At the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, we believe art presents itself in many ways everyday, with the culinary arts being one of them! Have you ever wished that you could cook your own beautiful meals, like the ones you see at local restaurants like Brother’s Moon in Hopewell Borough? We got the dish first hand from chef William Mooney, who has provided us with some advice for mastering the culinary arts.
But first, it’s important to understand why cooking is an art. William explains that the preparation and cooking of food is perceived by all of the senses. It is smelled, seen, tasted, felt (texture) and heard. Prepping and cooking is a craft. And it is the eating, which brings up feelings within us – happiness, anger, joy, sadness, etc. – that is the art. Food encompasses many things; food is nature, food is beauty, and food is love.
And if you get started with these suggestions from William today, you may even become a culinary connoisseur by fall!
1. Build the understanding of what it takes to procure and produce the foods.
William notes that talking to the experts is a must. Farm markets are a great source for seasonal foods, and we have plenty here in Hopewell Valley. Talk to farmers about what they grow and why. Talk to chefs about how they cook what they cook. Remember, most farmers are not cooks and most cooks and not farmers!Speak with the shop owners of spice stores, olive oil stores, and specialty food shops. People who work at smaller businesses are typically more helpful when it comes to teaching others about products and ingredients.
2. Learn the techniques and methods of cooking and kitchen working.
Here’s some appetizing news: the best way to learn the culinary arts is to cook and eat! Take some cooking classes and speak with the instructors. Some folks learn by eating, some can only learn by doing. And while you’re there, focus on learning the techniques, not the fads. William (who teaches cooking classes! find out more here) likes to teach knife skills early, and then the use of heat and cold, moving on to cooking and then seasoning. Timing is something that comes with experience.
As in any field of art, much work and study is required to become a good cook. Did you know that many of the techniques, methods, and tools used in the fine arts are required in cooking? William recommends that you learn to follow the directions the first time. Those recipes were written that way for a reason! And start working on your knife skills; if it looks good, it will taste better, and good knife skills save time and finger tips.
3. Taste, taste, taste!
Build a large memory bank of tastes, scents, and flavor combinations, textures (both tactile and visual), learn the smells and sounds of the foods during their preparation and cooking processes. Taste, taste, taste, and soon you’ll know how it is supposed to taste. Develop your taste memories and opinions. The more you do this the better your palate will become.
The most important lesson William shared with us is to follow your heart. Just go ahead and try. You can always (or almost always) fix the problems with a dish or recipe, or you can start over. Learning to cook requires patience, practice, and strength of character, but also a creative mind and desire to express that creativity.