Thursday, December 24, 2009

What makes a chef

I called this blog Chef Monkey. Whoa, hey, isn't that kind of presumptuous? While I do a lot of cooking, I wouldn't call myself especially skilled at it. Wiki says a chef is one who cooks professionally. I'm a lapsed journalist who works at a public policy organization. Random House says it's the chief cook, especially in a restaurant or hotel, though its second definition benevolently proclaims a chef "any cook." I guess that's me.

What makes a good cook, anyway? My friends say I'm one, but that's the minimum obligation of a polite guest. My husband says I'm one, as he's happy in his position as the noncooking partner.

Is a good cook someone who perfects their own recipes? I've successfully innovated before, but I'm not above consulting the Food Network website. Is it someone with superior technical skill? I'm clumsy with the knife and prone to poor timing, though the results are usually forgiving enough. Or is it just someone who consistently makes beautiful and delicious food?

While my mom is a good cook, I grew up eating a lot of fast and frozen food: bacon cheeseburgers, microwave entrees in trisected trays, add-milk-and-butter boxed noodles. I'm now an acolyte of the slow/natural food thing, but until the age of 21 I had never cooked anything in my life. I had a college boyfriend who taught me to bread chicken breasts, pour cream of mushroom soup on top and microwave for six minutes. He also made this salmon dish that involved spreading the fillets with a thick layer of mayonnaise and baking at 350. When I got my first apartment I flirted briefly with vegetarianism so I wouldn't have to touch slimy raw meat.

But I love to eat, so slowly my cooking evolved. I'm most familar with classic French techniques, but I make a few mean Cajun dishes and more recently have been focusing on Thai and Chinese. I'm reading cookbooks and food memoirs. I took a two-day cooking class on a recent trip to Thailand, and start a six-week course on basic technique next month.

This blog will chronicle my kitchen experiences (admittedly, one purpose is so that if I suddenly die, husband will know how to make all his favorite meals) and cover restaurant visits as well as nongastronomic pet interests: books, politics, news.

Gotta go  tomatillo stew's simmering on the stove. More soon.

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