I Am not a Professional Chef and That Is the Point

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I teach in-person workshops and online webinars, mostly on fermentation, and I need to create some new marketing materials to get the word out. How do you like this tagline?

I have no formal training in food preparation™

That might not result in droves of students beating a path to my door, but it is my point. Anyone can learn to cook.

The majority of us now leave our food preparation to someone else. We outsource our cooking to corporations when we eat at chain restaurants, buy frozen entrées at the supermarket or sign our kids up for unhealthy school lunches. I realize that some people have no choice but to eat food-like products rather than real food. In a short blog post, I can’t cover the complicated issue of our inability to feed ourselves. For more on how we arrived at this bizarre point in human history, I suggest reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, both by Michael Pollan (or anything else he has written), The Third Plate by Dan Barber and Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss. (This is just a short list off the top of my head).

The preparation of food appears best left to professionals for many reasons, such as:

  • Celebrity Chefs. We love celebrity here in the US and this cult extends to chefs. At least the Mario Batalis and Anthony Bourdains of the world possess actual skills, unlike other celebrities on whom we heap praise for no apparent reason other than their ability to procure expensive butt implants. But you don’t need to have attended the CIA or interned at The French Laundry to know your way around a kitchen. If you don’t know how to cook, start with something like a salad made with vegetables on hand and tossed with olive oil and vinegar. Throw in some protein and voila—a light dinner.
  • Cooking Shows. Some of these shows convey a “Do not Try This at Home!” message. The problem is, many viewers have heeded the warning! You don’t need ninja-like cooking skills, a gigantic kitchen outfitted with the latest celebrity-chef-branded gadgets “now available exclusively at [name of retailer]” or exotic ingredients to cook a great meal. My kitchen is tiny, I use basic tools and I eat a very simple, plant-based, delicious diet of whole foods. I have never been healthier.
  • Food Porn. I appreciate publications such as the magazine Cooked Illustrated and the book The Art of Fermentation for the drawings as much as for the writing. When I see stylized photos of an impossible-to-recreate dish accompanying even a fairly simple recipe, I tend to throw my hands up in the air and skip it. I feel like a young girl bombarded with idealized images of beauty. Who can live up to that? Don’t buy into it! Drop out! Maybe this also explains why I love reading food blogs. They inspire me. I look at most posts and think, “I can make that!” I read recently that food porn is on its way out. I hope so.

Until the day corporations privatize air—and complete their privatization of our water—food remains our first and foremost need for which we can take back control.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

Occasionally I’ll hear some flak when I urge people to cook. I have a retort for that, which could also double as a tagline: “You need to cook only if you eat.” But I think I’ll go with a line I’ve written in previous posts:

Sourdough is the new tattoo

Rebel! Bake a loaf of sourdough, cook a pot of bone broth or ferment a batch of sauerkraut. Anyone can do it.

26 Comment

  1. Love it! Only cook if you want to eat. 🙂 Everyone needs to learn more skills and I love that you’re encouraging them!

    1. Thank you for your encouragement Christina. Glad you like the line 🙂

  2. You are a food hero, Anne Marie! I love your inclusion of that self-actualisation chart 🙂

    1. Thank so much, Annie 🙂 I love that chart and thought it fit in well here. Food is the foundation!

  3. Reblogged this on brown bread & baked beans and commented:
    This post from the Zero-Waste Chef really resonated with me, as I’m a big believer in the need to get people back into their kitchens and cooking from scratch. It’s healthier, it’s cheaper and it actually doesn’t need a lot of time or much effort. As I said in a previous blog post, I enjoy watching the likes of Masterchef as much as the next person, but this isn’t what a nation that’s spending ever decreasing amounts of time preparing their own food should be aspiring to.

    1. Thank you so much for the reblog 🙂

  4. Yes, yes, yes! We need a return to proper cooking skills and an end to wannabe celebrity chefs. We seem to have more cookery shows, books and magazines than in my childhood but despite this our collective baseline of cooking skills have plummeted!

    Ps – as for the aspirational cookery book, I’ve taken to counting pages of photos versus pages of text. Recently I actually found one that had 3 pages of photos to every page of recipe!!! And it was not a series of how to photos. Half the photos were lifestyle/travel ones…

    1. Thank you, Meg 🙂 I think we live in some sort of bizarre golden age for food photography coinciding with a leaden age for actual cooking and eating. With all of those lifestyle photos (three to one recipe!), many cookbooks are more like coffee table books and not very practical.

  5. such good advice!

    1. Thank you, Geraldine 🙂

  6. Hmm, how about Cook, Eat, LIVE! or Cook, Eat, FEEL GOOD!

    1. Thanks for that, Aggie. I think I should stress the health benefits of preparing your own meals. “Feel good” conveys that idea well.

  7. Anne-Marie, you are so awesome! I love your tagline. I totally agree with you. We have lost the ability of cooking, of taking care of ourselves and the planet. What a shame! Congratulations on your initiative. I must participate of your next webinar. 😉

    1. Thank you, Malu. I am still working on the marketing. Food is central to culture and we have forgotten how to do it! It’s really crazy. I hope you can attend a webinar 🙂

      1. Me too, Anne-Marie. Are your webinars always at 10 am (your local time)?

      2. Hi Malu. I do some in the afternoon, but that’s probably the middle of the night for you. I have one coming up at 5pm Pacific time on June 18. That must be after midnight for you though. What time is good for you? I can try a different time next month.

      3. Anne-Marie, it’s really odd, but your comment just appeared for me now!!! :-O
        I am actually “taking a break” from almost everything (even blogging is getting very difficult) because I want to finish my MSc dissertation in a month. I still have some way to go, but I am really in a hurry right now and all I can think about is that. So, I think I’ll try to attend (at least) one of your upcoming webinars in August – if everything goes well and I finish this in my own deadline. I had a number of setbacks and one was my father that was hospitalized in April and just went home about 2 weeks ago. I have been running against the clock to make all work. So, I think for now I put it on hold. Anyway… Even if it’s night in Brazil, I’m sort of “bat” and am very used to stay up late at night, so don’t worry about that! 😀

      4. I’m sorry to hear about your dad Malu. I’m glad he has left the hospital and I hope he’s feeling better. Good luck with your dissertation. I think you will do very well. That would be great if you could attend a webinar. If not, I’ll have more later. There’s no rush 🙂 I understand the need to take a break. I had no idea blogging would be so much work. I love it but it is a lot of work!!!

      5. Yes, it is a lot of work! And I don’t want to “just” do it, if you understand me. I would like to really do it with quality. That is why I am taking so long to publish new posts. I have many ideas and drafts of the next ones. But I want to publish when they are really well done. About my dad, it was was pretty crazy, and I sort of had a role of “doing everything”, from finding the right physician for him until doing my parents’ laundry, paying their bills, etc. But things are on track now. Thanks for everything and I am sure I will attend your webinars as soon as things get on track for me as well! 😉

      6. You’re a good daughter Malu 🙂

      7. Thanks Anne-Marie! 😉

  8. well that knocks out a good percentage of people right there – perhaps you have coined an answer to the ‘overpopulation ‘ idea.
    I have a daughter ( where did I go wrong with this one?) that stocks up her freezer , chooses white sliced and loves take aways from down the street. oh dear. the other three are adept at making meals out of what is available …I’ll try your line on her and see what she says.
    today we have kimchii being made , the sourdough starter on top of stanley is warming towards a loaf and hang on AND we have made the crackers a few times now and love love them. so cheesy so yum…
    good point by the way
    sandra

    1. Lol, maybe I have: “Only the cooks survive.” My younger daughter is like yours. She thinks her sister and I are weirdos and has said she wishes we had a “normal” kitchen. I think (hope) she will eventually come around. I hope my line works on your daughter. Actually I don’t know if I have tried it on mine. I’ll have to 😉 Your kitchen sounds very productive! Enjoy all your goodies!

  9. Thank you for this post! I volunteer once a month cooking with girls in a residential facility. They are mostly girls that have been abused and neglected and can’t be fostered. They don’t know how to cook healthy foods from scratch. To me, that’s a life skill and I tell them all the time that you don’t need to be a professional chef to make good food!

    1. Thank you for what you’re doing! I agree, cooking is a life skill everyone needs. These girls are very fortunate to have you teach them 🙂

      1. Thank you and thank you for your posts!

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