Learning to Cook? Use Recipes, Focus on Techniques
Anyone who's learning to be a better cook will be focusing on learning new recipes. People often find recipes they like and then integrate those into their cooking rotation. When you're starting out, this is a good way to try new things in the kitchen. Yet, you won't be getting the full benefit if you aren't focusing on the techniques behind the recipe. Techniques are where the real learning happens. Techniques are where you pick up and learn a skill that you will use forever. Techniques guide you when you cook and can even help you make your own recipes.
Don't get me wrong, recipes do have an important place in the culinary world. For one, it's the only effective way to share detailed information on cooking a dish. With a recipe, you can easily share how to make something you've enjoyed with someone else. And that's great. Recipes become essential in larger kitchens where there are cooks of a variety of skill levels. In this setting, a well-written recipe allows someone who may be new to prepare something as though it was one of the veterans doing it themselves. Thereby freeing up more advanced cooks to work on higher skill capped tasks. Where getting a consistent product is key, recipes are king. In commercial kitchens, recipes are also important for calculating food costs and setting up a profitable business. When something is prepared the same way every time, you know exactly how much of each ingredient is going into a dish. With this information, you can calculate how much it costs to make. These calculations help management make sure things are profitable. Assuming the work went into developing a recipe, it will result in a good final product every time. Preparing the same dish without an exact recipe, can waste a lot of time through tasting and adjusting the product until it's to your liking. Even then, the final product won't be the same as last time. Recipes are great for when you're starting out and for larger kitchen operations, due to their consistency, tried and true nature, and their ability to be used for calculations. Technique, however, starts to shine when the focus is creativity and learning.
Honing techniques is how you get to be great in the culinary world. Recipes can carry you a certain amount of the way, but eventually, you need to start expressing your own style and spin on things. Learning and practising the techniques behind what you're doing in the kitchen will ingrain them into your skill set. By picking up techniques, you will become more versatile in the kitchen. Missing an ingredient for what you're making? No problem, you can still make it work by substituting or changing things a little. Short on time? No problem, technique tells you what the end result should be. You can make it work. Understanding the techniques behind the cooking will help you bridge the gaps when things don't go as planned. Working without a recipe will let you exercise your creativity. Recipes, while useful, are also prohibitive. If you're following a recipe, there's usually very little room to stretch your creativity and try out something new. Working from your existing knowledge base and collection of techniques will let you try new things while still staying close to the source material. You can follow your intuition a bit more. If something doesn't quite come out as expected, you take note and try something else next time. You learn from the experience. Being able to test out ideas and correct little mistakes on the fly will help you learn and get better over time. Working from your techniques will help you work faster in the kitchen. Get your basic ingredient prep and cooking techniques to become second nature. Then, you can work at a faster pace, backed by what you know; rather than having to refer to a recipe. Things will become even easier and faster over time. Working from technique is the best way to exercise your creativity and hone your skills. Integrating techniques will let you work more efficiently. Allowing you to shift your focus to learning new, more complex techniques.
The key to being the best you can be in the kitchen is to take the best of both worlds. Pick up interesting recipes to try while looking deeper and asking questions to learn about the techniques behind the recipe. Experiment in the kitchen. Work off what you know to try and make something yourself. This will help give you a better understanding of the techniques you've picked up. The goal should always be to continue learning and getting better. There's an infinite skill ceiling in the culinary world. There's always more to learn and new things to try. So, use recipes, but focus on the techniques behind what you're doing to get better in the kitchen. Learn new techniques from the wealth of recipes out there. You only have to look a little deeper.