How is a home cook different from a pro? Does professional instruction benefit a home cook?

Thread drift on Mercer vs Misen has been fun, but it prompts me to express a point of view and solicit yours. One poster seems to view a home cook as something altogether different from a high end restaurant cook or a chef. That poster seems to prefer personal experimentation to learning from demonstrations by skilled professionals, finding what they are doing to be out of the proper realm of the home cook.

While there is a vast range of home cooks spanning everything from microwaving burritos to cooking one’s way through the French Laundry. Menus, preferences, cultures, and cuisines are many and varied.

However, it would be my supposition that habitués of this board, when cooking at home, enjoy the steady progression of their skills and results and welcome insights, tips, and instruction from skilled professional cooks and chefs. Most nights my food as a home cook is fairly conventional. Tonight is Taco Tuesday from leftover brisket, but some nights I aspire to more, maybe a duck enchilada with mole.

To me the biggest difference between most home cooks and most pros is mainly how they go about doing more or less the same things. Pros have to be able to go fast, use an arsenal of specialized knowledge, achieve perfection, and do it all in a repeatable way. I think many, maybe most, of the home cooks here aspire to the same but often fall short, chiefly because of lack of training and practice.

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Tim, I’m certain I would have benefitted from at least some professional, focused culinary training in my younger years. Not quite what you’re after, though, I think.

I think one big difference between me and a pro is (besides my lack of formal training), the pro is making the same things over and over (at least until a menu reset occurs), whereas I have a few things I return to repeatedly, but probably the majority of days I’m making something new that I just heard of (here or from a friend or just scrounging food themed videos), or often something I just ate at a restaurant and want to see if I can re-create, or something that I’ve only done once before and didn’t do as well as I wanted, and decided to take a Mulligan.

But still, if I’m trying something for the first time that includes new techniques, or if a written recipe is not too clear to me as to order and timing, I’ll always seek out professional videos to watch and learn from.

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Yessirree! Youtube is like free cooking school, and practice is practice!

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To me, pro cook are a lot about organization, logistic, working within budget. Also a pro has to precook food or organize beforehand, that the wait time for a client has to be limited. Tasks are sometimes divided between people, like one peeling vegetables, one cooking. For a pro at the higher end, I believe there is the pressure to develop a distinctive personal style and develop your own recipe.

Home cook doesn’t need to think of the budget, the sustainability (if the ingredients are always available or not in a certain quality), timing etc. Failure is not a too big concern, whereas a pro cannot fail.

Many pro won’t give out their real recipes, they only give a summary and leave out many details.

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as mentioned, if you have a favorite dish and a favorite restaurant and the next visit the dish is “off” - that’s likely to be a disappointment. ‘pro’ kitchen strive to make it just the same and just as good every time.

enter me in the home kitchen… by and large I prefer to make the ‘same dish’ with a twist. there are exceptions, as dictated by she-who-must-be-obeyed…

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Oh boy! As a home cook, I make what I think “I’ll” like, and I rarely fall short. Usually when that happens it is due to following a video/recipe verbatim. There is good stuff out there, like Rick Bayless’s chile relleno batter… but I’ll be damned if I am gonna follow his recommendation to deep fry my fresh chiles.

As for pro chefs, I think there are several kinds. The ones I ignore the most are the ones looking for Michelin stars.

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I’ve no desire to emulate professional chefs and I’m just happy to enjoy their food when I visit their restaurants, whether that’s a neighbourhood bistro or a Michelin 3* place. At home , I just want to put a tasty dinner on the table. I do that within my limited skill level and I’m content if we both have a nice time.

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Agree with others here that practice in preparing particular dishes over and over would help pro cooks outdo us home cooks in some ways.

I think that training in fundamentals, particularly knife work, helps the pros as well. I learned a lot from watching Jacques Pépin shows back in the day.

Now to what I think of as overly “cheffy” stuff. After being disappointed by a cookbook by a well-known chef, I concluded that the complexity of the recipes was probably due to having prep cooks make components of the dishes in advance. Much like @naf observed.

Also the recipes used fat and salt liberally, to a degree I wouldn’t indulge in at home.

P.S. To this day I greatly admire the cookbooks that help home cooks like me prepare dishes like a pro. The Ottolenghi cookbooks come to mind here. It’s still possible for me to turn out a lovely dish even when I don’t have all the harder-to-source ingredients or need to take a shortcut.

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This could be useful for someone who doesn’t mind screwing up repeatedly and potentially wasting a lot of food. I prefer not to re-invent the wheel. If someone (skilled professional or a friend of mine) has figured out how to make a dish successfully, I’m happy to take advice.

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There are precious few dishes that applies to me. But even then I can get sidetracked with an unfamiliar side and the main dish suffers. Oh well.

Slower.

When I took cooking classes, the chef called it housewife slow.

I rinse my salad greens and herbs 3 times and pick out decaying leaves. A lot of restaurants in Canada don’t wash them at all.

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In my case I am a doodler and no artist. A chef who runs a menu is special and few people can do it, professionally.

The harsh reality is many of us can be a gopher working for free in a professional kitchen or with time a cook at a low level chain.

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Here’s one example below. When I first started buying picanha (rump cap in UK, also top sirloin cap or coulotte in US) maybe 5 years ago, I knew how it was cooked and served in churrascos but wanted to know more about cooking it as a roast.

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As a now home cook and formerly a chef, I think those inthe repetition camp are on the right track. Now I find my muscle memory of certain processes has just faded. Sauteing garlic and herbs is something done not just daily, but multiple times every day. You can make minute changes in your technique or recipe with each rendition until you get things dialed in.

On the other hand, and this is very crucial, is the equipment. Kitchen stoves for the mass have a fraction of the BTUs and there is no getting around that. Even high-performance home stoves can be slow and imprecise compared to a restaurant stove. Having a stack of pans means you can use more pans to construct a dish. While this IS possible at home, I only have one each of my carbon steel pans.

Stocks and reductions are another difference. I now have a great store of stocks and glaces in my freezer. But it has taken months to build them up. I know of few home cooks who make the range of these items that many a restaurant has in their repetoire. Having reductions at hand means I can get a lot of result without having start from broth or use a commercial ingreient. My having glace de viande means I have more freedom to add strong flavorings. The addition of glace makes for a way to harmonize a dish.

Last is mise in place. In a restaurant, every day there is a prep list and when you come in, you have an array of ingredients prepped out or you spend your first part of the shift doing your prep. And you have somewhere to store every part of your prep {even if that is a precarious stacking of too many things on your too small prep table}. As organized as I like to be, I just have less organization in my home kitchen even if most people tell me how organized and detailed my recipes are.

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I am not sure what you mean. Did the side really destroy the whole meal? Does it sound right when you start it, and just not turn out well? Do you taste it at various stages while your putting it together?

Way back… I’m guessing 2009, I did a thanksgiving dinner with brussel sprouts. The BS were a disaster because I did not check their cook or taste them (relying on a recipe) before serving. If I had only tasted them and checked their texture before serving I could have made them great, all while the other stuff was resting.

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For me this nails it, and given the amount of time it requires, it is something a home cook can tackle since they neither have to rush, nor meet the expectations associated with expensive menus, nor replicate it that night and the next day. While home cooks rarely cook the same things with great frequency, there are very similar ingredients and processes where they can practice the same basic techniques night after night. When I was working and the kids were young, about four nights a week it was small protein, pan sauce, easy starch, fresh vegetable, and salad. Also by constructing such meals over and over one practices the mastery of timing. Chicken thigh with sundried tomato pan sauce over couscous with asparagus is remarkably similar, cooking and timing wise, to pork chops Marsala over rice with broccoli or halibut in beurre blanc with steamed potatoes and green beans. Either way you do your prep, spend fifteen minutes cooking, plate, and eat using very much the same techniques on all three meals.

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Ha ha ha. I should see this (topic) coming.

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Interesting topic, often discussed (and debated) on unrelated topics here and elsewhere :slight_smile:

To me, the main difference is a mix of technique, desired outcome, and practice - plus ingredient quality and access.

I don’t think this is the case. Most people here are sharing ideas and tips with each other as other home cooks.

I’d rather have a great home cook give me tips on how to make something than a professional cook, because I’m not cooking in a professional setup, and a home cook’s instruction and advice is more likely to be applicable and useful.

Again, I don’t think this is true for most. I’d posit that most good/great home cooks just want the end result to be between tasty and delicious.

They don’t need it to be a restaurant meal, assuming that implies a certain higher quality. Professional training isn’t necessary - or always helpful - to home cooking. But practice absolutely helps - with any kind of cooking.

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I think the two biggest differences are probably (1) accessibility to equipment and potential special ingredients, (2) volume.
I absolutely think professional training and professional instruction help an average home cook. At the end, it is not just watching, but also doing.

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Add to this creativity for fresh ideas, business sense to buy and budget and a host of other restauranteur-like considerations…unless everything is handed down from corporate. Then the local “chef” is largely in name.

Of course there are personal chefs but I would put them in a somewhat similar category as a restaurant chef.

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