How To Become A Great Cook Without Being A Chef

I have a confession to make: I don't love to cook. Sure, I like the idea of cooking, but my idea of a perfect day rarely involves spending time in the kitchen. What I really love is food.

Image by YanLev (Shutterstock).

I love to shop for ingredients and envision the delicious dishes I can make with them. I love the taste of fresh, ripe, seasonal produce from the farmers market. I love the way good food makes me feel. I love the knowledge that what I eat helps me thrive.

But cutting stuff up and putting it in a pan isn't particularly fun for me, although I certainly enjoy the fruits of my labour.

For me, cooking is a means to an end. I cook for my own health and happiness, and for whomever I happen to be sharing my time with at the moment. Image by Liv friss-larsen.

This is enough for me.

I came to realise my lack of cooking passion over the past several weeks as I've watched my fellow food bloggers fret on Twitter over holiday meal plans, perfect cookies and fallen souffles. It became very obvious to me that I had no desire to entertain dozens of people or perfect the quintessential holiday recipe.

I'm proud of the food I make and it's always important to me to do a good job (I love eating, remember), I just don't have that extra drive that distinguishes a good cook from a true chef.

For some, cooking is a true passion–they adore being in the kitchen and everything it involves. These are my heroes. They are the brilliant chefs responsible for the exquisite food all over this wonderful city. They construct the fabulous recipes I count on when searching cookbooks and blogs for something new. They photograph the beautiful dishes that inspire me to try a little harder. Without passionate chefs we would not have spectacular food, and I am profoundly thankful for them.

But not all of us can be amazing cooks. Fortunately, it isn't necessary to be a Michelin-rated chef to make delicious food.

Simple, fresh cooking doesn't require any special talent. It all starts with excellent ingredients and just a few basic techniques that anyone can master with practice. Image by Dinner Series.

The moral of the story is that you do not have to be a kitchen ninja (or even particularly enjoy cooking) to be able to feed yourself well on a daily basis. The most important step is getting in the habit of buying good-quality, seasonal food and learning the basic skills you need to whip up something you enjoy.

If you get in the habit of cooking for yourself, it will one day stop feeling like a big ordeal and become second nature. You'll get faster at chopping, you won't need to constantly check recipes and measure ingredients, and you'll intuitively know when and in which order to add things to the pot. But all this takes practice, and if you don't make a regular habit of cooking for yourself it will continue to be difficult.

The good news is once you are comfortable in the kitchen, more interesting and complex recipes start to sound appealing. This is not necessarily because you learned to love cooking, but simply because it is easier for you.

Once you've broken the proficiency barrier you open a world of different dishes and cuisines, unchaining yourself from repetitive stir fries and culinary boredom.

For the non-chef, this is the level of proficiency you want to achieve. You do not have to love cooking to enjoy making dinner. You just have to get beyond the point where you struggle with it. It really isn't as hard as it sounds.

Why do you cook?

How to Become a Great Cook Without Being a Chef [Summer Tomato]

Darya Pino, PhD is the creator of Summer Tomato, one of TIME's 50 Best Websites of 2011. She is also a dedicated foodist, health enthusiast and proud geek girl.


    Cooking is a passion for me, I do it for fun, or to unwind and de-stress; but I do mainly do it because I have to feed myself and my family. I think it's an essential life skill, that's why my kids (almost 15 years old) have been cooling one meal a week for the last 2 years; as you said, it's a matter of practice.

    One thing I'd recommend is to keep a well stocked pantry, a good selection of herbs, spices, flours, canned goods, oils and sauces. Stuff that doesn't go off for ages. With all that on hand then you have the freedom to get creative.

    A tip for those who don't cook: read the recipe all the way through and work out the timing, nothing is more frustrating than getting 3/4 the way through only to discover one step is going to take ages and it throws out the rest of the timing.

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