Lessons from the Kitchen

Photo credit: Juliette Tang Photography
Photo credit: Juliette Tang Photography

If you haven’t noticed from my myriad of food posts on twitter, I’ll just get this out here for you.


One of my favorite jobs was as a cooking instructor, and I frequently experiment with various cuisines in my home kitchen. I’m wholeheartedly believe that, if you work in any vocation that you’re passionate about, you should have a passion you keep as a hobby. For example, my mother-in-law is a professional illustrator, but she also is an extreme gardener when she’s not working. Pretty much her entire backyard is edible.

Similarly, I turn to food whenever I need a break from writing and sometimes even to inspire new writing. Besides the actual cooking, I also watch a lot of cooking shows for new ideas, recipes, and techniques. Though all artistic pursuits are different — painting, cooking, writing, making music, etc — there’s actually a lot of overlap in the philosophies.

So, without further ado, here are my lessons from the kitchen!



1. First and foremost, it has to taste good.

I’ve seen chefs on cooking shows and in real life alike complain that, because they used a lot of sophisticated techniques, they should get points just for that. Guys, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated you are or the concept is. If no one wants to read your book, the techniques don’t matter.

2. Love is all very well and good, but you can’t eat intentions.

Putting love into your food and writing is essential, yes, but even love can’t save an awful dish or book. Make sure you back up the love with skill.

3. Some things are subjective, but some things — like the basics — are constant.

Not everyone is going to like your art, no matter what it is. That’s a fact. It comes with being an artist. Subjectivity is part of the game, so always keep that in mind when taking criticism, but keep in mind there are some things that are so basic that, no matter who calls you out on them, you should listen. If you can’t execute a basic technique, you have no place executing a complicated dish. Learn the basics of your craft, guys.

4. Don’t put anything inedible on the plate. 

A trend that many chefs deplore is that of putting inedible garnishes on the plate. Your food/words can look beautiful on its own. Get rid of anything that doesn’t add to the story!

5. Balance your flavors.

I use the metaphor that humor in writing is a lot like acid in a dish. (No, not the kind of acid that melts your face off. I mean acidic elements like citrus juice.) Acid in cooking is often used to add a burst of freshness or to cut the richness of a super rich dish. Similarly, my CP’s and I often add little bursts of humor into our often serious (and sometimes dire) books to break up the tension when they need it.

6. Don’t overcomplicate.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen many a chef (and designer) eliminated from competitions simply because they had way too many ideas and put them ALL on the plate (or dress). Know when to edit yourself. Know how to edit yourself.

7. Balance cooking for the customer and cooking for yourself.

As discussed earlier, you need to please your audience, but you also need to stay true to yourself. Balance writing things that you like with what you know your audience will like. Balance, balance, balance.

8. Few things ruin a dish as thoroughly as overcooking.

There is such a thing as overediting. Some manuscripts just need to be let go. Sure, you can come back and try them again from scratch someday, but some of them are so inherently flawed from the start that they either need to be scrapped or completely rewritten, not edited again. If you edit too much and for too long, you’re losing valuable time that you could be using to create something new. Don’t stagnate. Keep moving forward!

9. One bad dish doesn’t mean you burn down the kitchen.

So you failed. Congrats! You now have a bunch of new experiences and critiques to reflect on and learn from. Don’t give up just because one thing failed. If you want it bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen someday. Don’t. Give. UP.

10. The day you stop learning is the day you should stop cooking.

One of my favorite moments on a Top Chef episode was when Eric Ripert (a French culinary superstar) watched in fascination as Richard Blais (a younger chef who’d been cooking for at least 10 years fewer than Eric) taught him how to make tabasco ice cream with liquid nitrogen. His explanation (in heavily accented English, so excuse the grammar) was that “as a chef, the day you don’t learn anymore, it means you so egomaniac, you blind.” Always keep learning.

You heard the man.
You heard the man.


Also, because I love food with an unreasonable amount of love, here’s what I ate today 😀

It's Polish and delicious. You should make some.
It’s Polish and delicious. You should make some.

3 thoughts on “Lessons from the Kitchen

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