Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How To Be... a master Chef (and IWSG)

So... you want to learn to cook, do you?
I see you there saying yes.

It's your lifelong dream, but how do you go about it?

Well... let's just talk about that.

First, you need to learn how to boil water. Yeah, you wouldn't think that would be such a big deal, but, evidently, it is. I mean, my brother can't boil water to the extent that my mother banned him from trying to cook anything that didn't involve the microwave oven. I suppose he just burned up too many of her pots. I'm not talking about when he was a kid, either. This was when he was a full grown adult. Seriously, if he had gone to college, he would have starved from lack of being able to make ramen noodle soup.

Boiling water, though, is a basic skill of cooking. After that, boiling eggs. I think I was about nine or so when I started doing the boiled egg thing. I got a recipe for making deviled eggs off of some TV show (I sort of think it was The Electric Company, but I don't remember for sure), and I was really into doing that for a while. I'd make them for my brother (who was about three at the time) and me after school or on Saturdays or, basically, whenever I wanted to, and I was competent enough that my mom let me do it whenever I wanted without any supervision.

Everything I've learned since then, I've learned just from doing it, and, I have to say, I'm a good cooker. That's how I like to say it, "I'm the cooker in the family." The thing is, though, you can get a recipe for anything online. And I mean anything. You want the top secret recipe to make fried chicken just like KFC? It's online. You want the special chocolate sauce recipe from Outback? It's online. You want to make your great grandmother's squirrel dumplings (and squirrel is big in England and France, right now), I'm sure you can find it online. Or, you know, something that's so close you can't tell the difference.

The thing is, if you really want to be a chef, the best way to go about it is to practice cooking. A lot. Constantly try out new recipes and expand what you can do and make. Sure, you can go to school for it; you can even get a degree in it, but, when it comes down to it, when it actually comes time to get a job in a restaurant, that degree is not as helpful as it may seem, because most restaurants still use an apprenticeship system for their chefs, so, no matter how good you are or what kind of degree you have, you're going to get hired at the bottom and have to work your way up. From that standpoint, the guy that's been a cook at Applebee's for five years is going to have just the same kind of chance as someone fresh out of culinary school. The main thing is to do it.

Living Between the Spikes

Being Wednesday, it's also IWSG day.

Sometimes, it can be hard to live between the spikes. The problem, if there is a problem, is that there are spikes. With, well, everything. Personally, I'd prefer a nice smooth incline. Just a gradual trip up the slope without any dips, but that's not how it works. Knowing this doesn't help. I mean, I know that the spikes don't matter as long as there is an overall increase, BUT...
Every time there's one of those dips, I feel a bit of panic. I can't help it. The beginning of each month is... uncomfortable, no matter what I say to myself about it.

But I'm not really talking about the blog here, even if that is a graph of my blog traffic. No, what I'm talking about is "book traffic." As I mentioned here, the release of "The Tree of Light" was my best release so far.
This week's release of "The Angel" was not nearly as inspiring.
(Even though the cover is SO cool! Say a big thank you to Rusty Webb and tell him how cool his work is!)
So another dip... and, even though everything is tending upward, the dips are... well, they're dips. When what you really want is for everything to just keep going up and up and up, the dips are kind of a bummer. But, if the stock market is any example (and I'm not saying it is), the dips are good. You don't want anything to just keep going up and up and up until it breaks. The dips, I'm sure, are healthy, but, man, it sure is difficult to climb back up the other side!


  1. Yep, cooking takes practice - and not only that :)
    Congrats on your sales and the release! I'm sure the dips are frustrating, but it wouldn't be normal for them not to be there. Nothing rises constantly... well, maybe that silly mountain my husband wants to hike up this Spring, but that's something else ;)

  2. While I enjoy the show Master Chef (except for the egg challenges), I do not want to be a chef. Or a cook. Or a cooker. My cookbook is a collection of local take-out menus.

    And yeah, the cover for The Angel is very cool. Rusty does amazing work.

  3. My kids have kind of killed my joy in cooking, though they love baked items and smoothies, so that's now my thing. Trying new things is tricky with a 5 and 8 year old (though they're getting better about it, and my son tried fried okra yesterday--didn't like it, but very politely ate it and said no thank you when asked if he wanted another, haha). I liked cooking before it was a job, I guess. But hubby has been doing it more and more because he knows I basically hate it these days, so that is lovely. I'm just burned out on doing the same things all the time because I know the kids like them. I make it a point to try something new on a regular basis, and that helps pull me out of the doldrums.

    I went through a brief stint of watching the Rachel Ray show, and I liked that she always stated she was a cook, not a chef.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  4. Since university, when I suddenly had to cook for myself, I've really enjoyed cooking. I like to find recipes online, make them and then tweak them the next time I try them.

    Great post!

    (Grover at Inane Ramblings)

  5. I love the idea of being a Chef more than the actuality of it. Perhaps what I want to be is a professional diner!

  6. Squirrel is tasty and so is rabbit. Fresh game is the best, but you've got to skin it and gut it first!

  7. I must be honest, and let you know that I am not much of a cook. I married a chef, so that base is now covered, but I am able to boil water!

  8. Dips happen! I don't stress the dips. And yes, another awesome cover by Rusty.
    I do about half the cooking in our family and learned it all by doing. I'm not afraid to try a new recipe.

  9. Yep, I found it. Grammy would be proud. Now to find a bag of peanuts and a big trap...


    I'm the "cooker" in our household, simply because I learned right after moving out on my own that as a foodie, I could either go out and blow a ton of money on great food, or I could learn to make it myself. So I did the latter. And while everyone always raves about my cooking, I think the same as you: every recipe you could ever want is online. All I do is find the best one and modify it to my tastes.

  10. Hi-- helping with IWSG this month. First, I love to cook-- it's a creative outlet for me. Second, I never look at the traffic anymore. I just post, try to keep readers in mind and get on with it. Blogging can be very consuming-- both with time and emotional energy. Now books, they are a different matter!

  11. I try not to focus on any graphs so I don't have any idea when my traffic slows down. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. Since I haven't published any books yet, I don't have the worry of knowing about a decline in book sales. I think you're looking at it in a great way.

    IWSG, co-host

  12. Great advice for Insecure Day. I think I have a better chance at being a chef than a brain surgeon.

  13. Congrats on those books! And hope those dips are few and far between. I know how tough they can be.

  14. Dips suck, but that's part of life. Sometimes I think the best thing to do is to stop watching and just enjoy the ride.

  15. I'm as far from a master-chef as you can get.

    I can cook, but I'm lazy. :-P

    As for the dips in your book sales. I hope they even out soon!

  16. I plan on really looking into cooking when I get my house. I'm tired of living in an apartment.

  17. I don't want to be a chef, but I wouldn't tasting the food of all the chef's I can before I die.

  18. I can actually boil water. Beyond that, well....

  19. I consider myself a good cook, but my mother was brilliant. She could out chef any chef and she was self taught. Her only problem, she couldn't pronounce the French names.


  20. I like to cook at home, but I think I'd hate it in a restaurant. Especially those places where everything has to be done so quickly and you have 20 things on your grill at once...that seems to me like a really bad job to have...and I'm still trying to figure out why anyone at all, ever, would eat a squirrel!? That would be like eating a rat! Mind you, I'm vegetarian, so I can't even really figure out why anyone would eat a pig...but squirrels? Seriously?!

  21. I love to cook! Well, more bake, but same dif. But like Eve said, I can't do it under pressure. I use baking to relax, and to get some inspiration going with my writing.

  22. T.: Not even mountains go straight up, which, if you're walking up one, is a blessing... and a curse.

    M.J.: I've never seen that.
    He does do amazing work!

    Shannon: I know exactly what you're talking about. My kids do drain the joy right out of cooking. All my daughter wants is store bought stuff that can be heated in the microwave. Bah!

    Grover: Often, I tweak them the first time. heh

    Kellie: My problem with that is that going out to eat is always a step down, so to speak.

    Anne: I've never actually had rabbit. I used to sit and watch "the men" skin squirrels after a hunting trip when I was a kid. Sometimes, we got to play with the skins.

    C.M.: Ah, well, see, that's how you do it. You really don't need more than one in a family anyway.

  23. Alex: I didn't really start cooking until I moved out to CA, but I think I absorbed a lot of stuff from my mom, a professional cook, without meaning to.

    ABftS: Do you know where to spend a ton of money on great food? Because, anytime we do actually go out, it's always "I can make that better at home." It's very disappointing.

    Julie: The blog traffic graph was actually just there as an example because I don't have a "book traffic" graph.

    Elsie: Most of my looking at stats is in an effort to know what's working. Preferably, I'd have someone else to do the marketing and, thus, look at the graphs.

    Susan: Me, too! In fact, I think sometimes about opening a restaurant.

  24. C.: They plague me!

    S.L.: What I've found is that when I stop watching, I find I'm on a slide. And, sure, slides can be fun, but they go the wrong way.

    Misha: I would guess my brother is way farther away than you.

    Michael: I'm tired of you living in an apartment.

    Nana: I'm notorious for wanting to try everything.

    Kimberly: It's a start!

    Jo: I sort of think I've surpassed my mom on a lot of things, though I'm not completely certain.

    Eve: That's the part about having a restaurant that puts me off.

    Cassie: I don't do the baking. That's part of the division.

  25. Interesting post, and yes, in life, if you want to be or do something, just get on and do it, otherwise you'll spend your life doing nothing but wondering. Good luck with the challenge :)

  26. mojo: Yep. Less talking about it, more doing it.

  27. I'm a horrible cook...and I hate to bake. But sadly, I'm forced to cook (and bake) because I have to be gluten free and it's hard to find safe restaurants.

  28. Rebecca: I bet there are some out here in CA, because there's all kind of vegetarian and vegan places and a lot of those places like that have gluten free options.

  29. I love cooking because its a mix of art and chemistry. I seem to suck pretty hard at it though. Still - an episode of Good Eats is like a revelation.

  30. I'm the cooker in our family. My wife thinks I should become a chef. I think she's just flattering me so I'll have her breakfast and supper on the table before and after work.

    I do fix some pretty good things though.

    I don't keep up with stats much. Don't really understand what's going on or how to make them better, but it's nice when I see them riding high.

    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  31. Rusty: I don't actually know what Good Eats is.
    There is certainly a lot of chemistry in baking!

    Lee: I'd like to think that if I ever have 1800 followers that I won't watch stats, either, but I doubt that's true.
    If your wife would prefer to eat your food to restaurant food, maybe you should listen to her.

  32. When I first started cooking, it took me awhile to do a full recipe from an actual cookbook. Now I can pretty much skim a recipe and figure out the rest. Not without some serious trial and error, though...

  33. Stephsco: I hardly ever follow a recipe the way it's presented anymore.

  34. Andrew - Good Eats is the greatest cooking show on earth. Ever. Alton Brown explores the science of what happens when you cook/mix/bake, whatever, and always offers insights into the history of foods and why they are significant... I'd strongly recommend you hunt down some episodes and watch a few. It was on for a decade or so before it was cancelled sometime in the past year or so.

  35. Rusty: I'll look into it. If netflix has it, there's a chance.

  36. I have to say that I am not a "cooker". Oh I try quite often, but even my family will tell you that the meals I cook are "okay". nothing spectacular in our kitchen, except possibly my apple pie... but then that makes me a baker, not a cooker.
    thanks so much for visiing my blog!

  37. Linda: Why don't you send some of that apple pie my way, and I'll let you know.

  38. Cooking certainly does take a lot of "trial and error." I started making baked goods when I was in grade 8-9, so when I was about 13-14. I didn't start cooking meals till I was about 15. My mom had surgery and was on bed rest for about a month. All of my siblings were married and out of the house, so I was the one running the show. I remember Mom would tell me how to cook word of mouth, and I would be in the kitchen going through all the steps under her supervision.

    I used to hate cooking as a teen, but now as an adult, I have a passion for it. I love playing around my food, and trying out new recipes. For me, I believe presentation is just as important as taste, so I like to make my food look beautiful. Or I try to at least! ;)

    Nevertheless, no matter how beautiful (or not) it looks, I always try to have fun with it, and I enjoy being in the kitchen.

  39. Sadaf: I tend not to care what my food looks like as long as it tastes good; however, my wife appreciates the aesthetics of a meal almost as much as the flavor, so I do my best with the presentation as well.