I've spent a lot of time and energy in the past two weeks preparing for the possibility of being on a new reality TV cooking show called Master Chef. In the process I've had some revelations about cooking that are equally applicable to everyday cooking as they are to more advanced cookery.
First, let me share with you a few of my preparation steps, which ends up being mostly a recommended reading list.
- Read Roasting in Hell's Kitchen a biography of Gordon Ramsey, who will be the star of Master Chef: A fascinating story of a man quite different than the impressions people develop from watching him on TV. He was raised destitute, in a highly abusive family situation. I recommend reading this book on it's own merit.
- Acquired 3 Gordon Ramsey cookbooks and made several recipes. One book on seasonal cooking: A Chef For All Seasons; his "star chef" brag-book: Three Star Chef; and one with recipes from one of his proteges, Jason Atherton, from a restaurant they co-own called Maze.
- Read Michael Rulhman's, The Elements of Cooking. This book has a series of essays about cooking fundamentals and the finesse needed to cook at the highest levels.
- Made dishes from scratch using random ingredients - like they do on Chopped and other cooking competitions.
- Tasted different foods blind folded. It's as hard as you'd think, and a great party game.
- Scanned every recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook and Gourmet Today to identify all the recipes I've made. Pulled a number of recipes from other sources.
- Created a shortcut sheet for all these recipes, giving key proportions, unexpected ingredients and important techniques or cooking times. 200+ recipes are condensed down to a 5 page spreadsheet.
- Made authentic Sichuan dishes that I've not previously attempted. My audition used authentic Sichuan foods, so I want to be able to bring that skill out again when needed.
- Studied Sharon Tyler Herbst's, A Food Lover's Companion, looking for cooking terms and ingredients I couldn't instantly define. This is a cooking "dictionary", which is also available free online at epicurious.com - look for "food glossary" - it's a handy resource.
- I also began working with an excellent personal trainer - Penny Kelly. Please consider how hard it is to lose some extra weight prior to being on TV, while reading and cooking every day to be sure you're prepared in that area. A challenging dichotomy.
So what did I learn that can help you cook better at home? The next post will cover my revelations.