This piece is Part 2 of the Guardian Liberty Voice article series that addresses elements of cooking every professional chef should know. Part 1 of this two-article series outlined the first three of six major elements of cooking that every professional chef should know about. These three aspects included how to select ingredients, organization, and using the right equipment for the job. This second article (Part 2) will outline the remaining three elements of cooking that every professional chef should know. Since the first article outlined three of the six major considerations, this article will begin by addressing the fourth aspect that every professional chef should know about, which is the basic rules for cooking.
Basic Rules for Cooking:
1. Reading a Recipe–Food preparers must read a recipe in order to know what ingredients are needed, methods must be implemented, and equipment is required for the completion of the recipe. Kitchen vernacular can be complicated for some to understand, therefore, it is important that cooks take their time when reading a recipe. Most importantly, chefs should make certain they understand the terminology and methodology required for the recipe. If someone is ready to cook a meal, they should fully understand the recipe and feel comfortable preparing it.
2. Respecting the Ingredients–Respect for the ingredients is essential. When cooks have respect for the food, they are less likely to waste it and will pay closer attention to its importance. Respecting the ingredients also involves learning about the food as a whole and using it to its optimum. This will help enhance the flavor and value of the food naturally.
3. Focus Is Fundamental–Cooking demands focus and attention to one’s actions. When someone is focused on cooking, they will create great recipes, cook at the correct temperatures, and add the ingredients at the appropriate time. The more focused an individual is during the cooking process, the more confident they will become in the kitchen. This is true of professional chefs, at-home cooks, and/or kitchen novices. Practice makes perfect, as the old adage says, and in many respects, cooking can be a trial-and-error proposition. Distractions are the enemy in the cooking arena and a person must try their best to maintain focus while making a meal. Accidents and/or errors happen when cooks allow themselves to become distracted from preparing a meal. Thus, it is very important to stay focused.
4. Temperature Control–Controlling the cooking temperature is another essential element to the success of preparing and completing a meal. If food preparers overcook or undercook ingredients, it cannot only ruin the ingredients and meal, but it could also result in illness (e.g. food poisoning, ingestion of parasites, etc.) for those who consume it. This is of particular importance when dealing with meat, poultry, fish, and/or seafood products. Improper cooking temperatures and/or techniques could pose a significant health risk and even endanger people’s lives.
5. Seasoning and Tasting–These two components are vital to cooking. A chef’s palette is considered a benchmark for the culinary arts and the development of that palette cannot be neglected, especially where professional chefs are concerned. Moreover, it is so important to recognize the need for seasoning in food. Professional chefs must develop the ability to gauge seasoning and layers of taste recognition. It is a very nuanced and understated area of discovery, but it is essential to gastronomy and the field of culinary arts.
With those aspects in mind, here are some cooking tips for handling proteins, such as poultry, fish, eggs, and meat, as well as other helpful hints:
1. Remember to Rest Meat Products–It is important to remember that meat continues to cook after it is removed from its heat source. Therefore, a cook should wait until the food is cooked but not done, and remove it a couple of minutes before it is fully cooked. Then, allow it to rest on a cutting board or similar surface for half its cooking time if possible. Wrapping the meat in foil while it rests is another option. By resting the food, the meat should be tender and juicy when sliced and served.
2. Basics of Poaching an Egg–When poaching an egg, a person should add vinegar to the water. The acidity will enable the proteins to coagulate.
3. Fish Lovers Rejoice–For fresher fish, an individual should leave the bones in as long as possible. This will prevent the fish from spoiling. Once the bones are removed, the meat begins to turn.
4. Pasta Perfection–When draining pasta, add oil right away and mix it thoroughly. This will prevent the pasta from sticking together and congealing.
5. Flavor Fruition–For enhanced flavor, try marinating poultry or meat products overnight.
6. Acid Addition–Try adding an acid, such as white vinegar or lemon juice, to any dish. In fact, it can be used as a substitute for salt. A couple of drops of acid is all that is needed to enhance the ingredients.
Now that the basic rules for cooking have been addressed, the fifth aspect every professional chef should know about is the importance of plating.
Plating is the crucial final element that brings the dish together, especially when professional chefs are involved in the preparation. This essential aspect is key to the success of a dish in professional kitchens. It allows the chef, cook, or kitchen novice to express themselves by making a statement via their food plates.
When plating food, there are several aspects to consider. That being said, here are some plating tips to keep in mind:
1. Purees should be smooth and bold in color. They have different textures and consistencies.
2. Identify the most visually appealing aspect of an ingredient and display it.
3. Utilize the right tools for plating–i.e. squeeze bottles, tweezers, and small spatulas allow for better control.
4. Consider the color combinations while crafting the design of the plate–vibrant, bold, and contrasting colors will draw more interest to the plate.
5. Use aesthetically pleasing and textured plates or dishes. Plating options should be selected according to the color palette of the dish.
6. Create a focal point around the signature ingredient. However, do not allow it to overshadow the other ingredients on the plate.
7. Consider proportions and contrasting elements when plating the meal. By doing so, they should play off each other well.
8. It is also important to strive for balance when plating a dish. A 60-40 or 40-60 percentage of food on each side should be the goal.
Now that the five most important elements of cooking every professional chef should know have been addressed, the last aspect to consider is continued education.
The best professional chefs know that learning never stops. Continued education is part of life’s journey and everyone should understand, as well as respect, that fact. Whether someone is a hands-on learner, absorbs instruction in a classroom or kitchen, online, by watching TV, or via textbooks and/or cookbooks, the key is to always keep learning new things and expanding one’s horizons.
With any luck, readers have found Part 2 of this Guardian Liberty Voice article series, that addresses elements of cooking every professional chef should know, as engrossing as Part 1. While Part 1 of this two-article series outlined the first three of six major elements of cooking, Part 2 examined the remaining three components of cooking that every professional chef should know. Hopefully, this article has successfully addressed the major elements of cooking that every professional chef should know about and provided readers with guidance, as well as other helpful hints, in regards to the basic rules for cooking and meal preparation.
Opinion Written and Edited by Leigh Haugh
Personal Opinions and Observations of the Author
Eater–The State of the Domestic Goddess
The Daily Meal–An Interview With Anne-Sophie Pic, the New Face of The House of Pic in France
The Oakland Press–4 tips to cook like a professional chef at home
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