I wanted to share with you a little story. It happened during my engineering studies when I was on an exchange in Finland. Yes, Finland: cold, snow, reindeer, Santa, cold and snow. But warm warm people. I have a fond memory of this country as it was my first experience alone on a long period, far from my family.
My friends and I were on a trip to Laponia and our chalet was a real melting pot: Spanish, French, German, Fins and Chinese everywhere.
Milk, flour, eggs, apples, sugar, butter, a pan and 20 mins later, we had a full stack of crèpes for 10 people with delicious warm apple sauce.
I remember clearly a discussion following the crèpes feast with one of my German friends.
Me: “No, I don’t”
Her: “And the cookware, do you usually use a 20cm pan?”
Me: “hum, no, I don’t think so”
Her: “And the cooking time, what is it for those kind of crepes”
Me: “uuuh… I don’t know… 2-3min, it depends.”
Her: “It depends on what?”
A real examination. Then I asked a simple question: “Tell me , Do you cook?”.
Her: “Never. It’s too complicated. I don’t know where to start. It bothers me to look for recipes. And I don’t have the adequate cooking tools. Too complicated”.
At this moment, I understood something. She was approaching Cooking like a real skill, like some kind of sport or hobby that needed a deep knowledge, tools and techniques.
And I never thought about cooking in that way.
To me cooking was something everyone did on a daily basis. Like taking a shower, cleaning your house or doing your groceries. It was something you needed to do in your day.
My mother taught me cooking as a basic skill that I needed to lead my life and be ready when I’ll be on my own. Like I was in Finland. And I can say that all my fellow french friends (girls or boys) had had the same kind of education about cooking skills.
This experience was the first time that I understood the true culture differences about food and cooking. I will talk only about 1st world countries here (where you can find ready-to-eat food easily in a grocery store at the corner of the street and where cooking yourself is not needed anymore).
Having traveled to different places, I can say now that the French way to approach cooking is definitely different. It is taught in families not as a skill but rather as a fundamental to life. Other countries may have the same approach: Italy, Spain etc. But I noticed that mostly in UK, USA, Canada and others, this was not the case.
So when someone who never touch a pan before wants to start cooking, they look for the full “extra-cooking-high-skilled-chef-chou-à-la-creme” experience. Complicated, hard and overwhelming.
So here is your #1 mistake when you start to cook
You approach cooking like a set of high skills, complicated recipes and difficult chef’s techniques.
The French are not chefs. They were just taught the basics to eat. And Eat tasty.
If you are new to cooking: approach it like it is something that’s already a part of you. Because even if you were not told how to, even if you were not in the kitchen your whole childhood, even if you did not have a grand mother who taught you how to cook apple pie, you have some kind of knowledge about what is good in food and what is not.
You don’t really need fancy recipes and hardcore techniques. Not for everyday cooking. Well at least, you need some hints, a little guidance. But I assure you, you already have the basics in you:
You know what tastes good and what does not.
Congrats! You can cook
Would you serve chicken with ice cream ? No you don’t, you know that it is kind of weird.
Would you eat your cereals with gravy ? No you know it’s kinda gross.
Would you eat pear and chocolate sauce ? You hesitate, you say hum why not?
Then why not try it.
The truth is: there is no rules in cooking, only yours.
What to do right now
Ok, I won’t let you like this. As I know It can be overwhelming, I’ll give you a set of advice and things to try right now that will let your friends say: “Wow, you know what your are doing”.
But again, rule number one in cooking: no rules.
Your way! As long as you try!
- Start Simple
- Say bye to elaborate sauces and plates, ditch the fancy cookbook you bought (for now). You can do a lot with a very basic knowledge and a test-and-learn approach.
- Choose a meal, for instance dinner, and try to cook one single part of it. Let’s say you want to have chicken with rice and green beans. Why not try to bake the beans yourself in a more fancy way ? That means starting from fresh beans, unprepared. Try this.
- Taste your food during all the preparation process
- Before adding more salt, more pepper, more this or that. Taste it. Tasting is the best way to adapt the recipe and create your own by adding more ingredients. Try adding lemon juice next time you cook something on the pan => magical !
- Take one weird vegetable, fruit or product to try every week
- You are doing your groceries and you find that odd looking vegetable. Buy it and add it to one of your meals. Google is your friend to know how to cook it. This is the best way to discover new thing you might like and impress friends and family about your “knowledge”.
- Take one new spice to try every month
- Same thing with spices, a little bit easier than vegetable or fruit as you don’t have to “prepare” anything. You can sprinkle it on any dish to add a new depth to the taste. Try adding cinnamon on a salty dish, you’ll be amazed.
- Don’t buy fancy cooking tools
- You don’t need that paella cooking dish. Remove it from your cart now.
- All you need is a stove, a pan, a pot, a knife and cooking board. Period.
- Have a list of really basic recipes
- The idea is to start somewhere when you have no idea about what you are doing.
- You’ll cook those recipe again and again until you master them and adapt them to your taste. Then you won’t need recipes anymore.
- You can go there to have my basic recipe list.
Author: Emilie Durand
Emilie is a French food lover, proud Parisian and founder of thefrenchwaytohealth.com. On her website, she shares delicious recipes, health tips and tricks. Her goal is to gather and share the habits and rules that have been used and approved by French people for decades. That means cooking your own meals efficiently, enjoying whole foods, eating mindfully and never ever using the word diet again while losing weight.