You’ve meticulously studied the recipe. You’ve gone to specialty grocery stores and purchased every single obscure ingredient. You followed the directions exactly. You seasoned with salt and pepper, plated the exotic meal beautifully, put it on the table, and it tastes. . . ok.
To me, the most important skill a cook can master, in regards to savory cooking, is the ability to taste what you’ve made and then know what you can do to elevate it to perfection. No matter how closely you follow a recipe, there will always be variables in your kitchen and ingredients that differ from those of the author of the recipe. A skillful chef or even a good home cook knows how to combat these differences and fix a meal that needs just that little extra. Most recipes encourage you to season with salt and pepper. I would argue that seasoning with acid, sweetness, and fat are just as important. There’s a reason restaurants often garnish fish with citrus wedges to squeeze or top a steak with a pat of garlic-herb butter.
I think the easiest way to practice the skill of tasting and adding salt, acid, sugar, or fat to perfection is to make a simple vinaigrette. This is the simplest balance of the four components. Whisk up your favorite vinaigrette recipe and then taste it. Does it taste bland? It probably needs more vinegar or salt. Is it too sour? Some added oil (fat) or honey should temper the acidity. Is it too salty? You can dilute the salinity by adding volume to the vinaigrette with vinegar and oil. Does it taste right, but somehow doesn’t feel rounded out? A dab of honey should round out any rough edges. Mastering this process to find the perfect balance is the key. Once you have this skill, you can easily apply it to almost any situation where dinner just seems to need a little pop.
Almost every ethnic cuisine incorporates ingredients that fill the need for each of these elements. Many ingredients bring multiple elements to the dish. The table below lists some basics, but the possibilities and combinations are endless once you become familiar with new ingredients and recognize which of these elements they add to your food.
Salt, Cotija Cheese
Lime, Hot Sauce, Pineapple
Avocado, Cheese, Crema,
Pineapple, Piloncillo, Honey
Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, Miso
Yuzu, Rice Wine Vinegar, Lime
Coconut Milk, Silken Tofu, Sesame Oil
Mirin, Mango, Papaya
Parmesan, Anchovy, Prosciutto
Tomatoes, Balsamic, Lemon
Olive Oil, Cheese, Egg Yolk
Red Wine Vinegar, Lemon
Port Wine, Orange
Salt Cod, Iberico Ham, Manchego Cheese
Olive Oil, Almonds
-Mark Maybon has been a personal chef and Friend for three and a half years. He serves our Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita and Twin City markets.
Meet our March Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Jacob Gordon Wright!
Chef Jacob Gordon Wright was born and raised in the rural town of Lawson, Missouri, forty miles north of Downtown Kansas City. In high school, his focus was chemistry and playing tuba with no set career goals. After high school, he was introduced to the culinary program at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS. Since day one, he fell in love with the culinary arts and soon realized his passion for preparing really great food.
Jacob has always felt strongly that he wanted to experience everything the hospitality industry has to offer. He has worked in many different types of food service operations, from hospitals and hotels to catering and country clubs, absorbing all he can at every location. In fall of 2013, Jacob earned his chef certification through the American Culinary Federation, and two Associate Degrees in Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts with an emphasis in dietary management.
Creating food is his art, but Jacob wanted to do more for others too. Teaching soon became his next goal. Just over one year ago, Jacob joined the Friend That Cooks family of personal chefs. It has been an incredible stepping stone for him to move from behind the line in restaurants to helping families improve their quality of life and educate them on basic nutrition that the general public lacks. At the end of the day, Jacob does not cook only to fill stomachs and nourish minds; he cooks to bring happiness into everyone’s life. Being able to connect with his clients and their families, and to see first-hand how the food he prepares directly improves their lives, is such an important part to loving what he does.
When he is not cooking, Jacob enjoys spending his free time with family and friends, wood working and being outdoors. He especially likes foraging and camping in the spring. In the winter months, when he is stuck indoors, he likes playing video games and experimenting with new recipes.
This month’s chef’s spotlight comes from our Chicago market. She has been with Friend That Cooks for just over a year after making a career change to pursue her passion for food. Meet Nikki!
In her own words.
Growing up in an Italian household, food has always been an important part of my life. I used to watch and cook with my grandma, and that is what inspired me to become a cook. Ever since I can remember, food has been my passion. I honestly never thought that cooking would be my career. After several years of schooling in various majors, and never really feeling happy or satisfied with what I was doing, I decided to go to culinary school. While working overnights as an ER Tech, I attended Kendall College and graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts. I went on to work mostly in corporate catering on a very large scale. I’ve worked for companies such as Google, Yahoo, Uber, Pinterest and Walt Disney World and eventually on to Friend that Cooks.
I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything in the world. Food is my passion. It brings people together, makes people happy, and gives us the nourishment that we need. I’m happy that I can provide that for people. Whenever I’m not cooking, I love going out to eat in Chicago, one of the greatest food cities in the world! I also love traveling and exploring new places!