Finding Your Culinary Voice

Hosting our hot pot (shbu shabu) dinner

Photos of beautifully-plated food are a constant on our Instagram feeds. College friends who used to subsist on Taco Bell are now serving Coq Au Vin in La Creuset au gratin dishes. This isn't a complaint, especially if you can score an invite. (Tip: Be nice in the comments section!)

But it's hard not to overhear others complaining about gourmet food hitting the mainstream. "The Food Network makes everyone think they're a chef now," a old friend griped. To be fair to him, he was referencing severe reviews on Yelp, written by people who misspelled every third word. He's got a case there, but otherwise, what's so terrible about bringing food knowledge to the masses? The Food Network is educational. I even had the honor of being a guest judge on the Top Chef tour, (per above). Some chefs did not appreciate my choices (per below). The point is, wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where everyone knew how to make a perfect omelet?

Personally, I'm a fan of those fast-motion how-to cooking videos, set to upbeat music with captions. Granted, it's usually glamorous junk food either oozing with melted cheese or marshmallow fluff, but incredibly inspiring for party food!

So, where to start? If you want to up your cooking game, it can be daunting. So ask yourself, what do you like to eat? Pick a lane, and stay in it until you feel confident enough to branch out. My sister Nadia can be counted on to bake a cake for every occasion. Once she got comfortable with that, she branched out. She learned to make guava pastries from her husband's native Puerto Rico. Now she makes banana pudding that rivals Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan. Expert tip: use vanilla pudding with banana slices, because banana pudding tastes too artificial. 

So whether it's baking, Thai cuisine or mastering the the perfect grain bowl (my obsession, per the above photo), choose the food you love to eat, and work on it until you have wiggle room. At first you'll be hovering over the skillet, but in no time, you can tell when things are "done." And have fun with spices. Trial and error will bring an instinctual knowledge of what tastes best.

Last but not least, get a good old-fashioned cookbook! No one wants to keep refreshing a phone screen with hands covered in batter. Besides, you can write personal notes or modifications in the margins. You can doggy-ear your favorite pages, and mark them with the inevitable splashes of food from your counter. Allow the experts share their knowledge with you, and pass the cookbook on to the next generation.

Celebrate your milestones by sharing the fruits of your labor. Have girlfriends over for a brunch of homemade quiche. Or treat your family to a movie night at home with your made-from-scratch pizza. And don't forget to share a photo with us - you got this!