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.
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.
A good cook...
- Can make something out of nothing and turn dregs into a meal
- 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
- Is patient
- 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
- Follows recipes
- 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.