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Ten Ways to be a Better Chef

What do plastic surgery and cooking have in common?  They are both an art. They require study, planning and execution just to name a few. Here are some things I have learned as a surgeon who is trying to improve his cooking skills in his off time.

IMG_02671. It pays to invest in better cookware. Some manufacturers have lifetime warranties. In general, the heavier the pot or pan, the better the quality. This especially helps for even heat distribution which creates more uniform cooking temperatures. Examples include All-Clad and Calphalon. By the way, non-stick surfaces have limited uses in the kitchen. Eggs are one example where they are useful, but if your buying a few, buy the traditional surface ones.

2. Get a Dutch Oven. No, this is not an appliance from the Netherlands. This is a heavy iron pot that usually has an enamel coating on the inside. You can use it on the stovetop or in the oven. (Most cookware should not go in the oven.) You can do many things with this one device. Make soup, braise meet, and even bake bread !!!  Le Creuset has very nice ones, and yes, very expensive ones, too. Lodge brand also makes a high quality but less expensive variety.

3. Find a heavy iron skillet at a garage sale or flea market and “refurbish” it.  Lodge also makes pre-treated ones. These are incomparable for roasting a chicken or for applying that ever so important even, controlled heat to cracklin’ corn bread.

4. It is worth purchasing two decent knives; one big one and one little one will do the trick . There are many manufacturers but this is where it is worth investing in good ones. They will last the rest of your life with routine maintenance which should include regular sharpening with the honer, or “steel.” If you start calling it your “steel,” you have made it as a chef.

5. Enough about equipment. Maybe throw in a spatula and a spoon and you are off to a good start. It’s time to get to the fundamentals. Don’t you hate those. If you are like me, you think you know more than you know.

English: Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt6. Use more salt. That’s right. I am a doctor and I am saying to use more salt, at least in cooking. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but the medical evidence for salt being detrimental to your health is “soft.” Become familiar with using Kosher salt in cooking. It significantly increases flavor. That’s worth repeating. It significantly increases flavor. It can also brighten the color of food.Two popular brands are Morton’s and Diamond Crystal Kosher salt.

7. Look for higher quality ingredients. Seek out local farmers’ markets, Whole Foods or Fresh Market stores. Freshness makes an incomparable difference.

8. Get everything ready in advance. Good chefs have already figured this out. The French term is “mise en place.” Literally, put everything in its place. Read and review a recipe. Get all the ingredients. Chop them, dice them. Do whatever the recipe calls for and put the ingredients on small plates or bowls in the order in which you will use them. Add them in order as you progress in cooking the dish.

9. Read about the different ways to apply heat to food. Braising, sautéing, poaching, and “big pot” boiling to name a few.

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10. Browse through some cook books. Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty is a great start to learn those darn fundamentals.  Watch some cooking shows.   And start cooking!!!!

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