7 Steps To Becoming A Professional Amateur Chef

Updated: June 24, 2013

Marla Sarris

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This post is by Marla Sarris, a professional amateur chef. She’s been involved in multiple cooking competitions, has published 2 cookbooks, runs a popular blog and has been featured on both NBC & CBS daytime news stations.

1. Love Food

If you don’t love food you should stop right now. If you want to become a professional amateur chef the first ingredient is time. You need to spend some serious time in the kitchen. I’m not telling you it requires years and year of work, but it will just take longer than opening a box and microwaving those take-out meals, ya know?

What that means is you need to taste all sorts of foods. Start by trying out one new food at a time. Find out what you like & what you find goes well together. If you want to become expert enough at anything, you need to be willing to love it (or at least the process), because there’s no way to do what you need to do in the kitchen without really getting into food.

Love food - there’s no way around this one folks. This leads directly to the next key.

2. Experiment Constantly

When I go to the grocery store I always come home with one to two different items I’ve never seen or tried before. Experimentation is key because there’s no other way I’ve found to be able to taste the difference between using cilantro and basil to make pesto than actually using those ingredients and tasting their differences. You can sit on your butt and watch Top Chef, Gordon Ramsey or any other daytime cooks on TV all you want, but until you get your butt in the kitchen and test out how long it really takes for chicken to cook, you can’t really call yourself a cook let alone an amateur chef.

Experiment constantly. If you’re trying to eat paleo, start with a solid paleo food list, and try to find foods you haven’t tried yet. And don’t worry, just because you’re experimenting, doesn’t mean things will go poorly. Here’s two quick experiments you can try off the bat to help you get started and pique your curiosity.

  • Add a common fruit to liven up a simple salad, like I did with this Tastes Like Purple Plum Salad
  • If your typical go-to side dish is mashed potatoes, try mashed parsnips or a new vegetable you’d typically not mash, in it’s place.

3. Know Your Substitutes

Part of cooking paleo meals is knowing what foods don’t work for you. Once you’ve nailed that down you’ll need to know what ingredients you can substitute into a typical SAD recipe to make it paleo-ready. For example, when I see milk on an ingredient list, I automatically think coconut milk. And when I see wheat flour I think coconut, almond or tapioca flour.

This doesn’t happen automatically. It takes times to see normal recipes and understand how to play with them to turn them into paleo recipes, but over time, you’ll get better and faster. A few awesome paleo substitutes that you can use on a regular basis to help you get started.

  • Choose sweet potatoes or squash in place of white potatoes
  • Choose spaghetti squash or zucchini in place of pasta
  • Drink club soda or kombucha in place of soda
  • Use grassfed butter in place of margerine
  • Serve meals over a bed of lettuce, on a lettuce wrap or with a fork or spoon instead of bread
  • Use honey or pure maple syrup as a sweetener in place of table sugar
Note: If you’re not eating paleo, that’s totally fine, but know what works for the type of cuisine you’re preparing and act accordingly.

4. Cook Cook Cook

Don’t just stand there reading recipe blogs, collecting pins on pinterest or watching others on TV or YouTube. If you’ve got a favorite food, you’re ready to experiment and you know what to substitute then it’s time to jump in the kitchen with both feet. Just get cookin’! Choose your cooking method: water, fire, air, raw, etc. and test away.

(If you need a few recipes to help you get jump started, I might semi-biasedly recommend Pigskin Paleo or Los Paleo.) :)

5. Taste & Enjoy

Now it’s the best part. Close your eyes and taste your creation. Does it need more spice? More salt? A hint of sweet? Or is it just right? Make any adjustments you think might work out and taste again. Remember to experiment here as well. Then, enjoy your new creation, eat up and be proud.

6. Write Down What Works

Did you accidentally create something that blew your mind and your tastebuds? Don’t forget it - write it down! Keep a pen and paper handy in the kitchen and your notes will give you a basis to build on.

You might want to start a blog to help you do this and keep track of what you create. Even better, you might be able to put some of your recipes together and make an incredible cookbook of your own!

If you find something you don’t like - or a combination of foods that didn’t work - you can use that too - to remind yourself not to make the same mistake in the future!

7. Repeat

Then repeat all the steps all over again with a new main ingredient, a new spice, a new substitution or a new cooking method and give it a taste. Remember what we said - it’s gonna take some time - so enjoy the process, eat some great food and have a ton of fun!

What has helped you become a better cook? Let us know in the comments below this post.


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