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What’s up everyone? I hope you all are doing well and enjoying your cooking! Today I want to tell you all how the act of cooking, when done with purpose and attention, can help you be a happier and healthier person, which in turn will make you a better cook! It’s all connected!

A Reflection of You In the professional world of cooking, people like to talk about what each chef’s personal style is. What that actually means is how their understanding of food and cooking is reflected in their dishes. Now, this may seem really simple on its face value (how they sauce, what cuisines they rely on, what ingredients they like to use, etc.), but when you really get into cooking and understanding food, it boils down to how their own personal idiosyncrasies as a HUMAN come out in their cooking/food. Not their choices as a chef, but rather their values as a person. Allow me to explain.

When you get to a certain point of understanding of food and cooking, you can pretty much do anything that you like with food. You can manipulate any ingredient to take on just about any form, can combine anything that you have access to, and you can taste your way through any flavor combination and either tweak, or abandon if it just can’t be combined in a way that is pleasing. Cuisines are a great guide in this process, but not entirely necessary if you simply understand ingredients, techniques, and flavor. Cuisines rely on history whereas cooking simply relies on ingredients, technique, and taste. I don’t need to know what it’s called, where it comes from, or how it is traditionally used to know how to cook it as long as I can taste it and understand its properties. Creativity, taste, and experience can do the rest. Not to take anything away from cuisines and their historical context, but I’ll save that for another time to just focus on the act of cooking as a single individual. When you are the one creating the menu, you get to make the calls as to everything that you do with everything at your disposal. Which is actually more similar to a non-professional cook because when you are just cooking for yourself and your family, essentially you are the chef of your own little restaurant. So the mindset can be very similar. Here is where you get to a place that is totally free of constraints other than your own abilities, knowledge, and what you have on hand. Which, for many home and professional cooks, can be overwhelming and scary if you don’t feel comfortable in your kitchen (hence why I teach the way that I do).

This is what I like to call the “Sous Chef Paradox.” Line Cooks like to complain about doing the same thing over and over again because that is literally their job, to repeat dish after dish, identically. But when they cross that line to being a Sous Chef and they are now in charge of creating dishes (usually specials) and aren’t given constraints, they kind of freak out a little because their job went from “don’t deviate” to “do anything, but it better be good!” When you are ready to make that jump, it is like a racehorse finally being let out of the gate. If you are not, it will lead to failure because you aren’t ready for that level of responsibility. This feeling of “I don’t know how to cook” is what I hear from a lot of home cooks that don’t have much experience cooking at home and the feelings that come from this situation are very similar to the “Sous Chef Paradox.” I wanted to showcase the parallel here to hopefully help home cooks feel a little better about being timid when it comes to starting to cook and ultimately, to create in your own kitchen. Many people call this “freestyling” in the kitchen, but it is really creating a dish/meal because you are taking basic ingredients, using your experience, skills, and knowledge and creating a meal without following a recipe. This is the same process professionals do, just on a smaller scale.

Now, how is this a reflection of you? Well, in cooking, there are thousands of judgment calls that need to happen all throughout the cooking process. “How small should I cut this?” “How dark do I want my sear?” “How much salt should I put in?” “Does it benefit from garlic?” “Is it ready for the next ingredient?” and on and on and on…..

Your own style comes out of these judgment calls which are based on your values, ultimately. If you care more about getting it done, then proper technique, it’ll show in your food. If you care more about using every scrap of food (or only the perfect parts), it’ll show in your food. If you are very nervous about things, you might end up overthinking, spending too much time on any one thing and it’ll show up in your food. If you are over confident, it’ll definitely show up in your food. If you are a very black-and-white thinker, it’ll show up in your food. If you are absent minded, or are too distracted, it’ll definitely show up in your food as well… All of these attributes that show in the end result, your food, come from your own individual personality. This ultimately is what will end up being “your style” of food and cooking. Certainly your knowledge and experience play a role here, but ultimately all these judgment calls are really what will dictate “your style” of food. And they come so much more so from your own values as to what’s important to you while you are cooking, rather than from your knowledge or skill. Knowledge can be gained and skills can be refined, but your own idiosyncrasies will remain unless you work on those as well…;)

“On the Level”

Once I had a cook working for me that thought I was simply picking on him because I was so consistently redirecting/teaching him. What he eventually came to realize (when he went to another restaurant and got some more experience in the industry) was that he really didn’t understand that much about food and that was the reason I was consistently redirecting/teaching him. He just wasn’t ready to be in the level of kitchen I was running, plain and simple. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t a good fit for his skills at the time. When you get to a level of understanding with food, like I said above, it is apparent in how you treat almost every task, every ingredient. Then the job really becomes about controlling yourself to make sure you can manipulate food the way you intend to without letting anything get in your way. You have to handle your frustration/joy/pride-feelings with the kitchen, the food, your coworkers, your boss, your family, etc. to be able to perform in the way that is required to get the outcome you are intending to. When you work on this level, you have to be good in your own head before your food will be what you need it to be at the end. This is why I always check in with cooks (professional or non-professional) as the first thing when we are getting ready to cook because if you aren’t ready to “be in the kitchen”, it’ll show up in your food. People first, the food will follow. The ability to have your own life, personal issues, feelings, idiosyncrasies, and mood in check to the point that it doesn’t impact your ability to perform day in and day out is what I like to call being “On the Level.” This is one of the reasons that Chefs have respect for other Chefs who are doing it well. You have to have your own personal “stuff” in check day in and day out to be able to consistently perform and maintain a professional kitchen, team, and restaurant. Otherwise, IT WILL COME OUT IN YOUR FOOD!!! And when you cook for the public, that is noticeable because it is on display each and every night. Now that I teach home cooks, things are certainly not as heavy when you are just cooking for your family as when your career, restaurant, and job is on the line. But the same ideology persists nonetheless… I just wanted to use an example from the professional world to illustrate how you can hopefully utilize food and cooking to become aware of your own idiosyncrasies and hopefully help work on those that you’d like to adjust.

Food imitating life, life imitating food

As I said in the beginning of this post, if you pay close attention to your food, you’ll learn about yourself, which will make you a better, happier cook and person. When you pay really close attention to your food and technique, you’ll start to notice your own “stuff” come out. As you begin to notice all your different “stuff,” this is where you now have an opportunity to not only improve your food, but yourself as well.... You get to work on your “stuff” in a way where there are not really any consequences because it’s just food, y’all! If you are nervous, try some deep breaths and see if that helps your cooking. If you are overconfident, try questioning yourself a little more and looking more closely at your technique to increase your humility. If you are unsure of yourself, try experimenting with something new and see what happens… Whatever your “stuff” is, you can always work on it!! And remember, you can always order out or make eggs if things go really wrong… It’s just food, not pediatric heart surgery folks…

This is just another thing that I love about food, the ability to help you work through your “stuff” in an environment that is super low stakes. This is also how I have learned a lot of life lessons in the kitchen… Because all these things come out in your food if you pay close enough attention… And not only will that level of attention make you a better cook, it’ll make you a better person… If you pay attention…;) I hope my ramblings can make your food, and your life a little better! Love ya!!

Happy Cooking, y’all!! <3

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