Cooking Wisdom & Favorite Advice from Our Kitchen Tours


We have brought you dozens of kitchen tours — each of them a peek into someone else's kitchen and into their way of cooking. Every time we tour a cook's kitchen, we ask them a few questions, and my favorite of these is:

What is the best cooking advice or tip you ever received?

People have responded to that question with all sorts of wisdom and sage advice, from the highly practical to sweetly philosophical. "When in doubt, set it to 350!" "Butter, salt and red pepper flakes." "Cook with love. It comes through in your food."

Today we bring you a look back at these little snippets of favorite advice from our kitchen tours, rounding up dozens of these pieces of kitchen wisdom. From basic kitchen techniques, to how to handle disaster, to special advice from chefs and other pros, there's plenty to go around!


A Kitchen State of Mind

"From Julia Child, to be fearless in cooking (and all things). And never to apologize for something you cook." - Tanja

"No point in stressing while cooking. The more you relax, the better the food and the better your mental well being at the end of a busy day. The cook's mood is contagious to those s/he is feeding. Doesn't matter if recipe doesn't turn out the way it does in the photo of a cookbook or website. People usually appreciate a home cooked meal and the effort you have made, period." - Vikram & Meeru

Essential Techniques

"Smell everything. Don’t use a knife that is the wrong size for the task." - Derek

"There is nothing that you cannot roast in the oven with salt and olive olive that will not taste outstanding." - Michelle

"Wait for the pan to be really hot before you put anything in it in order to sear the food and then lower the heat and cover to cook it slowly." - Veronique

"Hot pan, cold oil. Use grapeseed oil for higher heat cooking." - Rebecca

"Smashing garlic with the side of my knife (olives too) — I didn't learn that 'til I was 40. My mother was Irish and never cooked with garlic." - Shan

"So basic and so long ago, but slightly smashing a garlic clove so it can be easily peeled has saved me huge amounts of time and effort over the years." - Suzanne

"Cooking from scratch as a daily activity is a very reasonable thing to do. Just cook every day." - Derek

"Make your own chicken stock. It is a huge difference and so easy!" - Alli

"Double the recipe — it takes almost no additional work, and you'll be happy when you are enjoying the leftovers." - Frank

"On a practical level, in a Ziploc bag, freeze all vegetable matter that would be thrown away (i.e., carrot peels, onion skins, asparagus ends) and make vegetable stock from it. On a more philosophical level, always make food that will make guests look forward to the next invitation." - Dawn

"Make popcorn in the microwave using a brown paper bag, folded and crimped at the top." - Blake


Apply Yourself!

"Since I don't know how to cook instinctively, I would say that there's no shame in following a recipe. We have to be taught how to drive a car or how to swim and it's no different with cooking." - Anne

"Julia Child didn't learn how to cook until she was in her 30s. It's never too late to learn — the trial and error never ends.
" - Rachel

"Just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it will taste good. A good meal takes times. Be willing to seek out the right recipe, shop for the goods and prepare it with care." - Kirsten

"Practice makes perfect. You don't have to be a world famous chef to create a delicious meal in the kitchen. Start with the basics and work your way up. Simple food is good food. We believe that everyone can cook, you just have to try." - Josh & Maria

Keep It Simple

"From a fabulous cook, a French friend and neighbor: don’t over use seasonings to dress up food; avoid conflicting seasonings in dishes prepared for same meal; recognize spices from smell as well as how they combine with ingredients." - Joan

"Less means more." - Devorah

"Don’t be so heavy handed when cooking. Less can be more." - Stephen

""Faites Simple." Make it simple. It's a classic Escoffier philosophy that makes a lot of sense, but it's surprisingly difficult to follow. Everyone is always trying to get super fancy-pants, but something simply done and perfectly executed is way better than a botched elaborate presentation. It also makes the cooking part easier… theoretically." - Pierre

Just Try It!

"Try it. (My Mother has a great story about being too scared to try cheesecake until she was well into her twenties!)" - Jenny

"Trust your instincts. When you're confident, it will taste good." - Mike

"Every artist was first an amateur (don't be afraid to try new things)." - Matt and Blair

"Ignore the rules. My mother-in-law is a huge fan of improvisation in the kitchen. If she doesn’t have a particular ingredient, she throws in something similar. Sometimes not too similar. It’s rubbed off on me. The bottom line is: you must have fun and make it yours. And I haven’t created all my tasty (and sometimes admittedly strange, but very flavorful) combinations by sticking strictly to the recipes and methods of others." - Ashley

"Don’t be a prisoner to a recipe! I think my Mom said that to me in not those exact words. But, she is notorious for her culinary experimentation, always inventing something new and delicious, sometimes by trial and error, but the process is very freeing and makes you adept at creating something out of nothing." - Isabella

How to Handle Disaster

"The formula for fixing any recipe disaster — FASS: Fat (Coconut or Olive Oil), Acid (Lemon or very good vinegar), Salt (Marsh or Sea salt), Sugar (Maple Sugar). One of these key ingredients can fix any recipe gone wrong." - Caroline

"Last Thanksgiving I made the world’s worst pie. I mean a disaster of epic proportions. My Aunt Sally was like, “A little garnish of whipped cream and you should be good.” Then she looked at me and said, “You know ‘garnish’ is French for ‘f*ck up’, right?” That’s probably the best cooking tip I’ve ever heard." - Jessica


Setting Up the Kitchen

"My friend and business partner on Manic Mommies, Erin, has the cleanest house I've ever seen. She always tells me the key to keeping her house clean is to have a place for everything — so we made sure to include a ton of storage. I also once heard someone on HGTV say that drawers are more efficient than cabinets, so you'll notice that most of our storage is drawer-based. It does make keeping the kitchen neat and tidy so much easier!" - Kristin

"My mother advised us to make our sink really big and not to divide it. It is also not too deep, so we don’t strain our backs while working at it. It’s great for washing large pieces. My mother also emphasized the importance of a backsplash in fabricating the integrated stainless sink/counter." - Ulrika

Cleaning Up

“Drying (dishes) is the only job that can do itself.” – Janie’s mom." - Ginnie & Jane

"My mom always said, "A good cook always cleans up!" So I always clean as I go in the kitchen. If something I'm baking takes 40 minutes in the oven, I challenge myself to clean up the kitchen in those 40 minutes. It's nice to know that I don't have a huge cleanup to deal with when I'm done making something." - Tracy

"Always be cleaning." - Sean & Daphne

"Clean as you go. It's advice I don't necessarily follow. In a conversation with Barbara Kingsolver (I was chatting with her for a story) she pointed out that people have a very juvenile approach to deciding what's for dinner - people tend to ponder what they're in the mood for, rather than what they already have and what's in season. So I do try to approach my mealtime decisions that way - really, most people have enough stashed in their pantries to live off for weeks! and I hate wasting food." - Julie

"'Clean as you go!' Wise words indeed!" - Pistachio & Pickle

"Cleaning as you go makes the meal look effortless." - Sveta

"Clean while you cook and the person doing the dishes won’t hate you." - Bella


Favorite Advice from Chefs & Other Food Professionals

"Clean as you go. Clean as you go. Clean as you go. I learned this in all of my jobs and now if I have a messy work station it makes me crazy. I can't work and I have to stop and grab a rag and clean!" - Joanne Chang, baker and cookbook author

"A chef I worked for taught me that if you stick a paring knife in the thickest part of the fish you are cooking and hold it there for 3 seconds and then touch the dull part of the knife to just below your lip, you'll be able to tell the temperature of the fish. If the knife is cold, the fish is rare, if the knife is hot, the fish is well done." - Ivy Manning, writer and cookbook author

"For savory, salt is key, for sweet, lemon is key." - Rachel Saunders, owner of Blue Chair Fruit

"Prepare in advance as much as you can." - Paule, Paris cooking instructor

"It’s all in the details, but that's not something anyone told me; it's just something I figured out over time. For example, searing meat properly, simmering something until it's reduced, or seasoning something when you should season it. It's amazing what a difference those little details make." - Sara Moulton, cookbook author and TV cooking instructor

"I was once told by a restaurant owner that if I wanted to be a chef someday that I should also spend time cooking at home. Season as you go. Your tongue is your greatest asset as a cook." - Art, Chicago restaurant chef

"Someone along the way advised me to write out recipes from books on your own, which for larger undertakings makes sense, and allows for synthesis among differing recipes and strategic task planning. Oh, and annotate your cookbooks! If a recipe needs to be changed to meet your tastes, record that so you remember what you've learned for next time. That's my own advice, but I like giving it out." - Harry and Taylor, owners of Brooklyn Kitchen

""If you’re going to cook something, you should probably want to eat it.” — My oldest son at age 3." - Emily, author

"Don’t be afraid of seasoning!" - Chef Ignacio Mattos of Il Buco

"Mise en place. Everything in its place. If you prep properly and know what dishes need to be made concurrently, what can be made ahead and preset out serving dishes you are ahead of the game." - Kenny Lao of Rickshaw Dumpling

"How to hold a knife - to "choke up" on the blade with the handle in your palm and your fingers gripping the blade." - Eric Gower, cookbook author


When You Have Guests

"When entertaining, get out of the kitchen and enjoy your guests — this takes planning ahead. Also, only cook with wine you would drink." - Katin

"On Apartment Therapy I once read a post about not apologizing for your cooking. As a novice cook I really try to keep this in mind! It takes courage (for me at least) to try something new and put it on the table open for critique; why apologize for that." - Daniel

Ingredients & Tools

"Always have garlic and onions in your kitchen." - Laura

"Honey, don't wash those mushrooms! They will lose their flavor spores." - Shelby

"Cut herbs with a scissor, not a knife." - Jeremy

"To keep cut herbs fresh, put the stalks in a glass of water, cover the herbs with a plastic bag and put them in the fridge. I used to place bought herbs in a glass of water on the benchtop and they always wilted within 24 hours. This way they stay fresh for about five days." - Germaine

"Don't touch your face/eyes after cutting up a hot chili (or use gloves), fresh ingredients do make a difference, cooking something you grew yourself is extremely rewarding, cooking with someone you love is fun too." - Jennifer and Jason

"Buy the best pans you can afford, and never wash your rolling pin with soap and water." - Penny

Butter, Salt & Seasoning

"Don't be stingy with the butter!" from my grandmother...who came from a Pennsylvania Dutch family." - Craig

"Add salt (always more than you think)." - Kate

"I told a nice friend of mine who'd gone to culinary school that I thought we did a nice job getting good ingredients, great recipes — but sometimes we'd sit down to eat and the food felt like it just didn't have much flavor; it tasted flat. He said: "Butter, salt and red pepper flakes." And I've found he's pretty much right! I'd add acid to that list, It has been good advice. I think it's technically sound, but also so casual and encouraging — it gave me the confidence I needed to tweak foods so they end up the way that I want them to." - Sasha

"Use more olive oil, salt and pepper than you think you need." - Javier & Marsha

"My friend Luca always says, “You Americans always always over cook the pasta and undersalt the water.” I have to say that I already knew this having lived in Rome for 4 years, but I will pass it on nonetheless." - Tom


Love From the Kitchen

"I remember my mother telling me to cook with love. In fact she even wrote that on the flap of a cookbook she gave me when I first moved out on my own. If you don't love what you are doing it will never turn out quite right!" - Lisa

"It was actually the observation of a good friend's mom, who no matter how busy or overwhelmed, always cooked with joy. She cooked the best food I had as a kid and always seemed to have a wonderful time doing it. Her love and happiness was evident in the food she created. I try and do that as much as possible." - Lupine

""Cook with love. It comes through in your food." That was from Veronica Lindemann, one of my instructors at culinary school. It's completely corny and absolutely true." - Stan

"Cook for those you love and the love will show itself in the food." - Greg

"I realized I was not good-looking and had to depend on some other skills to seduce a girl. Luckily my girlfriend, who became my wife, liked my cooking skills. I was about 18 when I cooked the first meal for her, Ollie's Chocolate Cake (made with coffee instead of water)." - Richard

Short & Sweet

"You eat with your eyes first." - Haewon

"When in doubt, set it to 350!" - Cynthia

"Keep your butter cold!" - Katherine

"Always cook with wine." - Katy

"Practice a dish before you serve it." - Elizabeth

"A watched pot will finally boil." - Jessica

"Don’t overcook it." - Dale

"Let the meat rest 10 minutes before serving." - Jay

"Make reservations." - Brian

What's your favorite piece of kitchen advice? Does it show up in this collection?

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(Images: Jill Slater; Leela Cyd Ross; Jessica via email; Jill Slater; Leela Cyd Ross; Liz Vidyarthi; Faith Durand; Leela Cyd Ross; AJ Bates)

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Advice, Tips & Techniques

Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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