Chef Unmasked – Confessions of a Professional Chef at Home
I’ve always been a fan of cooking and am a voracious consumer of cooking shows like Top Chef or Master Chef. I am fascinated by the chemistry and artistry that comes together when truly gifted people take piles of raw ingredients and turn them into mind-blowing meals that are a feast for the senses. I’ve always wondered what professional cooks get up to in their own kitchens at home. So, when I met James*, a senior chef at a very well known, upmarket restaurant in Manhattan, I jumped at the opportunity to ask him a few questions:
Me: What is the one the one kitchen item that you simply cannot live without in your house?
James: Without a doubt, my awesome copper cookware set. I mean, obviously, I wouldn’t be able to cook at all without pots and pans, but I simply adore cooking with copper. It’s the best conductor of heat there is, so the cookware heats up and cools down extremely quickly. This allows me to control my cooking better than with any other material. Copper is relatively expensive and a bit of a pain to clean, but for versatility and precision, I really can’t image cooking with anything else for the most part.
Me: When you get home, aren’t you sick of cooking and just want to get take out?
James: I get that question ALL the time. Firstly, anyone who knows anything about the food industry will be aware that we work obscene hours, so I don’t spend much time at home at all. However, when I do, I’m generally either sleeping or in the kitchen. To me, cooking is like art. Just like a visual artist, it’s a compulsion, rather than a pastime or an occupation. My mind is constantly spinning with new ways to combine textures, flavors and colors and when I’m not in the kitchen, I’m jonesing to get in there and try them out.
Me: So, you must create some pretty spectacular meals at home, then?
James: To be honest, at home I prefer to keep the menu quite simple and focus on doing those things as close to perfect as possible. My wife is obsessed with my Spanish Omelette with Salsa Picante, and I make it for her every single Sunday night. It’s not a particularly complicated recipe, but I love playing around with different kinds of potatoes, herb and spice combinations and varieties of fresh chillies to try to give it a bit of a different twist every week.
Me: Do you have a favourite herb and spice?
James: It is incredibly difficult to narrow it down to just one as it depends on the cuisine. When it comes to herbs, I like to use more unusual combinations that people haven’t necessarily tried. Recently I’ve been combining thyme and marjoram in place of the more common basil and oregano. I really love the subtlety and delicateness of the flavor that they impart. As for spices, I am a HUGE paprika fan. It has such an earthy, rustic look and feel and is incredibly versatile. It also adds color to stimulate the visual senses.
James: Almost all of cooking can be distilled down to five, maybe six basic skills. Take the time to master those, and there is not much that you won’t be able to do in the kitchen, as everything else will flow from there.
Me: Thanks so much, James.
James: An absolute pleasure. Any time.
*Not his real name
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