11 easy tips to make you a better student chef
As a student, cooking your own meals is a great way to save money, be healthier, and pick up some great life skills. And if you're looking for an easy, affordable way to do something nice for a special someone this Valentine’s Day, it can be a fun activity. But if you have little experience, it can seem challenging to get started with cooking. It really isn’t hard though, according to the experts. For example, there have been several threads on Reddit where professional chefs have chimed in, and let the amateurs know the most common tips to improve their cooking. If you want to get a career as a chef, it starts at home. But even if you’re not after a career, these easy tips can help you up your personal cooking game, even if you think you don’t have any. This isn’t the only way to hear from professional chefs, however. At Centennial College, you can learn from them in our one-year Culinary Skills program, taught in our extensive kitchen labs in our Culinary Arts Centre. Our pro chef will definitely be teaching you tips like these:
1. Read the steps of the recipe closely
It’s one thing to make sure you’ve got all the ingredients you need, it’s another thing to make sure you understand and are prepared for all the steps. For example, if you’ve got to let something sit overnight, you need to make sure you know that in advance. (Also, do you really want to be making something that requires you to let it sit overnight?) So, make sure you don’t just know what you need, but what you’re going to have to do.
2. Prepare everything before the cooking begins
There’s a principle in cooking called Mise en Place, or “everything in its place,” and it’s very important to professional chefs. It sounds complicated, but the idea is really simple: Get all your ingredients out, cleaned, chopped, mixed and prepared before you begin cooking. Get all of your cooking supplies out, and lay the whole spread out in an east-to-access way. The idea is that you can spend your time focusing on cooking afterwards, instead of measuring and chopping while you make sure something isn’t burning.
3. A falling knife has no handle
If you drop a knife, never try and catch it. Let it fall, and get out of the way while you’re doing so. On a similar note, a falling knife has no handle.
4. The most dangerous piece of equipment in a kitchen is a dull knife
Speaking of knives, it turns out that the sharper your knife is, the safer you’ll be. It’s because a dull knife is more prone to slipping, and that’s how accidents happen.
5. Clean up and wash as you go
No one likes doing a big pile of dishes, and most recipes include some down time. That’s when you should start cleaning before dinner’s done, between steps in your cooking. Done using that knife? Clean it now. Done using that pan? Fill the sink and wash it while you’re waiting. Do it now, and there’s less to do later.
6. Preheat your pans
Never throw your ingredients onto a cold pan. Always wait for it to heat up. It’ll keep food from sticking, and make it cook more evenly.
7. Consider the temperature you're cooking at
Similarly, don’t just blast whatever you’re cooking at high heat, unless you’re boiling water. Even if you’re in a rush, that’s how you end up with food that’s burnt on the outside, and raw on the inside. Consider more modest amounts of heat.
8. Be conservative when adding ingredients and seasoning
Simply put, you can always add more of something, but you can’t really take any away. So, if you’re not sure how much of something to add, start on the low end of the scale, and adjust as you go. As for how you’ll know when you’ve added enough, here’s how to tell:
9. Taste as you cook, if possible
Eat a tiny bit of the dish as you go to see how it’s doing, and adjust the heat, spices, and ingredients as you go.
10. Use a meat thermometer to figure out when it's done
Most cooking isn’t an exact science, and putting the meat on for the specific time mentioned in the recipe still means it could need more (or less) time cooking. You can figure out if it’s done or not by getting a meat thermometer, a tool that you stick into the middle of meat to measure its temperature. Most meat thermometers will have a guide on them that will tell you what the ideal temperature for each kind of meat is, so you can use it to check when it’s done.
11. Don't be afraid to mess up
As mentioned earlier, most cooking isn’t an exact science, and don’t let the fear of things not going perfectly stop you. You can mess up, and still make something good. For many dishes, there’s no perfect way to make them, and everyone has different tastes.
By Anthony Geremia