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How You Can Cook REAL Food Like A Chef!



A fast way to provoke me to lose it: give me the cliché line, “You are a chef, and I can’t cook like you because I don’t cook like I am in a restaurant.” By the end of this post, I will have convinced you that even thinking that is a load of male cow dung. You can cook just a chef too – and save thousands of dollars learning, and years of toil in the kitchen too.

Why does a statement like that bother me?

Because it dismisses what I am teaching as irrelevant.

That I am a “professional,” or have worked in a “restaurant,” is irrelevant to cooking REAL food. I am no different or better than you, just more experienced. Sure, I worked in a “professional” establishment, (if you only knew how “professional” they actually were – you’d never call them that again,) where I learned a couple of tricks to speed things up. That’s experience – not elitism.

Because it gives the speaker permission to cop out and buy a convenience product they otherwise couldn’t cook.

All it takes is some curiosity, and a bit of an adventurous spirit – and you could be whipping things up that will amaze your friends and family. It’s so easy to grab a box of mac & cheese – heck, it can even be cooked in 10 minutes flat. Is it food though? How does it affect your health later on?

Because I am not an elite cook.

I went to school and learned some fundamentals – and paid a hefty sum for the privilege. That doesn’t mean that I can’t pass the fundamentals to you. All you have to have is the desire to learn, and experiment!

How Do You Start Cooking Real Food?

Stop looking for “recipes” and learn techniques.

One of the first things I had to learn in school was to give up the recipe.

What is a recipe? (An abbreviated definition follows, maybe a post for later on!) – It’s a suggested list of ingredients, with a set of instructions so a person can carry out a set of tasks, with the hope of recreating the dish the author had made.

In other words, a RECIPE is a GUIDELINE, not a STRAIGHTJACKET. Learn the techniques for cooking than solely rely on someone else’s instructions.

(That’s why it is so hard to get a recipe out a chef or your grandmother. WE DON’T REALLY use them. (Unless we are working in an institutionalized cooking atmosphere – and there are aren’t allowed to be creative anyway. Most things come out of a box, or a mix.))

Always question what you are doing, but most importantly – why you are doing it.

At the base, cooking is about fundamentals. HOW we braise, steam, poach, etc. Once you learn the technique to a cooking fundamental, the ingredients don’t matter.

I remember a chef, (hi Chef Bishop!) who always was asking me what I was doing, to explain things. To use my brain. Here’s an example – why was I pouring off the fat from the roasting pan before I added the mirepoix (chopped carrots, celery, onion) to the pan? Why brown the vegetables before adding the flour? Why add the hot stock one ladle at a time instead of dumping the whole works in all at once? You get the idea.

Every dish you cook, learn something new.

A chef is always trying to improve their craft, their technique. In our world, you are only as good as your last service. There are no do-overs. If our clients don’t like the food we serve, we lose. That drives us to create the best dishes that we can, executing the fundamentals in a flawless fashion.

It’s no different at home. If you make a dish that no one eats, you might make it a couple more times. If it just doesn’t work – you don’t make it.

People try to cook like their grandmothers did, and they assume that the cooking is simplistic, not complicated like a “chef” would make it. What they don’t realize is that a chef and Grandmothers have something in common – experience.

It’s hard to argue with a 90 year old about how she makes her roast. She has made it for more years than I have been alive. It comes out perfectly every time. For years she has made that dish, perfected it. If her “clients” don’t like it, they won’t eat it. She makes it the same way she always has – the way that works.

They are not professionals. Yet, they cook dishes that have their grandchildren raving about them.

Stay Tuned – Here is what I propose to do:

I have sat on this for a while – and now I am ready to commit to teaching you to cook REAL food like your grandmother or a chef. I wondered how well it would be received. A part of me always questions whether people like to be taught these fundamentals. I almost feel like a fraud – because I forget that these fundamentals aren’t taught in school anymore.

I will start off the week (a Sunday) with a Kitchen 101 post detailing what I will be focusing on in the coming week. The weeks posts will build off of that, with the occasional off-topic post thrown in for spice.

Your Job

Ask questions.

If you have any questions about cooking in general, you can contact me through the Ask the Chef! page, my Facebook Fan Page, my TuDiabetes account, my YouTube Channel, or my Twitter account.

Get excited.

Cooking can be fun, not a chore! It is all how you look at it.


Throw away the convenience products, or don’t purchase them. Every time you buy them, your creativity will suffer. I know it’s easier, but is it worth it? Here are some recipes to get you started.

This post is a part of the Fight Back Fridays. Every Friday, a blog carnival of people interested in REAL food, real renegades as it were.

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Jan September 16, 2011, 6:26 pm

    Yay! A Cooking 101 post!

    Cooking is NEVER a chore – it’s fun! At least for me.

    Oh, and to answer Chef Bishop: You pour off the fat because too much will make your sauce/gravy heavy or greasy. Brown the mirepoix before adding the flour or you’ll be browning the flour and not the vegetables. Add the hot stock one ladle at a time to prevent the sauce/gravy from either becoming lumpy or not thickening at all – you need to give the gluten in the flour time to react with the fat and liquid or it won’t work.

    Am I wrong? If I am, please tell me. It’s the way we learn. ;)

  • Jason Sandeman September 16, 2011, 8:15 pm

    @Jan – All your answers are great answers to the questions. If memory serves me, you pour off the fat because so you can concentrate the drippings in the bottom of the pan. If you leave the fat in there, they will burn, and become bitter. You brown the mirepoix before adding the flour so you are able to caramelize it, and add more flavor to your sauce. Those two parts are the secret to a great pan sauce.
    You add the stock one ladle at a time so you can beat out the lumps, and so the flour has a chance to cook out. You could dump a lot of flour in the mix, or could even blend the works, but you will never get rid of the starchy taste. That’s why some people’s gravy tastes and looks like glue. The roux you are making is for slight thickening only, and the modern way of doing things allows a natural thickening through reduction.
    I hope that helps!

  • John K. September 17, 2011, 8:44 am


    I keep up with your posts, even though I haven’t been commenting much lately. Busy…that life thing! I love this post! I’ve been preaching the same thing to my friends and everyone who will listen. You and a couple others (Ruhlman, Symon), have helped me see that it’s all about the technique — not the recipe. I recall a post of yours for a while back on braising. I learned that technique from that post, and from practicing it often last fall/winter. Now that fall is pretty much here again, I’m looking forward to more application of that technique. No recipe!

    Looking forward to your kitchen 101’s!

  • Jason Sandeman September 17, 2011, 9:50 am

    @John – Yes, real life can definitely get in the way. I am glad to be partially responsible for your enthusiasm on the subject. Technique is where it’s at!

  • Roland B. September 30, 2011, 9:25 pm

    Hi Jason,
    I rarely post anything on the net but felt a comment was needed here. I don’t follow any other blogs but this one caught my attention when searcing for recipe ideas to make Montreal Steak Seasoning (I usually look for a few recipes so I can come up with something I like). But what kept me reading was that you were explaining techniques. To me what you are teaching is very relevant and very much appreciated.

    I’m looking forward to your posts.

  • Jason Sandeman October 1, 2011, 5:48 pm

    @Roland B- thank you! You are the reason I started this blog in the first place. I am glad to have been a help, and now I have insertion to keep going!

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