If you want to become a Chef and start a rewarding career in the culinary arts then the most important thing you can do for yourself is to start cooking. Don't wait until you land your first job before you start cooking. Of course, getting a job is an important factor in the development of any Chef, but you really need to start developing your skills if you want to make it in this industry.
Learning to cook at home means actual cooking and not making mac and cheese or throwing frozen pizza in the oven. You really need to get your hands dirty and start cooking things from scratch.
LEARN HOW TO SHOP
If you have the luxury of a local farmers market near you then make certain you go there regularly and check out the produce. Many times they will offer more variety than a supermarket. Not only that, but most of the produce offered at local farmers markets are grown on site, which means they are fresh, which is not always the case at a supermarket. When you visit your local market on a regular basis you will begin to learn more about the food and what's in season. While you visit the market be sure to get friendly with the owner and workers there. Ask questions and let them know more about you and your desire to learn to cook and become a Chef. More often then not, they will be happy to talk to you about the produce and other products they sell.
Next, visit your local butcher. These guys really know their meats. It is more personal than a supermarket and they are usually very happy to talk to their customers and share tips like what the best cuts of meat are, how to season and cook them, etc.
Visit your local fishmonger as well. These guys really know their fish. Do the same as you did at the butcher shop and ask questions, get friendly. They should also be very happy to share their knowledge with you.
If you are going to learn how to cook at home, you are going to need the right cooking equipment. Now don't be mislead into believing that you need the top of the line everything and every gadget under the sun, in order to be a Chef. This is simply not the case, but you still need to invest some money into buying equipment.
For your cookware, get yourself a basic set including a fry pan, a sauce pan, a saute pan and a stock pot. You may also want something for grilling. A cast iron grill works quite nicely. The next thing you will want is a good set of knives. I wouldn't go cheap in this department. Knives are a Chef's best friend, so invest in a good set. If you buy a cheap set of knives, they will go dull very quickly and a dull knife can be dangerous. Two good brands of knives to look into are Cutco and J.A. Henckels. To be honest, I have not tried any other brands because I never had the need to. My J.A. Henckel knives are wonderful. I have had the same set for over 5 years now and they still perform wonderfully.
There are other things you will need like a colander for straining, a grater of some sort for cheese and zesting of fruits and tools for stirring, mixing and serving. There will certainly be other items you will need along the way. You will learn more about your cooking equipment and needs the more you spend time in the kitchen.
Are you a picky eater? Not into certain types of foods? Are there certain foods that make you squeamish, that you would never consider putting in your mouth? Well if this is you then you will need to develop different taste buds if you want to be a successful Chef. Here in America, there are items that most Americans would rarely, if ever, consider ordering at a restaurant. Items like heart, kidneys, tongue and tripe to name a few. In other countries, these items are quite popular. So in order to understand how to cook with these items, you have to be willing to at least try them.
There are a ton of learning resources available to today's Chef. Everything from books to videos are within everyone's reach. Start out with a few good books on French Cuisine. French Cuisine is a good place to start because of its influence on other cuisines. Do not simply skim through these books until you find a recipe that interests you. You should read these books from start to finish, including the introduction, appendix and glossary. These parts of cook books, normally ignored by many home cooks, contain gems of information like tips and techniques, history and more. Once you have gone through French Cuisine, then move onto another popular cuisine like Italian. Try out as many different recipes as you can. This will give you a well rounded and rewarding learning experience.
COOK FOR FAMILY & FRIENDS
Once you have been cooking for a while, you will eventually want to cook for people right? It can get kind of lonely eating by yourself. Besides, cooking for friends and family is great practice and an excellent way to get feedback. Here is what you do. Find a few of your friends or family and let them know you would like to have a dinner party (try to scrounge up 10 bucks a head to help pay for the ingredients). Tell them it is your first time cooking for a group of people and that you would like their honest feedback.
Come up with your own menu of dishes that you would like to prepare, just like a restaurant. Start with an appetizer, a main course and dessert and then print it out for your guests. Don't go too crazy with the menu items, remember you are a beginner. Find one or two people to assist you with taking orders and helping out in the kitchen. Try to make this as close as possible to a real restaurant environment.
When your guests arrive and you take their orders, give yourself a time limit. Try to get the appetizers out within 20 minutes, then the dinner and desserts out in a timely manner. This kind of cooking under pressure with time limits, is exactly what you will experience in a real restaurant kitchen. When everything is over, make sure you sit with your guests and get their HONEST opinion on everything. You need to know what you did wrong and what you did right. Then work out any mistakes you may have made and try it again in a month or two.
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