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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In the Kitchen: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged


I spend way too much time looking at cooking videos of every stripe, from complete amateurs on Youtube to polished professionals on television.  If there is one thing that I have learned about cooking is that there is no substitute for practice, lots of practice. There is a big difference between a TV chef/model preparing a dish and a seasoned veteran of a professional kitchen who has made the dish a thousand times over the course of their busy life in a restaurant.  Someone who has only cooked for their own household or in front of a TV camera can gain a bit of skill in the kitchen but they will never attain the level of understanding for a single dish as someone who cooks this same thing perhaps dozens of times a day, every day. 

I can usually spot the dilettante very quickly by the awkwardness they may have around certain aspects of their kitchen.  A professional chef who has made a career of making certain dishes projects a very obvious confidence around the stove. I see a lot of TV cooks who look like a fish out of water when preparing certain foods. I think that if you are going to make a living in the world of food you should spend some time working in a busy professional kitchen.  I think that this should be mandatory for restaurant critics who generally don’t know much about food and even less about what goes on in the kitchen of a restaurant.

Another thing that drives me crazy is any cooking show that stretches a recipe out to a full half hour or more.  I realize that she was from a different era but Julia Child’s programs are completely unwatchable in my book. Besides that horrible squawking voice, her show was just too damn long. I’m sorry, but in this day and age you can make a great video of even the most complicated recipes that are under five minutes in duration.  I am not interested in watching someone slice a carrot so just keep the video to the important steps in the process.  When I am searching out videos for a new recipe I will often avoid videos over six minutes just because they are probably filled with wasted detail.  I suggested as much in the comments to a Julia Child video and from the vitriol directed at me from one of her acolytes you would have thought I had asked someone to shorten a Mozart sonata.

I also notice the basic skills of TV cooks which fall one of several categories. First you have those who have terrible skills, especially regarding knives. Next you have the old school folks who scare the crap out of me with how they cut vegetables. I suppose this method works for a lot of people but I’m always surprised that they have kept all their fingers (in most cases). Then you have people who do things the right way, or at least sort of the right way.More and more home cooks are learning these basic skills from tutorials on Youtube. As I have said before, Youtube is the Italian grandmother some of us never had.

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