How to Think Like a Chef

Learn a professional's approach to thinking like a chef when preparing home-cooked meals.

| July 2014

Author, and creator of London Farmer’s Market, Nina Planck provides 150 recipes that reflect her background in The Real Food Cookbook (Bloomsbury, 2014). A farmer’s daughter and former vegetarian, Planck uses timeless ingredients and classic cooking methods that reflect her journey to traditional foods. The following excerpt from a chef and friend of Planck’s, Emily Duff, will teach you how to think like a chef in your own kitchen.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Real Food Cookbook.

Recipes from The Real Food Cookbook:

Homemade Blueberry Soda Recipe
Cream of Corn Soup Recipe With Red Pepper Sauce
White Chicken Stroganoff Recipe With Dill

How to Think Like a Chef

The last line in many restaurant recipes is “Finish with butter.” A good trick it is, too. Butter brings flavor, texture, color, and shine to the dish. There is no shortcut and no substitute for this particular instruction, which the pros also render as “Mount with butter.” Vegans could mount with olive oil, I suppose, but the effect will be more slippery than silky. The uses of butter had me thinking about all the things chefs know and we don’t. So I asked my friend Emily, who spent twenty years in restaurant, pub, and café kitchens in New York City, to tell me how the professionals think about food and why. — NP

Some of the best home cooking I ever did professionally was at my farm-to-table café, Henrietta’s Feed and Grain. Each morning I’d head to one greenmarket or another, come back laden, and write a fresh menu. I might make a starter of smoked bluefish from the small boats captained by Alex Villani, a wry waterman with iconic white hair and a beard. Perhaps there’d be a peach salad, roast chicken with herbs, a brambleberry crumble. The next day’s dishes would be entirely new. Now the only hot, tiny kitchen I occupy is my own. It lacks the gadgets and staff I once relied on—and it’s often overrun by twig sculptures, action figures, and small hungry people—but I still arrange it and run it like a professional kitchen. I still think like a chef.

We shop and cook seasonally. This saves money, keeps us creative, and lets local farmers do some of the kitchen work. If the raw beets have great flavor, so will the roasted beets we send to the table.

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