Is professional cooking suppose to be genetic?

No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to get the taste and flavor of the pros. I by the best ingredients I can, I measure, I take each step slowly and carefully but it never comes out awesome, fantastic, great. Why?

Am I fated to being just another wife that cooks okay?



darksideofthespoon July 20, 2012
I never follow recipes. Follow your taste buds and taste taste taste. Salt, Fat and Acid will make your food taste better than those who don't use it. I think of lemons like I do salt and always have tons on hand.
Pegeen July 16, 2012
In my thoughts, no. As so many others here have said: like anything else it takes interest, persistence, practice (and then more and more practice). The photo from this blog entry on this web site, about Julia Child's 100th birthday, is great:
boulangere July 16, 2012
Pierino's advice about seasoning and doneness is wonderful. I love to tell students that the recipe is not the voice of God. You can certainly follow it exactly, including the most minute of measurements, but if the result doesn't conform to a flavor profile your palate appreciates, please don't sell yourself short. Most of all, though, relax. Cooking should be pleasurable, whether or not one cooks professionally; it shouldn't be a contest of sorts. To prepare honest food for people you care about is a pretty good effort - in your own kitchen or anyone else's.
pierino July 16, 2012
Yes, boulangere it's not the voice of God! Exactly. For two days my sous was trying to litigate her way through the meal. "But the recipe say's...;" Me, "F*** the recipe. The point is that you can't learn to cook overnight. It's a long, arduous process. Read the lit. Travel! The more different things you taste the better you will be at cooking. Cookbooks are helpful to home cooks, and I own hundreds. But it's never down to a formula. It's the idea behind the recipe.
HalfPint July 16, 2012
Love this: "recipe is not the voice of God'. Amen.
boulangere July 16, 2012
Read a cookbook for enlightenment, for ideas, not to duplicate something exactly. Especially beware of the seduction of photographs; one word: Photoshop. Travel. Taste widely. Excellent advice, Pierino. As for your Bastille Day dinner, it sounded like a great idea; sorry you had a difficult sous. How did it turn out otherwise?
pierino July 16, 2012
Boulangere, Bastille day was a hit. And my sous did a capable, if litigious job. She's really not a cook and has the literal mind of a lawyer. As you know, real cooks don't think like that, and sometimes you have to pull that rabbit out of your hat just because you know the trick.
boulangere July 17, 2012
I'm very glad it turned out well, Pierino. It was a great idea. I encounter literal ("litigious") cooks often, and I don't know why that continues to surprise me a bit. What I mainly try to get them to do is relax, remind them that cooking is supposed to be enjoyable, not like a math test. It it's in a class setting, I get that person right up in front next to me, and get her to measure by hand and by taste with seasonings, and by sight with other ingredients. Once I can get people beyond feeling they need to be so vigilant about everything, I can usually get them to focus on what is important: technique and a sense of timing, as you remind us, will take one far.
ChefJune July 16, 2012
Becoming a really good cook is a lot about practicing, just like becoming a good pianist. If you love to do it, and you do it often, you will become pretty darn good! If you don't love it, it will show. It may still be delicious, but it won't have that extra "something."
ChefOno July 16, 2012

A little more about recipes: You won't get you professional results if the recipe wasn't (1) written by a pro or equivalent, (2) someone willing to divulge all their secrets and (3) you understand and can execute the techniques called for.

There are many excellent sources for such information and here is my suggestion:

Anne Burrell's "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" on Food Network. Watch her show, download the recipe(s) and see if something doesn't click. Pay particular attention to how she seasons, tastes, and seasons some more. Watch how she browns her meats and vegetables, builds layers of flavor, how she utilizes fats, oils and -- what does she call them -- her flavor weapons.

pierino July 16, 2012
I've said this before but, one of the reasons that restaurant meals taste better than home cooked meals is that they use a ton of butter and a generous amount of salt. Home cooks become obsessed with precise measurements because that's what the recipe says. No two ovens are calibrated exactly alike so you can't use the time specified as a precise measure of doneness. My designated sous this past weekend drove me nuts by pestering me with her goddam timeline. Food is done when it's done and you can't push it or you will ruin it.
ChefOno July 16, 2012

Butter, oh, glorious butter! And let's not forget about lard and beef fat. Y-U-M !!

Reiney July 16, 2012
In addition to the above, technique is key.

Take browning off a piece of meat: the pan needs to be hot enough, the fat hot enough (and yes, definitely use enough fat too), the well-seasoned meat dry so it sears instead of stews, not too much lest you overcrowd the pan. All this creates a good crusty caramelization on the surface of the meat which = flavour.

Many recipes can be really poor at describing these kinds of steps - a pro cook will know what a recipe is getting at (or not use a recipe at all), but a new cook may not. For an example of really well written recipes, search out Ottolenghi's "Plenty".

Voted the Best Reply!

HalfPint July 16, 2012
It takes time. I love cookbooks and cooking, even when I was a little girl (many moons ago), but I was just a so-so cook. Until about my late 20's. I can't describe it, but something just clicked inside my head. I think I learned to have confidence in my tastebuds and to trust my cooking instincts. I also got out of my comfort zone and stop expecting perfection (in my cooking and my life).

Stop comparing yourself to the pros at restaurants. It's not realistic. The pros cook the same foods day after day. They've been doing it for a long time and they have had training in some form or other.

Lastly, I strongly believe that you can taste love in food. You seem to be bogged down with the mechanics of cooking. If you love what you are making, even though it's not as pretty and as perfect as the professional chefs', it will taste awesome.
Panfusine July 16, 2012
2 identical dishes made wit identical ingredients & techniques will invariably taste different when made by 2 different individuals. WE have a term for it that roughly translates from my native Tamil as 'hand aroma'. that is what makes food so delightfully unique
beyondcelery July 16, 2012
I'm with ChefOno on the salt and fat. Every time I make something that doesn't turn out the way I wanted, I get more generous with the salt and the olive oil (or whatever other fat) next time. It always makes a huge difference. Don't be afraid of these; they hold the flavors you're looking for.
Benny July 15, 2012
There is a distinct difference between professional cooking in a restaurant and cooking at home. Right down to the equipment and tools you use. It's quite hard to duplicate the exceptional results of the heavy duty commercial ovens, ranges and pans, etc.. the pros get to play with on a daily basis. Its like comparing my tiny tool shed to a fully decked out hobby shop.

By your words, I'm assuming you have never cooked professionally? the amount of prepwork that goes into prepping a kitchen for service is pretty mind boggling. Many recipe components prepped in a pro kitchen just aren't practical to make at home (only practical in restaurants because you make mass quantities at much lower costs).

There are so many reasons why home cooking doesn't taste the same as restaurant cooking. I'm sure others will chime in with their reasons. But as ChefOno stated, you have the desire and have something to aspire to, so there is no reason you can't improve the way your food tastes. And who knows, your food may be fantastic. You may just be too critical of your own work.
ChefOno July 16, 2012

I certainly won't argue that life can be easier in a fully staffed kitchen with prep cooks to do your bidding and, yes, some complicated preparations are impractical unless you have all day to spend on them. But I have to disagree that you can't duplicate restaurant quality results with home equipment. Pots and pans and whisks and ovens don't make the meal, that's up to the cook. I just don't want Pecan-Ann to get the impression she has to upgrade her equipment to get the results she's looking for.

Benny July 16, 2012
Right on.. I certainly didn't mean to imply that Pecan-Ann needs to spend a bunch of money to upgrade her equipment. I guess the point I wanted (but failed) to make was that, although it is possible to reproduce restaurant quality at home, it is difficult to do without that restaurant experience. Cooks do make the meal, however, the equipment and tools do indeed affect the outcome, as does the cooks training and ability to utilize the correct tools. This idea being only 1 reason (out of many) as to why she may not be getting the results she wanted.
ChefOno July 15, 2012

You have what it takes to improve your skills, namely desire and, let's assume, persistence. If genetics are involved then I'd be doomed because both my parents are horrible cooks (sorry Mom but you know it's true). As long as you can taste the difference between your cooking and what you aspire to, you've got what it takes.

There's too little detail to answer your question about why your dishes don't rise to your level of expectation. I can tell you most chefs' biggest "secrets" are salt and fat. A fear or lack of understanding of those two ingredients is often what holds cooks back.

Benny July 15, 2012
Even the type of salt you use will make a difference! In culinary school , we literally tasted different salts side by side.... then it was vinegars..... then fish sauces.... That was a really long week.
ChefOno July 16, 2012

Which reminds me, acids (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) are another key professional "secret", probably second only to salt in importance. A few drops can transform a stew from adequate to exceptional.

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