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Get More Comfortable With Cooking

Find the kitchen intimidating? You’re not alone. Our Recipe Expert shares how to take the pressure off and enjoy whipping up a good meal.

Anything we don’t have experience doing—including cooking—can be intimidating. The truth is cooking really good food is not hard. It’s just a question of learning about it, which takes practice and time like anything else. Walking people through the fear is a large part of what I do in my Meal and a Spiel cooking classes.

I think a lot of people are intimidated by cooking also because so many chefs in restaurants and on television try to outdo each other with fancy food ensembles and preparations. This makes cooking seem hard. A lot of these chefs are trained with a French culinary background, which actually is intimidating—even to me. As one who learned to cook from Italian mammas in the five years I lived in Italy, I find that the best food is simple food, made with love, that uses top quality ingredients. I would recommend that anyone who is scared of cooking focus on authentic rustic Italian cuisine as a place to start learning. It’s not complicated and, in my opinion, is the best in the world.

Inexperienced cooks need to be walked through the fear of the unknown and be taught practical skills that they can use in their own homes. I have a cooking school for this very reason—we need handholding. If you’re just getting into cooking (or you’d like to add to your cooking skills), I would suggest looking into cooking classes taught by somebody out of their private home since you will need to learn to cook in a normal kitchen, not a commercial kitchen where many cooking schools operate. This will also most likely enable you to get more personal attention from the teacher and to ask all of your seemingly “stupid” questions in a safe, caring space.

If this is not a possibility, consider starting a cooking group with a few friends of different cooking levels. Ask the more experienced ones to be gentle guides (no bossiness tolerated) and make a date to all cook together. What you are looking for is not to totally mimic what the more experienced cooks are doing—because one day you might be a better cook than they are!—but to watch and learn from the different techniques they use so you are no longer intimidated by them.

The best way to make cooking a fun habit is to not cook only when you have to. Nobody becomes a great composer by writing songs only when they’re under pressure. The best composers and the best cooks learned to write music and cook well because they let themselves play, fantasize, try out different sounds and flavors and most importantly, make mistakes!

Set aside creative “you-time” to cook with no pressure to feed anyone afterwards. Play music and maybe have a glass of wine. That’s how I taught myself to cook. I went to the market and bought whole briskets and chickens and cooked just because I wanted to see what happened when I did. Sometimes I would follow recipes that I thought looked good, while other times I just improvised. Usually the outcome will be good enough to eat, but even if it’s not, let yourself mess up! That’s part of the fun. I still mess up cooking sometimes—it’s not a big deal. Next time you’ll have a clearer understanding of how to alter the recipe for better results. Or not. Play like children do—for the fun, messy, adventurous experience.

The most important thing is to not put too much pressure on yourself to become Martha Stewart or the Barefoot Contessa. Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor will you become an amazing cook with a huge recipe repertoire overnight. It takes time. A lifetime in fact. I own a cooking school, but I am still learning to cook better myself. So let go of the pressure to be anything or anyone in the kitchen except for who you are and what you know now.

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