How do you spot a serious home cook?

So this topic was trigger by a topic on the “other” site.

Disclaimer- when invited for dinner at someone’s house, I am not sitting around judging the level of the meal etc. I do note things that are particularly done well, but I recognize that I like to cook and not everybody does so to the extent that I do. I am thankful for the invitation even if it’s take out pizza etc. I am there for the gathering, the company and if it’s a good meal, then an added bonus!

If you were invited to someone’s house for dinner for the first time, what are your benchmarks for labeling them a serious cook? Particular dishes, executed well? Difficult techniques?

People seem to think that if someone makes them steak and lobster, they’re an amazing cook. My dad could grill steaks well but blew up a baking potato in the oven because he didn’t pierce the potatoes prior to cooking. He was by no means an amazing cook.

In all honesty, I’m not invited to too many dinner parties where one person exclusively cooks the meal. I’ve hosted many though. Often, I end up at potluck type meals which are more often about socializing.


I don’t really judge people by their cooking skills, I judge them on their ability to make their guests happy, and being able to provide a fun event, with interesting people…

And nice flowers, and no paper plates or plastic utensils. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I am, however, very impressed when someone can cook fish properly, and make beautiful vinaigrettes. Also, if there is a balance through the evening, from cheese/wine pairing, to a dessert that is appropriate to the meal that preceded it. I consider that the sign of a real cook.


When invited, I’m usually honoured, and tried the best to enjoy myself. I tried not to judge (even though it’s human nature :imp:)

I think it’s about everything adding together. Wine pairing, if the hosts propose cheese, or make their dessert. But it’s difficult to say, every cook is different, my MIL is a very good cook even using mostly humble ingredients, making dessert doesn’t inspire her at all. It’s also important to state that cooking a good meal for a group of people takes a lot of effort. I always appreciate the food generosity and the sharing part, meaning a meal with a stomach joyfully filled! (vs still half hungry) Easier to detect is by talking to the cook about cooking and food.

I remembered twice invited to a particular friend’s home, we knew already my friend doesn’t cook. First time, they just bought traiteur food from the neighbourhood. OK, but nothing very special. We in return bought some gourmet desserts. So when they asked us the second time, a weekend, we didn’t expect much, but to our surprise, his wife (a director in a multi-national group) cooked us a chicken tajine which is quite good, followed by a simple dessert, some great crepes. I don’t think she has a lot of time to cook or she is a very knowledgable cook, given her busy work schedule, but the effort moves us. So don’t judge! People might be too busy but they know!


As Bookwich said;

“I don’t really judge people by their cooking skills, I judge them on their ability to make their guests happy, and being able to provide a fun event, with interesting people…”

I could be incredibly difficult to impress if I wanted to be, however it’s not about any one’s particular talent level, I try to judge everyone by their abilities. Some people cooking is second nature, others it’s a choir and one they can never get the knack for, I understand that and don’t expect anything from anyone, just the offer of opening up their home and a willingness to entertain is enough for me. You can take KFC out of a cardboard bucket if that’s all the time you had on your way home from work, but still wanted to share that bucket with me I’m thankful.

(now if this is one of my “industry” friends, yeah then your a slacker. lol If I know you are capable of things yet too lazy to execute them, then I’ll be a little more critical of you.)

Having been in and around the business my entire life I do feel pressure when I have people over to live up to their expectations though and as such I always try to throw in a few unique dishes. As an example here is my Easter Feast from yesterday.

Here was the entire menu starting from top left;

Ribs / Wings (not placed in pan yet)
Chicken Tequila / Ham
Broccoli Rabe / Stuffed mushrooms
Sweet potato casserole / spaghetti and broccoli
Stuffing / mashed potatoes

Bottom left going up;
Filet Mignon
Lamb Chops
Spinach Dip
Italian egg rolls (stuffed with hot Italian sausage, broccoli rabe & 6 cheeses)
Fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers
Shrimp cocktail

Things like the chicken tequila, Italian egg rolls and my stuffing (dear God I love my stuffing) are dishes I made specifically to add a little “wow” factor to the feast. To my surprise it seemed like the lamb chops, which is a no brainer to me, was a pretty big hit. (the egg rolls though are always a party favorite)


I’m not judging people by their cooking skills, that would be just plain mean! I was saying it impresses me when people know how to prepare a cohesive menu.


Good butter on the table, preferably unsalted. A grinder for the pepper. For a hat trick, a glimpse of a naked cast iron pan.


You can always tell a serious cook by the quality AND condition of their knives. Has to be both because some will buy quality knives and never take the right care of them.


This is one criteria too! :smile:

1 Like

Damn NotJr - I live in San Francisco but one of my sisters lives in NJ - I might have to time next year’s visit at Easter.

1 Like

I think of myself as a serious home cook, but that may be partially because I am more or less the only person in my social set who really loves to cook and/or considers it a favorite hobby. If I knew all you HOs in real life, I might not think so highly of myself! :wink:

When I am talking to others who enjoy cooking, though, I tend to assess their level of seriousness not only by their finished meals but also by their understanding of various sophisticated techniques, use of and appreciation for quality equipment, ability to create a recipe rather than follow one, adventurousness in the kitchen and willingness to try new things. I know many people who can turn out tasty meals, but who I wouldn’t call serious home cooks - they have simply mastered a few simple recipes or have a good enough understanding of basic cooking techniques to reliably follow a well-written recipe. These to me are good cooks, but not “serious” ones.

Regardless, if someone invites me over for dinner, I am grateful whether they are a serious cook or just a good one. And I’m extra thankful when my friends who are neither order in!


I didn’t think the question was about judging people as that implies a right/wrong situation. It’s simply an assessment of their skill in the kitchen.

A good host, nice table setting, wine pairing, decent butter and condiments don’t really indicate a good cook. It shows they are a nice person, understand good taste, and appreciate quality, but that doesn’t denote skill.

I tend to be impressed by good sauces, ingredient combinations, ingredient variety, and of course the subtlety/intensity of flavour. A simple steak of piece of fish cooked well is a start, but how its sauced and the quality of the accompaniments tend to demonstrate the skill.


In my social circle we are more often going out than gathering at someone’s apartment, mostly a side effect of living in the city where a half decent kitchen is uncommon.
I think that when the cook/host is relaxed and able to mingle and has planned ahead except for a short amount of time in the kitchen that is impressive and not easy to do for a group. A really good green salad impresses me- so many salads are a kinda sad pile of greens with vinegrette and little thought.
I’m more impressed by a great dish of rice or bowl of bean soup than i am fancy expensive ingredients


I check the freezer. If there’s a zipper bag of vegetable trimmings for making stock, I’m pretty sure we’ll be eating well.


I don’t like to categorize cooks as serious or not, I only label them as a good cook (or not). All I care about when invited to a home-cooked meal is whether or not the food is tasty and the company is enjoyable. But then, we’ve always been more ‘pool party’ than ‘dinner party’. Kids running around and adults chilling on the lanai is the vibe in our crowd.

Even when we hung out with a kid-free crowd, it was more often impromptu wine, cheese and crackers on the patio after work than a planned dinner party. For variety, someone might pull a tray of some TJ’s apps from the freezer. Someone else would grab salami from the fridge and we’d call it dinner. Maybe we’re all too laid-back to be serious?


I think @Salsailsa has asked an outstanding question that should make us thoughtful.

For myself, what is on the table at a dinner party doesn’t mean much. Who knows how much time and how many Post-It notes went into preparation? How much help?

What impresses me is the ability to turn refrigerator scrapings (my term - trademarked grin) into something wonderful.

I’m a yacht delivery skipper, mostly smaller boats. A friend of mine was along (Rock Hall MD to Brooklyn NY non-stop offshore). Usually I do all the cooking offshore (picture a NYC apartment kitchen, cut it in half, and bounce it up and down continuously - cooking is a real skill) but Shawn offered to make dinner. In short order up came a really good chicken stir-fry and a salad with a lovely ginger dressing. Now I knew there was no ginger on the boat as I had done all the shopping and there was only vinegar and oil and a very few spices. Starting from scratch for a three day trip you aren’t stocking a pantry. Shawn had raided the snack bag and ground up ginger snap cookies using a spoon and bowl as mortar and pestle. With knife skills that astound me he minced carrot (remember all this on a moving platform), added oil, vinegar, and working with the spices at hand made that wonderful ginger dressing.

Oh - the chicken was excellent also.

THAT is a serious cook.

I’ve eaten Shawn’s cooking before and since and it is consistently good. I’ll never forget that ginger dressing.


That trip took 3 days? I’ve been boat “shopping” online and included MD as part of my search criteria figuring it was 1 full day trip to the Jersey Shore area.

A little off-topic for the thread, but it depends on where you start and finish and on the boat. That boat was an Island Packet 31 sailboat. There is a big difference between a slow sailboat at 4 kts, a faster one or a trawler at 7, or a motor yacht at 18 to 25.

Note that I go straight through with no stops.

I’m happy to help you - email me at .

1 Like

I’ve gone back and forth between Red Bank and Annapolis a few times and it’s a long 2 day trip at about 14-15 knots only stopping for fuel. If you start from the eastern shore of Maryland (say Ocean City) it’s half the distance and could be done in one long day instead of two long days.

@Auspicious thank you for the information and offer, if I get more serious about purchasing perhaps I’ll contact you. As I said for now I’m just looking online and I “assumed” it was just a one full day trip, if it’s 2 or more I think I’ll narrow my search range a bit.

thank you also @BossaNova for the info.

@BossaNova - As I noted above there are a lot of boats making that trip that can’t go nearly as fast as the 14-15 kts you report.

In Maryland nomenclature Ocean City is not on the Eastern Shore. It’s on the Ocean (the Western shore of the Atlantic Ocean). The Eastern Shore is the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay. The upper Bay, the C&D, and the Delaware Bay take a while.

sail fast and eat well, dave
S/V Auspicious