Enthusiastic Amateur - Tacoma, WA

Joined Jan 6, 2018

My name is John and I am an enthusiastic amateur home cook. I have cared about food and cooking for a long time, but in the last year or two, I have been trying to step up my game, particularly in regard to the fundamentals: Knife skills, stocks, sauces, high heat cooking (I threw together a wok station on my back deck using a propane jet cooker from my homebrew gear), etc. I want to learn how to do things right. I have no professional cooking ambitions, I just want to learn how to do basic stuff really well so I can feed delicious and healthy food to my friends and family.

Eating good food is, in my opinion, a significant part of The Good Life, and I am very interested in developing my skills. The trouble is that I feel like I am kind of in it alone. YouTube videos and internet resources can only get me so far. I would love to be able to ask questions of knowledgeable people and I have stumbled across this forum a few times in the past. I thought it was only for professional chefs, but if you will suffer questions from home cooks, I would love to glean some wisdom from the crowd here.

I work from home full time and my wife just finished her first year as a family doctor. She works extremely long hours and I do all the shopping and cooking. Moreover, we have an active and curious 18-month-old who is very interested in everything I do in the kitchen. I love that he is into hanging out and fixing food with me, but he is often underfoot and wants to be held so he can see what I am doing right in the middle of dinner prep. I have learned to do a great number of tasks one-handed!

As I struggle on my own to improve, I have finally discovered resources that I feel are pointing me in the right direction: The Professional Chef from the CIA, Sauces by James Peterson, and several of the other CIA cookbooks. I also planted several herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, chives, oregano, sorrel, and several others) last spring and intend to expand my herb garden this year.

I love kitchen gadgets when they make my life easier or do things that can't be done without them. I am good at acquiring kitchen toys and bad at letting them go. Now that I have all these great tools and toys, I would like to start learning to use them properly.

Thanks in advance for your patience and advice!

Tacoma, WA
Joined Dec 18, 2010
Hi John... welcome. You seem to be on a good start. Planting the herb garden was a great move. Persistence is your other great move in the direction you desire.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
Hi John, Welcome from the other side of the mountain. I get by Tacoma once in awhile when I'm on my way over to Ocean Shores. Last time through I stopped at Frisko Freeze for my burger and shake fix.
I think one of the biggest problems for a home cook is the lack of knife skills. The ability to get things chopped fast saves so much time. The main reason most would hate wok cooking is because of all the vegetables that need to be chopped in most Oriental dishes. I used to do Demo Wok cooking in my catering and Cafe business. There are books and videos on proper vegetable cuts. There should be some youtube videos on making all the Mother sauces. Take things slow and learn each sauce. Homemade Stocks would also go hand in hand with learning the Mother sauces, soups and sauces. Your also in a good area for all Pacific Northwest fish and shell fish. You may also like to venture out into Sous Vide cooking in the future. Once you master a few skills it will make things easier. Right now just learn the basics and the rest will fall onto line........Take care.......ChefBillyB
Joined Jan 6, 2018
What do you want to learn to do pertaining to knife skills?

Everything, really, but I am trying to get the formal knife cuts down (batonnet, julienne, brunoise, etc.) and be able to do them quickly, safely, and accurately. I have done a fair bit of self-instruction, but I think what I really need is practice, and I am getting the impression that unless you are cutting up boxes of produce for large numbers of people, it is hard to get the necessary amount of repetition. You know, to be honest I think I have been stopping short of proper technique because I want to keep my knifes sharp, but I only have a honing steel and get by sending them out once a year to Seattle Knife Sharpening for a proper sharpening. When I watch the videos of real chefs working quickly (like slicing an onion "tock, tock, tock" on a wooden board) they bang the blade into the board and honing isn't going to keep the knife sharp for long. I bought the CIA Knife Sharpening guide and would love input on a good sharpening system that won't ruin my knives. I want to learn to do it right, so I think I will be looking at water stones unless there is clearly a better way.
Joined Jan 6, 2018
ChefBillyB -

Thanks for the response. The basics are exactly what I am after. That Sauces book by Patterson has been a godsend. When you are untrained, it is sometimes hard to know good information from bad. If you have thoughts on resources that are generally regarded as quality reference material, I would love to know about them. I'm not opposed to dropping some money on good books if that's what it takes. I actually bought the workbook that goes along with the CIA Professional Chef book and plan on working my way through it. I am a middle school counselor and former high school teacher by profession, and while I understand that this kind of worksheet is sort of surface level, I'm actually looking forward to the challenge of wrote information transfer. I just can't get the sheer amount of experience and repetition as a home cook that I could get in a professional setting, so I feel I have to put a lot of emphasis on foundational knowledge in order to maximize the learning I can get from the experience of chopping up the (relatively tiny) amount of meat and veg I need to feed myself and my family. I am also interested in getting a good sharpening system. See my response to toddhicks above.

Funny story about this, actually. If you are a chef and Tacoma is on your radar, perhaps you know of The Table on 6th Ave? I'm not very experienced with eating fancy food in restaurants, so I don't know how it stacks up against other similar establishments, but it sure tastes good to me. I love that there's a place here with a chef owner and I understand that making a go of it doing what he is doing is really difficult and I like supporting him. While school was out for Winter Break, I stuck my head in their front door before service the week before Christmas to ask if I could help him out by doing a prep job nobody else wanted to do. I don't want any pay, I just want to learn how things work in a real restaurant kitchen and to give him a hand. I had hoped to do some menial task like peeling potatoes or picking leaves, but if doing dishes is what would help most, I'd do that, too. He graciously said that I could and suggested I come in for prep the following Monday. I was super excited and all set to go in, then found out that Christmas with my wife's side of the family was not the evening of the day I wanted to go in and work (as I had expected), but right at the same time as he wanted me to get there. I texted him to say I wouldn't be able to make it after all, but I never heard back from him. This is understandable as I understand how important it is in the restaurant world to show up when you say you are going to be someplace. I will probably ask him again when I am more sure of my schedule, but I will be very sheepish when I do.

Stocks and Mother sauces are exactly where I am focusing my efforts. I am running into issues keeping a supply of stock on hand, but I think I am ready to employ my 15 gallon homebrew kettle to start making larger quantities now that I have a better understanding of the proper proportions and technique. Sous vide is also a distinct possibility, especially because I suspect being able to hold food at a precise temperature would make pacing dinner parties a lot more manageable. Not to mention all the cool tricks you can do with extended low-temp cooking.

Again, thanks for the tips. I look forward to running into you here again!
Joined Feb 8, 2009
Hi John, never went to "The table" restaurant in Tacoma. It's nice to have a nice restaurant close to home that you really enjoy. I like Chef owned restaurants because everything on the menu reflects them and their talents. I think it was quite a stretch for the chef to agree with you working in the kitchen. The holidays are a busy time of the year with extra catering and large parties happening everyday. The Chef agreeing to you working was from the kindness of his heart. There is no way you would add to the production of the kitchen. The holidays aren't the time to train, its the time to show your talents and get results. I'd say you lost your window for this experience. It's not really something you need, what your doing is fine. The reason why chefs need to be fast in their cutting and chopping skills is to free themselves up for other things. In many cases and unless it's a small Chef ran restaurant the chef doesn't do a lot of prep work. The Chef is there to manage the bigger picture of running a kitchen.
I think in your case it's better to be right instead of being fast. When your cooking at home concentrate on quality. I feel at this point small successes will give you the incentive to want to learn more. Eating is fun, I never want it to be a chore.
In time and if you feel you want a bit more of a challenge you may want to look at helping out in a Homeless shelter. They feed large numbers of people on a daily basis. Most people only volunteer during the holidays. This site will be a good place to critique your work and ask questions if your recipe doesn't hit the mark.....Good luck.......ChefBillyB
Joined Oct 1, 2006
Hi Gordfather,

Just a thought, how about trying to make the perfect Onion Soup at home as an edible exercise? Evidently you will have some real good stock on hand! After you clean, slice or chop the first hundred or so onions, your knife skills will improve... OK, part humor, but true. A place I worked served 8oz of mushrooms on every steak we served. Got real fast slicing mushrooms after the first hundred pounds.

After the breakfast and lunch services are normally prep times, maybe you could show up ready to stay and work. If they do have something for you to do, keep your eyes and ears open, and ask them to demonstrate. Let them know you want to meet their standard for quality and minimal waste. An example really helps both of you to get what you want.

If you know a woodworker, maybe a custom highchair that the little one can reach the counter and help? Helpish isn't really a word but an 18 month old doesn't really help much either? LOL

If you have a more specific question, you will get more specific answers.

Keep having fun! No doubt people can taste the passion you include in your food!
Joined Feb 3, 2018
John, question do you have the best not toy, but a brilliant piece of kitchen equipment?
You have have to experience a Combination Steam oven.
I have 2 x 60 cm full steam combination ovens in my kitchen, as well as a 900 cm free standing oven, with a gas top.
They are not only an oven, they steam, bake, sous vide, prove, make yogurt, combo steam and heat, as well as being a normal oven. Just list to few of the applications of these amazing pieces of kitchen equipment.
My normal 900 oven is now rarely used.
I have had my ovens, I am guessing nearing 2 years.
Like you, I have all the equipment to make life easy in the kitchen as well.
I would give all of those items away, if I had to to, just to keep my ovens.
I must confess, I had used commercial Combi Ovens within the industry for many years.
Sceptical when I first viewed domestic ones, the better brands, are are every bit as good as the commercial machines.
If you want any more information, I am very happy to point you in the right direction, in terms of the brands.
I did a great deal of research, prior to the purchase of my first one.
Mine are both of the same brand.

Last edited by a moderator:
Top Bottom