3 Things You Should Never Say to a New Cook

(Image credit: Lucy Hewett)

Learning how to cook is an exciting, sometimes-scary thing. It’s a rite of passage, a stepping stone to self-sufficiency. Soup is not just soup anymore, but a magic amalgam of vegetables, meat, spices, broth, and heat that you made yourself. Huzzah, bright new world! — where the pizza isn’t takeout, and the chicken is oven-roasted, not store-bought.

Like anyone learning a new skill, those first cooking attempts are full of mistakes, doubt, and do-overs. It can be a frustrating experience, especially when more experienced cooks hover about trying to “help” out. If you really want to support and encourage a new cook, here are three things you should never say to them —and what you could say instead.

(Image credit: Lucy Hewett)

1. “Here, let me do that.”

I know you mean to be helpful, and I know that their super-slow way of chopping, measuring, or moving about the kitchen is driving you crazy, but — no surprise here — a beginner cook will never become a better, more experienced cook if they’re not given the chance to do things on their own.

It’s soul-sucking to have someone commandeer a cooking task when you’re trying to do it for yourself. It’s also hard to step in without patronizing, even if you have the best of intentions. So take a deep breath, step back from the new cook, and just let them do it how they’re doing it! Yes, you undoubtedly could do it better or faster, but … so what? This is not about you. This is about them.

What you could say instead: “Can I help you, or are you good?”

Don’t force your help, or make it seem like the whole meal is ruined if they don’t let you take over. Be casual and friendly. They may gladly take your assistance, or not, but either way they’ll appreciate a no-big-deal, hands-off approach.

(Image credit: David Hopler of D Squared Photo & Video)

2. “Really? You’ve never ____?”

No, they’ve never made an omelet. No, they’ve never braised a pork shoulder. No, they don’t know the difference between dicing and mincing. They get it; they’re newbies, and you know a lot more than they do. There’s no need to rub it in!

What you could say instead: “What do you love to cook right now?”

If you’re really interested in where your new-cook friend, spouse, or relative is in their cooking life (and aren’t just looking for a way to underscore your own expertise), then ask them what they’ve recently cooked, what they love to cook, what they’re excited to learn to cook, or pretty much anything else you’d ask, well, a cook. Because that’s what they are! They may be a new cook, but if they’re making any kind of effort at preparing food for themselves or other people, they are a cook nonetheless, and shouldn’t be condescended to.

(Image credit: Gina Eykemans)

3. “That’s not the right way to do that.”

Otherwise known as “you’re doing it wrong.” This is a big one. If there’s one thing that can set off a new cook (and make them feel crummy in the process), it’s a more experienced cook playing the know-it-all card. With the exception of major personal or food safety concerns (a dangerous chopping technique, for example, or leaving chicken juice to sit on the cutting board, in which case it’s totally appropriate and called for to say something, albeit nicely), pointing out to a new cook that they’re doing something wrong usually just means that they’re not doing it the way you would do it — and that’s more annoying than helpful.

What you could say instead: “You know, when I first learned how to do that, I learned it this way, and it made it so much easier.”

Offer help and advice in a non-threatening way. Don’t make them feel like they’re an idiot. Focus on the fact that you, too, were once a learner — and in fact, are still a learner, as all cooks are! And if they don’t want your advice, or help, or tips or techniques, don’t push it. They deserve the right to figure it out for themselves.

When you first learned to cook, what helpful things did people say to you? What things were not so helpful?