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Becoming a Great Chef

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Hello,

I've been a viewer of the forum for a long while but have just registered and this is my first post.

I'm on my 2nd run at culinary school (I didn't like the 1st school's program) and so far I am thoroughly enjoying it. My only problem right now is that my thirst for culinary knowledge exceeds my present ability.

I know how to read and execute a recipe, know the basics of cooking (stocks, sauces, knife cuts) but I want to be able to create a recipe or even a menu of my own without trying to replicate recipes or something I've eaten at a restaurant. Since I want to be a caterer and open a restaurant one day, I would imagine those skills to be of some importance.:crazy:

My problem I guess is patience. I want to be able to do all of that now. I know that's not possible, so in the mean time I guess my question is, how do you study food? I want to know what flavors work well together, what vegetables go best with a certain dish, how to plate.....is it a good idea to have prime rib with a bernaise sauce along with scalloped potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise on the same plate or will those flavors clash? Do I even need a bernaise sauce with prime rib or would a just be better?

I'm rambling now but I really want to know how to study the art, how to develop my palate, how to put flavors together, etc. Any suggestions?
post #2 of 24
Read, listen, learn, work for the best chef you can find, when you are done with that, start over.

The basics are simple, knife skills, sanitation, food costing, kitchen organization, business law, personnel management, accounting, etc.

Never, NEVER, stop learning, from everyone you meet, work for, work with, admire, detest.

There are basically three (3) types of culinary workers, those who are incompetent, those who will become incompetent, and those who learn from any and all experiences and continue to grow and expand.

It is YOUR choice!
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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post #3 of 24
this intrigues me

please elaborate
post #4 of 24
When I first started learning how to cook I never intended to create my own recipes or even become a good chef. My expectations were that I would learn how to follow and memorize recipes, learn some skills, and eat eat eat. But 5 years later what I'm seeing is that I have grown a 6th sense. I can read a recipe and know exactly which will be the tricky parts, and feel confident to add or subtract ingredients. I'm even coming up with my own recipes now more and more often without even realizing it.

What I've learned about myself is that I am very sensitive to the balance of flavors, and have instinctively learned how to balance out salty/sweet, bitter and mild, and rich heaviness with freshness. It's the greatest discovery!

So being patient and having determination will go a long way. Be open minded, look to great chefs for inspiration, save up your money and go to a great restaurant once a month, and practice your basic skills taught in your classes. Eventually your palate will mature and you will need less and less help in assembling a meal.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #5 of 24
Careful!! Don't try to do it all at once. You might just burn out. Then it won't be fun anymore. Think of learning as a lifetime experience. Spread it out a bit.

One answer: Nope. No hollandaise on the same plate as bearnaise. they differ very little, and the one rule of thumb I have learned is not to duplicate an ingredient in a meal if possible (with the exception of S&P). They're also a lot of egg yolks. Pretty rich!

Try to balance a plate/meal/dinner with richness, taste, flavor and contrast. Something light and flavorful contrasting a rich, tasty meat dish with bearnaise, for instance.

doc
post #6 of 24
The exception to that rule in my world is garlic. There are certain meals where I step back after I made them and it dawns on me that garlic is in everything! Oh well, I can't get enough.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #7 of 24
"Those that will become incompetent" are those that slip into the safety of doing only what they know and fail to keep up with industry developments and trends. You've met them before, not necessarily in the culinary industry, you know, "we do it that way because we've always done it that way, quit rocking the boat!"
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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post #8 of 24
Hard as it may seem, above all, develop patience. As has already been noted, don't try to do/learn everything at once -- all you'll end up with is information overload. Take your time learning and give everything a chance to sink in. Practice, practice, practice, and taste, taste, taste. Keep systematic notes on everything you eat out and everything you cook for yourself and others, and refer back to those notes frequently so that you can compare and contrast.

PeteMcCracken gave you excellent advice about nonculinary stuff you'll need to learn. I would also add plumbing, HVAC, languages, history, and geography. Develop your research skills. Eat out as much as you can afford to, in as many different types of restaurants as you can. Travel.

Remember: NOBODY COMES OUT OF CULINARY SCHOOL AS A CHEF KNOWING EVERYTHING THEY NEED. At best, they come out with a set of good work habits, basic skills, and an unquenchable curiosity.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #9 of 24
If you want to frame professional cooking as "art", then view it from that perspective. A concert pianist is in training from the moment he can sit upright on a piano bench. Painters struggle, study and practice in poverty and anonymity often until after their demise. Writers spend the vast majority of their time READING other people's work, writing in isolation and obscurity, and praying for the big break, which can often take decades of diligence and patience.

Even if you view professional cooking as merely a skill, it can easily be compared to other learned trades like interior design, cosmetology, etc. All of these careers require the same commitment to expanding one's own store of knowledge and developing a personal style. Being earnest to achieve the goal may just insure you will skip a few important steps along the way, IMO. Patience is an extreme virtue that we all need if we choose this profession. We are service workers, at the mercy of the public's approval, for the most part. I've had heart palpitations trying to stay calm in the face of unreasonable and demanding customers; not to mention insane employers.

It may be unique to the restaurant business that people assume if they can knock out the French Laundry cookbook from their kitchen and impress their friends, and if they have a love of food and it's preparation, and if they can find the funding - why, just open a restaurant (I'm speaking in general here). And you know, some can - but the percentage of successes are so minuscule as to inspire terror in the hearts of all who know what it takes to run a restaurant. I have to fight not to spit at the TV screen when I see the commercials for Kitchen Academy - the one's that promise an "exciting and rewarding" career as a CHEF, with "flexibile hours and a great opportunity to be creative". They fail to tell people that it may be a good ten years AFTER graduation before any of these promises are fulfilled.

After 25 years in this business, I realize every day how very little I know. Not one day goes by that I don't learn something that I can't believe I managed without. For me, that's the astonishing part of cooking - it's a constant revelation and a victory every time I learn something new.

Good luck to you!
post #10 of 24
The short & sweet answer: work for lots of great chefs and make like a sponge! Read, read, read. Try, fail, try again. The more you fail, the more you will learn. Failure leads to great ideas and in-depth understanding. NEVER give up!
Kiwisizzler's blog

Good food is food that tastes of what it is!
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Kiwisizzler's blog

Good food is food that tastes of what it is!
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post #11 of 24
yep. well said.
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
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post #12 of 24
Lots of good answers and advice there.

A truly great artist is one who is afraid of nothing and is free to explore and create. This can only come about if the artist is entirely at ease and is master of all of the techniques in his/her discipline.

Think about it, an artist who can't "do", say perpesctive, is doomed to make 1 dimensional non-representational art.

Master the skills and techniques of cooking and you are afraid of nothing and the whole world is yours to explore.

Knife skills? You betcha, but also how a knife is sharpened, and why it is sharpened in such a particular way.

Cooking methods? At last count (not including sous-vide) there are 14. Yeah, yeah, poaching occurs under the boiling point, but there is poaching with movement (sabayon, hollandaise) and poaching without (salmon, whole eggs, creme caramel. Grilling? On the rack, and on the spit. Blanching? In water, and in oil (french fries, for expample).

Books are pretty much free at the library, hanging out in restaurant supply stores can net you some valuable knowledge about equipment and the people who buy it for free.

If you're dedicated to the trade, you'll never stop learning--ever.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #13 of 24
I'm just making an observation here: I'm not in the food biz, but in HVAC, my trade, there is the same theme as I am seeing here--how much you know counts for a lot, but how much you are always learning, no matter your level of experience, counts just as much and maybe more.
post #14 of 24
The real "key" to ANY occupation/trade/ endeavor is to know and understand what you do NOT know and then set about to learn those areas.

It is easy to "get by", it takes continuous work to "master your craft".

Many learn more from their "failures" than they do from their "successes", as long as they figure out WHY the failure happened.
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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post #15 of 24
Aside from attending a culinary school and working under a master chef,
you might want to check out YouTube.com/great chefs where they put
up a new dish every day from one of their Great Chefs Television Shows
(Discovery & PBS). It's more of a technique show than entertainment!
post #16 of 24
I am too a newbie in the Food industry and My dream is also to become a Well known chef. and I think to be one you Must have the Passion to cook and Serve other people. Making others Happy with a simple meal over consversations and laughs is a step closer to becoming a great chef. Love what your doing and the rest will fall into place. :)
__________________
I love Food 24/7
post #17 of 24
I think what is being overlooked is that being a chef is only 50% food once you get to that point. You have to have accounting skills, people skills, a knowledge of pshycology and sociology, you have to know how to motivate people, and no two are the same and yes, you do have to know how to cook. You need to be a writer, publicist, PR person, motivator and a GREAT NEGOTIATOR. Your ability to do the nasty, dirty job and lead by example is soooo much more important than you can ever imagine and yet it is always overlooked when this question is asked. Being a Chef is one of the most under appreciated over glorified jobs there is, its HARD work, long hours, dirty, painful and if you have a family, GOOD LUCK!!!
Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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post #18 of 24
i would study the cuisine of a country and see how they do it, try and get good at figuring out how a regional or national cuisine works...

great cuisines to learn are france and germany spain and italy if u want to cater to westen cooking esp, but no matter what u like, the more u know the better. after that there is greece and the hungarian/croatian/serbian/austrian/czech world

then turkey, lebanon, iran, egypt yemen, gulf states for some middle east stuff (linked to greece)

then india and china are HUGE worlds of culinary know how

for africa there is some great stuff in west africa among people in senegal, ghana, nigeria, sierra leone, coite d ivory, and the republic of congo, other places to look into are tanzania, liberia, ethiopia, uganda, mozambique, south africa, zimbabwe, and morocco, sudan, and algeria (tried to lsit somewhat similar cuisines together but im no expert on this stuff)

latin world, mexico and brazil and colombia are huge and varied, cuba and puerto rico is very good too...

west indies jamaica and trinidad, guyana, st lucia, and dominica have great cuisines...
then u have haiti which is a world all to itself

dont know enough abotu the rest of that regioin

then


gradually the experience and know how would come.

i would want the prime rib as is (au jus), the asparagus as is (maybe light olive oil or vinaigrette) and any kind of rich creamy sauce to go with bread or potato.
post #19 of 24
If that is truly your dream, please get out of the food business. Or reconsider: how about becoming the best cook and administrator you can be and working constantly in places that provide good food in pleasant circumstances (the rest of your statement)?
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #20 of 24
This is an exceedingly important point, and one that is often overlooked.

Technique is essentially the means to an end. If you want to create something excellent, you must have excellent means at your disposal. In every art there is an enormous amount of technical work that must be done, and it takes a lot of time and hard work. Without doing this, however, your ability to do what you want is crippled. I would love to be able to play Mozart sonatas beautifully, but I haven't the technique, and no amount of inspiration or passion is going to give it to me.

But technique also alters your ability to learn, study, and invent. If you have excellent technique, you can learn a new dish extremely quickly, because you can automatically and likely unconsciously break it into its component technical units. You can also study new foods and ideas easily, because you can instantly leap past all the stuff you already know to focus on what's actually different and new here. And you can create new things only if you have the techniques to put your imagination into reality.

Constantly you see TV things that yap about wonderful ingredients, and being passionate, and really loving food because food is all about love, blah blah. Sure. You can do just fine that way, I suppose. But if you take it seriously, 99% is technique.

Which includes, of course, not just knife skills and whatnot but also interpersonal skills, accounting, HVAC, and so on. All of these things are part of the business, and if you have mastered them all, you can do anything. How about wine? Some cooks seem to think this is the sommelier's problem, but if you are also an expert on wine, you can develop your recipes to pair beautifully with certain bottles. And on and on.

There are no shortcuts. There's no way to know it all now. And ultimately, there's no way to know it all ever -- nobody does.
post #21 of 24
If you could be as good as me you'll be doing well. :D :roll:

If you're as good as bonbini you're at the top 99%.

If you're as good as capechef you're at 99.5%.
post #22 of 24
Chris's discussion of the role of technique was pretty darn good. I'd like to simplify (for once) a little to the following: In order to be a very good cook, you must have enough technique that technique itself becomes transparent. In other words, you can't make a competent holstein until you know how to cook a fried egg -- which you can't do until you know about preheating the pan, how to crack an egg, how to flip it, and so on.

Chalkdust's discussion of various cuisines takes a bite out of truth's behind, but I'd put it somewhat differently. Develop your skills and your palate by experimenting as widely as possible.

Learning to cook "French," (aka "fine dining") is a shortcut to a very powerful set of techniques because cuisine itself is so varied and inclusive; and the tradition of teaching the cuisine so well systematized. Otherwise, all the imperial cuisines (French, Chinese, American, etc.) include a lot of regional and colonial cuisines -- more or less equally. That makes them varied in their use of ingredients and techniques. They act as a kind of shortcut to world cooking. A cook with strong French technique is not going to have much trouble adapting to Chinese food -- and vice versa.

For God's sake, acquire some decent cutlery, learn to keep it sharp, and do keep it sharp. You don't need the "best" knives, but you do need sharp knives.

If there's one thing all good cooks know, it's how to cut an onion.

Knowing how to taste is hugely important. The most important thing? Maybe. Having an open mind and a palate trained to appreciate all sorts of things is part of it. Try and eat adventurously. Don't let the "idea" of foods, whether sea slugs, kidneys, chitlin's, or whatever put you off. You can't learn to taste until you get your preconceptions out of it.

Eat ethnic, eat diverse. When you take a date to dinner, the meal should be a pleasure and not a challenge. On the other hand, when you take yourself to lunch push yourself to try new things. Especially spicy things.

Read, read, read.

Read cookbooks. Read food magazines. If you're cooking at (or near) the professional level it's important to stay on top of trends. The easiest way to do it is by reading. Read top chefs and restaurants as much as possible. It's free to sit in a Barnes and Noble -- you can even take notes.

The internet is a huge help. Research the menus of top (by review, by Michelin rating, etc.) restaurants and see what they're serving. This is especially helpful for staying current on ingredient combinations. Learn to track the differences between what's happening in Paris, the rest of France and Europe, the east and west coasts, the heartland, and so on.

BDL
post #23 of 24
I've certainly experienced this a great deal, which makes it all the more important to me: Always admit to yourself when you've made a mistake or shoved that foot in your mouth... use it as a springboard to learn something new or to change some bad habits.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #24 of 24
Sorry Johnshoup, but we don't need any more kids in the kitchen thinking they know how to cook because they watched something on TV or YouTube.

JenIgo- If you really want to learn, get off the computer and get into the kitchen. There is no substitute for HANDS ON experience.
Michael
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Michael
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