Monday, October 10, 2011

Twelve Weeks that Changed My Entire Life

I consider cooking one of my hobbies. I'm always interested in learning all I can about it, so I do it often and I do it alot! In fact I'd do it more if I could eat more! If I had the time, or if my life was different, I'd think about going to culinary school, not because I want a career in the food industry, in fact I never want to work in the food industry, but it's always been a dream of mine to immerse myself in that kind of learning situation as a way to hone my skills and improve at a greater pace. Going to culinary school in another country would be off the charts cool too!

I didn't always have an interest in cooking. I wanted to be a good cook but it never occured to me how one becomes a good cook. My mother didn't have a mother that cooked, and my grandmother's mother didn't teach her to cook, and so on and so on. Growing up my definition of a good cook was anyone that could cook a turkey! (I now know the proper term is "roast" a turkey) Thanksgiving and Xmas, which was the same menu, was the only time I was ever exposed to "real food".....looking back now what I defined as "real food", besides the turkey, was green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, a jello mold, and cranberry sauce from a can.....but I do have to give credit for the stuffing recipe and gravy that I still use every year....killer! (but I learned how to make it better!) Thanksgiving turkey dinner would be my motivation, my driving force to learn how to cook.

Nearing my 32nd birthday I had a client/friend that started working in a gourmet kitchen store called Home Chef and told me about the cooking classes they offered. One program of 12 lessons particularly interested me, it was called "The Essentials". "The Essentials" was a 12 class series, one 2 hour class a week that focuses on cooking methods, principles and techniques, not just recipes. Each week we learned and practiced a cooking method, were shown a few recipes that incorporated that method, went home and practiced it on our own for 1 week and then we moved on to another the following week. The "progression" went like this, and in this order.... (goodness...I just realized I learned how to cook using my favorite way of learning...progressions! No wonder I was so successful!)

Stocks and Broths
Sauces (white and brown)
Braising and Poaching (wet heat)
Main dish and Desert Pastries
Grilling and Broiling (direct heat)
Bread and Pizza
Roasting and Baking (dry heat)
Quick and Easy Sauces (dressing, salsas etc.)
Sauteing and Frying

Twelve weeks that changed my entire life.

For my birthday that year Mark bought me the series of classes for $330 which was a discount from the $389 if you agreed to assist. Assisting meant that you had to come 2 hours early and help the teacher prep for the recipes, serve the students samples, and then stay to clean up afterwards. Even with the discount $300 bucks was a ton of money at the time.

I had so many "firsts" during these classes, in fact practically everything was a "first"!. The first time I had ever touched a pork tenderloin, the first time I saw a raw shrimp (I thought shrimp was always pink!), the first time I saw parsley used for anything but garnish! I had no idea what "stock" was or what to do with it. And never in a million, gazillion years could I ever predict I would make and use my own stocks on a regular daily/weekly basis. (lucky me!)

Having an obsessive personality I applied for a part time job at the store just to be able to attend all of the cooking classes I could find time for, or make the spare time for. As an employee one of the perks was free classes and I took full advantage of it.

This went on for about 2 years until one evening while sitting in a class I realized my time would be better spent at home actually cooking instead of trying to learn more! I knew enough and it was time to apply it! I figured I had spent 10 hours a week working in the store, and at least 6 hours attending classes....16 hours I could spend cooking my own foods! This is also the same reason why I don't spend too much time watching cooking shows. The 30 minutes it takes to watch Rachel Ray I could be putting dinner on my own table! I've not attended another cooking class since.

Is there more to learn? Always. But the lessons learned by doing instead of watching can be of far greater value in my opinion. Finding time, or making time, to practice is the only way to get matter what interests you. Do I think I have a natural talent for cooking? Not really. Mark has a phrase, and it's one of my favorites, "What you lack in talent you can make up for in willpower and discipline." I had the will to become a good cook and the discipline to practice....that's all.


Hanneke said...

Good post!

When people ask me what to do to lose weight, my answer is always. Learn to cook, eat at home...

That answer is not popular though!

Maribel said...

wow, that's a pretty good list of things to learn. I grew up helping in the kitchen, so I have a good foundation but I never thought about the techniques being in a category. It's kind of eye opening. It would be so much fun to take a series of classes like that. lucky lady!

Gen G. said...

This is awesome!

Beth said...

Love this post, Tracy! I love to cook too...and it always tastes better when you've cooked it at home.

Tracy Reifkind said...


I do believe it's a big part of the answer. The only reason why I know it's not all of the answer is that most professional cooks and Chefs are fat. How could you not be? It always intrigues me when I see a thin Chef, especially a thin pastry Chef.

It's not just the calories in purchased foods, it's the abundance of foods available. Which I believe gives most people the choice to be lazy and to stay unskilled in responsibility of feeding themselves.

Tracy Reifkind said...


You would learn so much it would blow your mind! Knowing the methods, techniques and principles of cooking makes your own cooking so much better.

Because I learned this way I never need to know the exact recipe for anything, just a basic list. Every and all recipes fall into these categories so there's no magic, just practice.

Nothing intimidates me, which is why I'm so unimpressed with restaurant food.

Tracy Reifkind said...

Gen G....thanks!

Tracy Reifkind said...


I always think my own foods taste better. Of course there's alot of really tasty food out there, but most of it has 3 and 4 times the amount of calories which makes it taste good!

If you put enough butter/fat, salt, and extra cheese on something it better taste dang good!

Eating out is more about the experience of eating out....something I have a hard time paying big bucks for! I'd rather buy a couple of good bottles of wine, stay at home and cook. "Cooking" is the experience I like (and drinking while I cook, lol)

Joanne Daudier said...

Can you tell me where I can go to sign up for cooking classes with Home Chef too?

Tracy Reifkind said...


Unfortunately Home Chef closed many if not all of their stores. At one time Home Chef was bought and owned by Viking, but that company wasn't able to make a go if it.

I would suggest looking for classes in your area similar to the series of classes I wrote about. A google search may help out. Another thing to check into is if you have a Culinary Arts school near you they may offer evening classes for hobbyists.

If Home Chef was still in business I'd prbably be teaching some of their classes by now! (I still have the recipes and curriculum!)