The Novice's Guide To Cooking

Over the past two years I’ve been cooking as a hobby, trying to replicate dishes I see at higher end restaurants.

I post my creations on Instagram and it’s led to a lot of people (mainly men), asking me how they too can create food that tastes and looks appealing. I’m in no way a chef, and there a far better, more wise cooks out there than me, but for benefit of a novice teaching another novice, i’ll write down some of my learnings.

The Golden Rule

“Mother Nature is the true artist and our job as cooks is to allow her to shine.” — Marco Pierre White

If you have bad quality ingredients you end up needing to do more to them in order to enhance their taste, whereas the better quality the ingredients, the less you need to do as by default as they taste amazing.

Let’s take the humble Tomato for example. Less fresh, out of season tomatoes, end up being less acidic, and less rich in flavour. They’re best to be blended into a tomato soup or put into a sauce along with tomato paste. However, fresh, in-season Tomatoes can be served sliced with Mozzarella, or grated and sieved as a Bruschetta. Such a contrasting difference in the effort of preparation.

Evaluating Recipes

I hate complex recipes and I hate long ingredient lists. I also don’t think a recipe book should contain recipes that have ingredients not easily obtained by most readers.

Those cookbooks do more harm than good for novice cooks as they appear scary, or too complex to try and attempt. Few authors understand this and they try hard to curate cookbooks that serve as good starters for the novice cook, these include:

When looking at a recipe, I ask myself:

Are the ingredients listed available to me via my local grocers?

No point missing out a key spice or ingredient due to it not being easy to find.

Are the ingredients in-season (i.e: going to be fresh)?

This goes back to the golden rule - if it’s in season and locally produced then you’re going to get the best flavour out of it.

Is the number of on-plate ingredients less than 5-6?

The more ingredients you have to plate, the harder it’ll be to make it look prettier.

Can you make a portion of the dish ahead of time?

I once made a bean puree ahead of time, so come time to cook I just had to worry about the steak and potatoes.

Plating A Dish

The most common question I get is how to make a dish look pretty on the plate. Considering that we first eat with our eyes, this step is probably the most important.

There are actually a number of different plating techniques ranging from landscape, free form, to contemporary etc. But for the novice chef, I recommend sticking to landscape until you work up enough confidence to try other styles.

  1. Start by applying the puree or sauce to the dish (the thinner the sauce the less of it you should apply to avoid drowning the food).
  2. Add the ingredients on to the dish one at a time, layering them on top or to the side of one another. Note: height is generally preferred when plating.
  3. Add your decorations such as herbs or green vegetables on at this stage to finish off the dish.
  4. Serve and amaze your friends.

Necessary Equipment

There’s a few tools I find myself using daily when cooking food:

Stainless steel or copper saucepan

Get yourself a saucepan that can go in and out of the oven, it’ll save you a tonne of washing up, and allows you too have all the flavours in one place.

Microplane grater

For adding parmesan or zesting any fruit into/onto a dish

Chef’s Knife

The omnitool of the kitchen, the chef’s knife is your best friend. Spend more than £50 getting one and get used to it’s handle.

Food Processor

Useful for making pastries, cheesecakes, and purees. I can’t live without mine.