OK, so by now we’ve probably all seen the Chow story, “Top 10 Signs Of A Bad Cook” by Joyce Slaton, in which she identifies various ways in which you might determine you are not in the presence of culinary genius. I say “identifies” in the sense of meaning “compiles from Chowhound threads” because the majority of her article appears to heisted from CH contributors.
As seen in the comments below, ‘Hounds—including some of the ones making the contributions—ripped her a new one, calling the article elitist, pretentious and condescending. Although maybe some of us took it a bit too personally, it got me to thinking: I’m guilty of a few of the warning signs listed (“kitchen too clean” is not among them). But, I don’t think it’s my love of the green-tube parmesan cheese that clinches my kitchen disasters. No, there are MUCH WORSE things I do. So, in the interests of transparency, here’s the top ten reasons (ok, six; that was painful enough) I’m not a better cook. And I invite you to share yours.
1) I can’t always recognize poor quality ingredients.
I’ve learned that just because you go to the farmer’s market doesn’t guarantee that the zucchini won’t be bitter, the melon underripe, the avocado flavorless. A pro chef can call his suppliers and scream for a delivered replacement, but most of the rest of us will inadvertently make a bad meal now and then from ingredients we got ripped off on. Usually when we’re entertaining important business guests.
2) I’m not always sure when it’s done.
Some dishes aren’t time critical, but others are. Frequently, my fish and vegetables are one side or the other of perfect. Not inedible, just not timed as precisely as I’d wanted.
3) I rely too heavily on cookbooks and recipes.
The problem with this is there are so many variables that go into cooking, in many cases it’s impossible to make something exactly like the inventor did. Of course, Mario has fresher tomatoes and Emeril better seafood, but beyond that, how finely you chop the shallots or what you consider a “large” onion can make significant differences in the outcome. Good cooks hack, improvise, invent. Recipes should be a starting point for our own cooking styles and ingredients.
4) I don’t spend enough time.
I like cooking, but my time is limited. I don’t make my own stocks, grow my own chervil or raise free-range poultry in my condo.
5) I don’t spend enough money.
My funds are limited as well. Of course, great food can be made on a shoestring, but sometimes if you don’t have the good stuff, it just tastes like...a shoestring. Aged balsamic, highest quality olive oil, top-tier imported cheeses are things I mostly dream of.
6) I bite off more than I can chew.
I attempt dishes from too many cultures and nationalities, all the while knowing my favorite restaurants are ones staffed by professionals who have spent a lifetime learning to perfect a few dishes of a specific ethnicity. Moreover, I believe I can salvage my foreign food fails simply by having the proper condiments, which only results in a refrigerator stuffed with expired jars of unrecognizable glop whose purpose I’ve long forgotten.
Despite these unsavory sins, I DO manage to churn out a decent meal now and then, much in the same way a kitchen full of monkey chefs, working ‘round the clock, might eventually produce the dishes of Escoffier, although perhaps with more bananas. I’m working to overcome my shortcomings, learn new tricks and better my product, and these are the obstacles I face. What are yours?