By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
Everyone would love to cook like a professional. Throw a few things in a bowl and turn out something suitable for a king. I know how frustrating it can be to put in a lot of effort and the result turns out to be absolutely inedible. But to be a really good cook takes time and experience. It would be nice to condense time and experience and get on a fast track, but it truly won’t be authentic unless you take the time – that time requires.
I have worked with close to a hundred different cooks from all sorts of backgrounds. I’ve seen people with varying skills sets and all sorts of different passions. Having said that, I can tell you that it is my experience that truly good food is in direct proportion to the length of time someone spends in the kitchen – not skill or education. Who can argue that grandma’s corn bread is the best? Here at Guilford we have several cooks that have been in this industry for over 30 years. Lois over at the vegan station can make water taste like a million bucks. And this is my point! I and many others would love to have that uncanny ability, but we have to wait in line until our experience matches hers.
That’s where the Tao comes in to play. There is no sense in being disappointed or upset about the food you do create. Every time you prepare something you learn more about it. You learn times, colors, temperatures, combinations, techniques, and most importantly you learn what YOU like. So the important thing is that you keep cooking. Encourage yourself and over time you’ll get it. There was a time when I was curious about wines. I wished I had the lingo and the knowledge of the differences between wines. But this is not something that you can just switch on, or pick up by reading a book. In order to truly understand and appreciate wines you need to grow into it. It would go against the Tao to assume that you know enough. That is when they say that your “cup is full”. And in order to learn something new, you must empty it. So with good food, like a whole host of other things in life, it takes time and there is no short cut. Try to be patient and appreciate where you are right now and over time more will be revealed.
By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
For this cooking subject – The Tao is time. Common question: “how long does it take to cook?” Like you have a roast beef and you want to cook it in the oven. The first question would be what temperature to set the oven on. But the second question would be, how long will it take? After you have your answer, has the item ever been over or under cooked? You followed the directions but it didn’t come out right? Well what’s up with that? There are many different variables that go into applying heat to food. Almost all heating sources vary to some degree. Even elevation/altitude can have an effect on cooking times (and how far a baseball travels – but that’s another subject). Because of these variables in a professional kitchen you will often hear things like “cook it till it’s done” , or my favorite, when someone says “How long should I cook this?” and the chef says, “till it’s ready”. This is the Tao of cooking that every chef adheres to. We cannot say that something will take x amount of time to cook. What we WILL say is something like check it in 20 minutes or take the temperature in an hour. Approximations in time are something that we learn through experience. When we don’t take this fluid approach thinner cuts of meat get overcooked and larger ones are rare, sauces and stocks don’t have the right consistency and flavor. Just as important as how long – is when to stop. For things like stocks and sauces, vegetables, and baking there is a need to arrest the cooking at the correct time. Again, the food will tell you when it’s ready (and your thermometer will confirm). You cannot blindly go on time, you need to pay attention to the food and care of it.