Trusted Chefs in my Kitchen
When artists took apprenticeships in years past, they were required to copy, copy, copy the paintings, sculptures, techniques and styles of the great artists that preceded them. It was all about practice, about familiarizing your brain, your hand and your approach with proven gems---artwork from famed, revered artists.
Sometimes this would take years of painful step-by-step learning. Copying this artist and the next, studying brush strokes and mediums, learning about genres, cultures, influences and historical context. And until the upcoming artist truly had mastered and finally appreciated the presence and depth and sheer genius of what went before, they were rarely, if ever, encouraged to create their own art.
I did not go to culinary school, but I have been studying great 'chef' artists through the years by engaging cookbook after cookbook. My apprenticeship, so to speak, was to copy recipe after recipe of one cook and then another, and then another, until I began to have a sense of technique, science and art in the kitchen. I cooked my way through different traditions and styles, philosophies and fortes.
There are so many talented chefs out there, some recognized and some not. Though I have learned a lot, I have much more to learn. Even now, I rely heavily on cookbooks, on chefs that are close to my heart both with their kitchen philosophy and their culinary talent. I choose culinary greats to be a part of my kitchen, chefs that I can trust to be benchmarks, wizards and gurus that regularly prove their talent and maintain a welcome in my kitchen.
But not just any chef will do. Just as it is important for you to pick a doctor, therapist, friend and/or teacher that are well-suited to you, so it goes with picking chefs that most reflect your kitchen style, presence and preferences. Because I am not a professional chef, you may wonder how I go about selecting my 'chef' teachers.
It is quite simple: I peruse their cookbook, pick 10 recipes that sound good to me and I make them, one by one. I follow their lead, learning about their methodology, kitchen philosophy and favorite foods to engage in the kitchen. Truth be told, after about 10 recipes I have a pretty good sense of a chef via their cookbook. Would I make the recipes again? Did my family like the recipes? Were the recipes exotic or simple? What are their ideas around entertaining?
And then I use my own kitchen philosophy as a filter: Is it practical? Is it a good use of simple ingredients? Is it overly complicated or just about right for the end result? Can I count on this chef to deliver great recipes every time or is it more hit and miss? Are the recipes a good springboard for creating my own?
I welcome my chefs as trusted friends, teachers who gave me my start and still give me ongoing inspiration in my kitchen. Their techniques are now mine, my own recipes have traces of theirs, our kitchen philosophies are permanently commingled.
What cookbooks do you love? Ask yourself why you like each book; you will begin to unpack your own kitchen philosophy, and form your filter for future chef approvals. I may like a cookbook that you don't prefer, or pass along a cookbook that the next person finds endearing. I may be looking to learn about specific methods (tagine?) or traditions (Indian, Spanish?); my bent toward learning new things propels me to keep reaching for new cookbooks, new chefs. But there are times in my life that I go back to the basics, stick to practical or don't feel a creative urge. There are chefs to befriend you and I in all the varying chapters of our lives. The important thing is to find chefs that you can trust, bookie foodie friends that will lie atop counters and enjoy regular spatters from the nearby saucepan.