed, with the advent of all the non-stick cookware, the home cook has gotten away from both the carmelization and the use of fond in cooking. In my opinion, creating a huge loss of taste.

On another note, have some skills with meat become lost due to the preponderance of prepackaged meat? Many of my acquaintances have no idea what part of the animal the cuts they buy come from, thus have no idea of why things should be cooked using a certain method.

And thirdly, does anyone who does not attend culinary school, cooking classes, or follow professional cookbooks, learn any of the touted top 20 skills?

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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...I think that all skills found in a professional chef text would be important for a home cook. But speaking as someone who hires would be chefs and the like, i think one big skill most culinary schools chould be teaching is humility. Accept that you are not god's gift to food and even the greatest acknowledge that there is much more to learn..

Oh, and yes i am a culinary grad and yes i would have and did skip the class on humility as well.

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Salt is a cop-out. It's too easy to make things taste better with salt. Yes there is a method to it, but so what. Try keeping your cooking flavorful and satisfying while using no salt. Makes life a bit more interesting.

Not strictly a cooking skill, but in terms of "the qualities (which I think are a separate matter from skills) that make the difference between an okay cook, and an excellent cook", I think that you have to add shopping (unless you have a personal shopper). If you don't know how and where to find the best and freshest ingredients, I think that your results will be inherently limited.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Salt is a cop-out.  It's too easy to make things taste better with salt.  Yes there is a method to it, but so what.  Try keeping your cooking flavorful and satisfying while using no salt.  Makes life a bit more interesting.

Would this just be an exercise (seasoning without salt)? Do you not use salt, and if not, why?

You could just as easily assert that butter (or other fat) is a cop-out, or that sugar is a cop-out, or that mirepoix is a cop-out. Yeah, you can make things taste good without them, but why?

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Janet, I agree with you point. In fact, I would venture to say that the correct use of salt, fat, mirepoix etc. are some of the 20 basic cooking skills - not a "cop-out" in any sense of the word.

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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There are more than 20 basic skills just involving a knife, so to say there are only 20 basic skills in all of cooking is just silly -- or it has to mean something other than what it seems to mean. Perhaps there are somewhere around 20 basic families of skills, if you reduce all of pastry to one skill family and you limit your list to standard, traditional Western techniques.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Salt is a cop-out.  It's too easy to make things taste better with salt.  Yes there is a method to it, but so what.  Try keeping your cooking flavorful and satisfying while using no salt.  Makes life a bit more interesting.

Would this just be an exercise (seasoning without salt)? Do you not use salt, and if not, why?

You could just as easily assert that butter (or other fat) is a cop-out, or that sugar is a cop-out, or that mirepoix is a cop-out. Yeah, you can make things taste good without them, but why?

Why = my doctor is threatening me with cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure lowering medication. Dietary changes are a far better choice than medication, if they will do what needs to be done. But I do love butter and I do love what salt does for food. And I still use them, but I have changed my diet so that I eat more fruits and vegetables, and fewer of the things that contain such beloved, wonderful ingredients.

I think that being able to use salt effectively is an important skill, but so is being able to cook with smaller amounts of salt, plus other ingredients.

I think this is an extremely interesting discussion. . .it's providing some really good food for thought.

Question: I would agree that shopping is an important skill. On the flip side, is it an important skill to be able to make ingredients that are less than optimal, taste good?

I don't know how important it is (in the grand scheme of things), but one skill I'm trying to develop is to be able to cook without recipes; to be able to go to the farmers' market and purchase produce without having to spend the rest of the day hunting for additional ingredients so that I can make a particular recipe. Perhaps this skill is the result of having the other skills.

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Salt is a cop-out.  It's too easy to make things taste better with salt.  Yes there is a method to it, but so what.  Try keeping your cooking flavorful and satisfying while using no salt.  Makes life a bit more interesting.

I've heard time and again that salt brings other flavors out.

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What about making a roux?

That's part of learning sauces.

I figured the fellow must have meant it that way, though to me, it is different. It can be totally unrelated to sauces when it is the base of a gumbo, but I see that he's trying to simplify things, so c'est la vie! It' not part of the other 19.

But maybe there are other skills in other cultures?

Scorpio

You'll be surprised to find out that Congress is empowered to forcibly sublet your apartment for the summer.

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Heart disease / low sodium diet here.

Yes, salt, properly used, does bring out other flavors. I learned that well in the 30 years before I had a heart attack.

Now I'm learning how many restaurants over-use salt, at least to my newly altered sense of taste. And I've learned how to cook quite well without it. So I don't view it as a basic or essential skill.

. On the flip side, is it an important skill to be able to make ingredients that are less than optimal, taste good?

That thought had occurred to me too. I suspect that the answer is "yes," since one doesn't always have the time or the wherewithal to go after the best stuff every night.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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My 20 skills:

1. How to cook

2. How to taste

3. How to think about food

4. How to talk about food

5. How to experiment

6. How to invent

7. How to improvise

8. How to share food with those you love

9. How to appreciate others cooking for you

10. How to explore new foods and food cultures

11. How to expand your culinary horizons

12. How to select the best produce & ingredients

13. How to respect your ingredients

14. How to refine your cooking constantly

15. How to be aware of everything that you do

16. How to plan ahead and schedule

17. How to learn from those willing to teach

18. How to teach those who are willing to learn

19. How to present food so that it is pleasing to the eye

and finally: How to be passionate about every aspect of cooking and love the process of cooking in all it's glory.

PS: I am a guy.

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