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Is it possible to self teach to a good chef standard

 
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beamer



Joined: 19 May 2008
Posts: 10

PostPosted: Sun May 25, 2008 7:59 pm    Post subject: Is it possible to self teach to a good chef standard Reply with quote

I work 40 hrs a week in engineering and a lot of the rest of the time is spent in my home kitchen. So i got to wondering if it was possible to use this time, not just to cook basic dishes but to self teach as i go to a decent chef standard. Obviously i wouldn't have the time (or the money for that matter) to attend any kind of cookery school so i would be looking for materials such as books and web based stuff.
Now, the question is has anyone got any guidance on how to go about this and what materials are available?
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GaryProtein



Joined: 26 Oct 2005
Posts: 535

PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2008 12:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Try these text books:

http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Techniques-Expert-Chefs-Version/dp/0130618659

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/On-Cooking/Sarah-R-Labensky/e/9780131713277/?itm=1

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/On-Baking/Sarah-R-Labensky/e/9780135336472/?itm=2

and a subscription to Cook's Illustrated for fresh monthly articles and tests.

I've always considered cooking and especially baking to be "organic chemistry lab" in the kitchen. Cooking is a matter of blending things together that taste good and heating them up and that leaves some room for artistic experimentation. Baking on the other hand really is organic chemistry in the kitchen because things have to be carefully measured and combined in specific fashions for the magic to occur inside the oven.

When trying something new of your own creation, take notes so you'll know what you did and will be able to reproduce those things you like and avoid those you don't.

Practice, practice, practice.

I'm still practicing.
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lutie



Joined: 26 May 2008
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2008 1:50 am    Post subject: Self-teaching Reply with quote

Yes, it is possible to become an excellent chef without all of the expense and time. You will learn more in your own kitchen than in classroom... this comes from one who taught cooking in an accredited institution. My suggestion is to get the Professional Chef series by The Culinary Institute of America if you are sincerely serious. You can waste your time watching the Food Network Channel, but the only one on there that actually teaches you anything is Alton Brown, in my opinion.

The best way to learn is to try and fail... failing will bring you quicker results than anything else. I love making mistakes because the mistakes teach me a great deal more PLUS... I have discovered many new recipes by mistake. One of the mistakes has made me quite a bit of money plus a great reputation in my area, causing me a "signature dessert".

Start with one area; master that... then go to another area; master that, etc. Most excellent chefs are masters in one or two main areas... if grilling is your thing, then master it.

Keep copious notes on everything you do. It will enable you to go back to see what worked and what did not.

Do not buy every gadget out there, but what you do buy... make sure it is the highest quality (i.e., knives, pans, mixer, food processor).

With an "engineer brain", you probably will want everything to be concise...baking is that science which will give you great pleasure with proven results. On the other hand, cooking requires more creativity and less categorizing of procedures. It all depends how much of a creative bent you have as an engineer. Cooking is more "social", but baking is more concise, "singular" work.

When I am baking, I do not want any interference. It requires concentration without any distraction. Everything must be precise without any room for error.

When I am cooking, I can carry on fourteen conversations at once and still come out with a fantastic product.

You determine when and how you wish to proceed, but guarantee that you can learn by yourself. If you want to get some "hands -on" training on a week-end, then take a week-end course from someone, but you will find that you will know as much as they do (after a while, of course).

Go for it! If it does not work, then get a serious partner with whom to cook or bake on a regular basis. You can learn from each other... after all, the only way some of these "top chefs" learned were from their families and/or working in a low-paying job in a restaurant.

Let us know how you are doing.

Lutie
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beamer



Joined: 19 May 2008
Posts: 10

PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2008 5:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for your great replies. I must concede that i have been cooking for a few years and made many mistakes, however my wife and friends (for whom she organises dinner parties with me being head cook) all think my cooking is very good.
This said i feel that i'm only replicating recipes and with my "engineering brain" want to learn much more about the basics of why and how things go together. What makes great combimations work? What do we look for in taste sensations, textures etc etc?
I will look up the series you suggested and more info would be greatly appreciated.
By the way, i totally agree with the baking sentiment. I could get nothing to work in the oven till i bought a simple book called "Basic Basics Baking Handbook" by Margueritte Patten. Its brillaint. I can also cook Indian food to restaurant quality using "The Curry Secret" by Chris Dillon. You wouldnt believe how easy it is lol
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beamer



Joined: 19 May 2008
Posts: 10

PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2008 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some of the books mentioned have quite a few editions. I realise that it would probably be best to get the most up to date but do any of you know if there is that much of a difference considering the price differences when going back an edition or two?
Also, The Culinary Institute have a few differently enltitled books. Would there be an order of preference if i were to buy one at a time?
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Dilbert



Joined: 19 Oct 2007
Posts: 1023
Location: central PA

PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2008 10:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll offer you a perhaps heretical and controversial approach.

watch (selected) TV shows - it's "free video lessons" - concentrate on technique, effect and "understanding why"
not all shows qualify. some TV cooking shows could convey 100% of their actual content with a 30 minute static page listing the ingredients.

ignore / forget about all the exotic ingredients and favor nuisances of "the recipe"
if your chicken stir fry turns out like chicken fricassee, whether you use two or three saffron threads is NOT going to rescue the dish.

somebody said practice practice practice
amen.
if you haven't got 'the feel' to cook to schedule a 5 pound roast as well as a 10 pound roast, you're wasting your time on making a fifty six ingredient, sixteen hour reduction glaze.

once one know how to make a dish turn out the way it 'should' then one can begin to explore flavor combinations.

this is where the engineer and the artist part methodologies.
the engineer finds 150 sources that in concurrence list 27 'spices and herbs' as 'suitable for fish'
the engineer then draws up a table of all combinations and permutations, cooks and evaluates them one by one.

the artist says: I think this and this will go well with this fish.
the artist wins.

quite frankly, I think one either has a talent or does not have a talent.
look at all the chefs in the world, how many are "famous"?
they got the talent.
the rest follow recipes.

which includes me. sigh. I need a lot of help in the creative department . . . .

reading books is great. but if your poached egg bounces when dropped, one probably doesn't need to worry much about grill marks on the Canadian bacon or whether the Hollandaise is too salty.

so first learn _how_ to cook, when you're skilled at "ad hoc" cooking that's when exploring sauces, flavors, additives, etc., really becomes interesting.
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GaryProtein



Joined: 26 Oct 2005
Posts: 535

PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 4:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dilbert wrote:
. . . . somebody said practice practice practice
amen. . . . quite frankly, I think one either has a talent or does not have a talent.
look at all the chefs in the world, how many are "famous"? they got the talent.
the rest follow recipes, which includes me. sigh. I need a lot of help in the creative department . . . .


Well, I do think a person with average capabilities can learn to cook very well if they put their mind to it. It just takes practice and perseverance, not talent. Those famous chefs have one very important thing regular chefs don't: a good PR man, or they can do their own PR.

You don't have to sigh about using a recipe because you want to insure a good result. The "creative" chefs do that all the time, they just have them memorized. They know how to make a lot of dishes, but they don't make a particular dish substantially differently each time. They know what works and may make modifications, but the dish isn't re-created from the ground up each time.

I also need help in the creative department. I can make minor modifications and end up with good results, but I can't be given a stocked refrigerator and a pantry full of staple goods and create a gourmet meal without a recipe. I was good in chemistry lab and at following directions, so I can make anything from a recipe turn out well because I have practiced cooking techniques. My point is almost anyone can learn to cook very well. It isn't like being able to paint like Rembrandt or play the flute like Galway, where you clearly have it or you don't.

There's a caveat on recipes: some are good and some aren't, some have good clear directions and others do not..
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beamer



Joined: 19 May 2008
Posts: 10

PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 5:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am a believer in the fact that talent is often inherent, but i also believe even more that you can be very good at something if taught the fundementals . Most highly successful, talented and innovative people in many fields have this in common, they know the fundementals and hence don't have to rely on convention to produce high quality,exciting product.
With this philosophy in mind my assumption would be that in most of the books mentioned would teach the same fundementals whether its 1st edition or 4th, Would this be true?
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GaryProtein



Joined: 26 Oct 2005
Posts: 535

PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 11:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

^^^^^ Probably true. Maybe the differences between editions are related to the use of new technologies and equipment or recipes and trends in cooking.
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Dilbert



Joined: 19 Oct 2007
Posts: 1023
Location: central PA

PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 12:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would agree a person who takes an interest can be taught / learn / teach themselves how to be a good chef / cook / preparer of food.
otoh, how many people do you know that have been cooking for years and . . . . ah,,,, continue to struggle. . . .

as 1st or 4th editions, I'd agree the "classics" are little changed from the 0th edition, so they would be an economical starting point.

....you clearly have it or you don't.

perhaps the 'pros' have more time to experiment and develop dishes?
take for example: Top Chef
would you even go to a restaurant where the dish had never been previously served?
does that show point out 'talent'?
it appears much more a matter of out and out luck - if somebody did a tour <somewhere> and spent a year working with the "secret ingredient" they've got a big leg up in creating a winner.

I think to become a top notch chef does require talent - just like a flute player - that is appropriate to the task. look at all the guitar players in the world - a few have something 'different' that makes their music standout.
and PR has to follow, not lead. I've seen any number of restaurants open to great PR fanfare and fold six month later.
the PR may draw a crowd, but if the food doesn't live up to the billing, it is unlikely to succeed.
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GaryProtein



Joined: 26 Oct 2005
Posts: 535

PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 1:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dilbert wrote:
I would agree a person who takes an interest can be taught / learn / teach themselves how to be a good chef / cook / preparer of food.
otoh, how many people do you know that have been cooking for years and . . . . ah,,,, continue to struggle. . . . .you clearly have it or you don't.


I said a person with average capabilities can learn to cook well. That leaves 50% below average who can't! And yes, I do know people who have tried, but can't cook at all.


Dilbert wrote:
I think to become a top notch chef does require talent - just like a flute player - that is appropriate to the task. . . .


I completely agree. To become the top of your class, you must have talent. However, when asked if it is possible to "cook like a chef" I do believe many people can do that without a special talent. It just takes average capability, practice and perseverance, and I think that goes for just about any occupation that doesn't require 10 years of training (like neurosurgery). At the risk of speaking for him, I don't believe Beamer was asking if he could teach himself to be an Iron Chef, but with recipes in hand and a knowledge of cooking techniques, he can certainly teach himself to cook like a chef, maybe not 20 different meals at a time like in a restaurant, but certainly well enough to get rave reviews at a party he is hosting.

I hope I'm not milking this point dry. Smile
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beamer



Joined: 19 May 2008
Posts: 10

PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 5:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gary, you are 100% right. I did use the words "good chef" and most certainly didn't mean i was opening a restaurant looking for michelin stars lol. All i'm really looking for is to be able to put together restaurant grade food in a home kitchen without heavily relying on reading recipes. In my opinion this should be achievable as i already can perform all the tasks i've had to in using copycat recipes. It's just a case of looking to learn the fundemental skills/requirements in a logical fashion.
As an aside i think that almost anybody can learn. Here in the UK there was a TV program called "Can't Cook, Won't Cook" and some of these people were pretty hopeless. However, with a little guidance from the participating chef they turned out pretty decent dishes.
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Dilbert



Joined: 19 Oct 2007
Posts: 1023
Location: central PA

PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 12:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

....powdered milk

nah, I got carried away with the definition of "good" <g>
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