Cooking Basics from a Professional

Hundreds of cookbooks, websites an magazines feature quick meal ideas, but the most important thing is to start with basic skills so you can evaluate a recipe, and have the knowledge to not only follow it, but adapt it to your needs, the ingredients at hand, the tools at your disposal, and the tastes of your family. Add seasonality and freshness, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Read new recipes through and then think them through before you start, making sure you understand them. After a while, you’ll find ways to modify your favorites to make them your own. Check to make sure that you have all of the necessary tools and ingredients before you start.

Hone up on basic techniques

The first thing I teach my own students is how to hold a chef’s knife. Remember to hold your wrist straight, and hold the knife with thumb and first finger on either side of the blade, and the other three fingers curled around the handle and you’ll have better control. Here is a demo I found on Youtube from Chef Drew Tait.


The second thing to learn is how to cut an onion. Remember that the root end holds the whole thing together, so cut up to it, not through it. A lot of savory dishes start with a chopped onion. If you and your sharp knife can do that quickly and easily, you will have a quick start. Practice this basic technique until you are confident and you will become a better cook. Again, there lots of Youtube videos on the subject but there is a lot of misinformation out there and I could not find a perfect demo. Here’s the best (none are perfect!) video on how to cut an onion featuring Chef Curtis Stone. My only quibble: if you cut the stem end first, and stand the onion on that flat surface to cut in half, it’s safer than cutting through a round onion.

Choosing and maintaining knives

Keep your knives sharp, store your equipment logically so you can find it when you need it, and you’ll save a lot of time and work safer. Keep a sharpening steel in your knife block, and use it every day. There are numerous videos on how to do this. If you keep your knife steeled, it will keep its edge much longer.

If you don’t have a decent set of knives, go to one of the many cookery stores and get demos from the staff. Figure out what you like, what feels comfortable for you, and what you can afford. But start with knives that are sharp, and suited to the task at hand, and you will be a happier cook.

In my kitchen, because I have so many knives, I buy relatively inexpensive ones. The trade-off is that I need to sharpen more often, because they don’t hold their edge as well. Be sure to have high carbon steel, not stainless — it’s too hard to sharpen.

About Terry’s business: Paulding & Company

The Paulding & Company kitchen is located in Emeryville, California, one freeway exit from the Bay Bridge and is accessible by public transportation from San Francisco and the East Bay area. The 2400-square-foot, state-of-the-art kitchen and dining area was built in 2003 by Terry Paulding, as a combined teaching and catering facility. The kitchen is a warm, friendly, clean space that combines lots of room for group work and dining, with a professional catering kitchen set-up. Combining teaching and catering allows Terry to share her love of good food and her creativity in the kitchen with her students, her corporate team building clients, and her many catering clients.  For more about the company, click here.

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