“On the first morning, when one of the chefs asked me why I took the class, I told him that my enthusiasm for cooking had outpaced my technical skills.” – Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table.
I have felt this same dilemma. My passion for cooking far surpassing my abilities.
If I could squeeze more life out of this one, I’d enroll in a full-time culinary arts program. But since I don’t want to quit any of my established roles with family, friends, and vocation – graduating from a prestigious cooking school will not be a part of my story. Because a good and bad part of being a grown up is accepting that I have to choose to say no to many good things to be great at a few things. And for me, saying yes to writing and speaking about hospitality means saying no to culinary school.
Nevertheless, I can still push through the plateau of my cooking abilities by inventing creative opportunities that better fit my resources of time and money.
Of course – for foodies like me – culinary programs, cookbooks, and recipe magazines are inspiring. But nothing develops skills like actually rolling up your sleeves and practicing. We can be inspired by watching someone else, but we can’t truly learn until we do it ourselves.
And so, one of the ways I have learned to be a better cook – with the resources available to me for professional development – is to gather with friends who share my passion and simply cook together.
Back when our kids were all school-aged, Carla, Rachel, and I would gather monthly in one of our kitchens so the host could demonstrate how to prepare a recipe that she had mastered. A home-cooked dish that people around her table love to eat.
We learned new recipes and techniques. We test drove each others kitchen gadgets. We talked about the best places to purchase ingredients. And, of course, we feasted – just the three of us – at our tables.
We taught each other how to make shrimp ceviche, chicken curry, and apple cake. We didn’t just learn how to prepare recipes – it was a time to learn about the best citrus juicers, the best ethnic markets to shop at, and the best pans for getting crispy edges on baked goods. And as we stood in the kitchen cooking, we also shared about our lives, and our families, and our dreams.
We gathered to cook, to laugh, to learn, and to eat. Pretty much my favorite things about this life.
Learning to be a better cook with women who have become two of my dearest friends has yielded a great return for the investment of 2 hours a month and the cost of ingredients.
If you want to be a better cook but can’t afford the time or money for a formal culinary education, I encourage you to invite the best home cooks you know into your kitchen and cook together. I am certain that you will be pleasantly surprised by the joy of developing your culinary skills and meaningful friendships.