If you know anything about me, you’ll know that there was once a time when I wasn’t so sharp in the kitchen. A friend I had over nearly choked on some instant ramen I made for him, presumably because it was cooked so poorly. True story.
I’m still far from being a MasterChef by any stretch of the imagination, but what I’m trying to say is that I’ve improved vastly since then, if I do say so myself. Everyone’s cooking journey has to start somewhere, and if the mere thought of frying an egg still sends shivers down your spine, here are a few tips to help you get started in the kitchen.
1. Find a good source(s) of recipes
These days, you can easily find all sorts of recipes anywhere on the internet, making it incredibly easy to get started regardless of your experience. However, I’d recommend finding around 2-3 comprehensive and authoritative recipe sites to base most of your cooking, at least at the start.
You can get really creative with where you source your recipes – your local supermarket chain, for example, should have a decent recipe section. BBC Good Food is another personal favourite of mine, and you’ll have similar luck in the Food or Lifestyle sections of most major newspapers and magazines.
2. Get on YouTube before you get in the kitchen
It makes sense to master a few kitchen basics before you start to get serious, and the great thing is you don’t have to enrol in a single cooking class.
Just hop onto YouTube and you’ll find short, informative videos covering practically every little cooking skill you’ll ever need. Whether it’s mincing garlic or seeding a cucumber or julienning a capsicum, there’ll be a happy chef somewhere on YouTube more than willing to show you how.
Here is Gordon Ramsay explaining how to dice an onion, sans expletives:
For starters, you should master some rudimentary knife skills and at least learn how to mince garlic and chop an onion – this will give you the foundation for at least 90% of the dishes you’ll make.
Then, as you encounter more recipes and make more dishes, you can jump back onto YouTube to fill in any knowledge gaps you have.
3. Start with pasta
This is just a personal tip of mine, but for anyone who is completely new to cooking, I’d suggest starting with a few pasta recipes. When it comes to making ‘proper’ food, it really doesn’t get more simple than pasta.
What makes pasta so great for beginners is its versatility – it comes in so many different varieties and forms, catering to chefs at any stage of the experience spectrum. You could start with a very basic tomato and basil penne dish, for instance, then gradually move up as you get more confident, experimenting with different types of pasta and meat/seafood.
Here’s a fairly simple gorgonzola pasta you could try.
4. Cater to your tastes
The learning process, no matter the context, is fairly universal – you’re more likely to be engaged and get more out of it if you actually have an interest in what you’re learning.
Once you’ve got a handle on the basics of cooking, you should definitely have a crack at a few dishes of your favourite cuisine – you really do get a sense of fulfillment when you can make from scratch what you’ve only ordered from your favourite restaurants in the past.
Most people love pasta, so if you follow step 3 above you’re probably on the right track, but see if you can branch out and try some more exotic meals. I’m an absolute curry fiend myself, which should be pretty evident judging by the majority of the recipes I have on my blog.
5. Learn from your mistakes
Let’s get this out of the way now: Sooner or later, you are going to make a monumental screw-up in the kitchen. You’re also going to give yourself a nasty cut with a knife.
Mistakes are all part of the learning process and while we’d all like our dishes coming out perfect every time, don’t let failures get you down too much.
My personal example comes from when I first started cooking properly during my study abroad in the UK. In my defence, the risotto recipe I was following was pretty poorly written, but that didn’t make the charred, blackened mess in my pan any more appealing.
However, instead of running up to my dorm room to cry into my cheap Primark pillowcase, I carefully analysed what went wrong (I wasn’t ladling enough stock into the pan), had another go at the recipe the very next night and mustered something a bit more edible.
Mistakes are crucial in helping us to improve long-term. To misquote a character from a popular Pixar film, just keep cooking.
6. Find your signature dish
Picture the scene: You have a few bored mates over, everyone is hungry and no one can cook. There are a few cheap takeaways down the road, but no one is really bothered to move.
“Just hold on a sec,” you tell your friends, and with a cheeky wink and a toothy grin you disappear into the kitchen. Moments later you emerge with a healthy, hearty and homemade meal that blows everyone away. You find and marry the person of your dreams, and the villagers rejoice.
Once you’ve tried out a handful of recipes, you should nail down what your ‘signature dish’ is: a simple-enough recipe that you can remember off the top of your head and can whip up with minimal ingredients, yet is still fairly unique and different from most run-of-the-mill dinners. Mine is a no-frills seafood paella.
Trust me, you’ll be glad you have such a recipe tucked away in your head, and it will come in handy in so many situations. You can thank me later.
7. Have fun!
Lastly and most importantly, just have fun. Everyone loves food, and cooking is meant to be an enjoyable, social activity. There are fewer things in life more pleasurable than sharing a delicious meal you’ve made yourself with friends and family.
Header image sourced from FancyCrave.