Although you may not have put it into words, you likely have a sense of what you believe makes a good home cook. Some of us immediately think of our grandmothers or roommates or daughters or sons. (Some of us think of ourselves.)
And while all of these people probably function in the kitchen very differently—maybe your grandmother knows how to make samosas and curry but nothing else, while your brother has cooked his way through Modernist Cuisine—they likely have a couple of things in common, too.
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When we asked our community and our staff what they think makes a good home cook, there were certain qualities that came up again and again.
This list does not include everything, and you probably won't agree with every point. While no one can be the perfect home cook, it's still fun to think about.
Respects—in all senses of the word—food: where it comes from and how it's traditionally used, how it got to him or her, how to best prepare it
Has a desire to nourish and please, and focuses on the enjoyment of the people eating their food
Has no fear (or is at least able to set fears aside)
BUT also knows his or her limits (you can be a good home cook even if you have a comfort zone)
Is curious, with a tendency towards experimentation
Is at peace with eating a less-than-amazing meal in the name of learning
Can scale up quickly (is able to cook for 10 or for 2)
Knows a few techniques that are transferrable and that work for what he or she likes to eat: roasting, stir-frying, making a dressing
Brings people together over food
Has respect for the freshest and best ingredients that his or her budget allows
AND keeps an adequate supply of these ingredients on hand in the pantry, fridge, and freezer in order to make varied, delicious, comforting, seasonally appropriate food
AND has an encyclopedic knowledge of what's in his or her kitchen at any time
Is willing to try again
Knows which foods/flavors complement one another
BUT can adapt recipes as he or she goes along and is willing to think outside their boundaries
Loves cooking as much as eating
Develops a broad vocabulary and understanding of cooking as his or her knowledge develops
Tastes as he or she goes
Does not overcrowd the pan
Isn't afraid to use high heat and really char things
Uses a tiny bit of acid (lemon, vinegar, etc.) to brighten up a dish
Adds enough salt but does not over salt
Learns from his or her mistakes
Has a healthy appetite
Wastes as little as possible
Respects those who have come before him or her and the knowledge they can impart
Embraces the mundane: enjoys chopping a carrot, boiling water, and (maybe) washing dishes
A huge thanks to all of those who contributed to our list: Phyllis Grant, Megan Scott, Josh Cohen, Leslie Stephens and her mom, Amanda Sims, Jennifer Morris, Kristen Miglore, Jeremy Beker, Micki Balder and her best friend, Lauren Locke, Catherine O'Donnell, Haley Priebe, Haley Sonneland, Jane Poretsky, Caroline Lange, Risa Jampel, and, from the Hotline, Niknud, Stephanie, ChefJune, Susan W, Cav, Panfusine, Bevi, Nancy, Kristen W., lapadia, boulangere, Sippity Sup (Greg Henry), SilverSage, scruz, Jenny Maria, AntoniaJames, and Westcoasty.
What did we miss? Tell us your definition of a good home cook in the comments.
A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.