Using "The Professional Chef" as a self-teaching guide?

Joined Jun 24, 2018
Hey everyone! I recently got hired as a prep cook and it's my first kitchen experience. My goal is to see whether I'd like to stay in the industry (big yes so far) and to rise up through the ranks. I'd like to get as much knowledge as possible in order to be able to swoop in when the opportunity of a line cook comes along. I recently inherited a copy of the newest edition of the book and decided I'm going to read through it and teach myself the basics. I know it's typically used in classes, so what would your suggestions be for making the most out of it at home? What should I learn first, and what is most important? Also, what could I use as supplementary materials (if you know of any good youtube videos, discussions, etc.?). Thanks in advance!
Joined Aug 15, 2003
Well, the book is really designed to be used in conjunction with classroom/real world cooking. It's one thing to read all about making a stock or sauce, but to then apply the theory to real life is where the real learning takes place.

You could potentially practice at home, but since you are already a prep cook my advice would be to work on your craft on the job and practice what you read there.

The only catch is that your chef may have differing views on things or say/do things that aren't exactly "textbook." You may read that ideal temperature for cooking a chicken stock is, say, 180f, but your chef wants you to just boil the hell out of it. The "correct" answer is usually just do what the chef wants you to do.

Now, I absolutely recommend reading and practicing from that book where you can. The fundamentals are likely excellent and once you know the "proper" way to do something it can become easier to adapt. But there is no substitute for experience.

I hope you have found yourself in a real kitchen with a real chef--who makes food from scratch and doesn't take short cuts or open packets, etc. It doesn't have to be fine dining, or fancy, but working with a real person side by side every day who can and will teach you techniques is invaluable. Most successful chefs have at least one formative chef that gave them the basic tools to spread out and learn the rest.

If you are not in a place with a real chef who can teach you things and will answer questions, I suggest you make a list of the top 5 or 10 restaurants in your area and try to get a job there. Maybe do that after 6mos to a year working in your current gig. A little experience might help you get your foot in the door.

You might look into any local community college culinary programs in your can take 1 or 2 classes there that may serve you well in teaching basics. You don't have to go on to get an AA or BS if you don't want to.
Joined Sep 26, 2017
If you are serious about teaching yourself, you'll have an easier time with the book "Professional Cooking (9th edition)".

I find it easier to read, less boring, and more comprehensive than "The Professional Chef". The information is also more updated.
Joined Oct 1, 2006
Hi Luma and welcome to CT!

My opinion-

My number one rule in Food Service is "Don't get anyone sick". Read the sections that apply to Sanitation and Food Safety. At least to get a good feel for how to handle PHFs safely. It doesn't matter how good something looks or tastes, if someone gets sick... (Keep an eye open for how long that raw chicken, raw fish, etc. is sitting unrefrigerated, the knives and cutting surfaces where they sat, etc.)

Knife skills will help in any kitchen and any cuisine. A really good skill is dealing with onions. Trimming, dicing, slicing, julienne
because virtually every cuisine on the planet uses onions. Make some onion soup and observe how the bigger pieces are still white and crunchy while the smaller pieces are soft and translucent. Uniformity evens that out and applies to everything you prep. For the rest of your life!

Read the sections that cover the menu items that you work on, are likely to work on, and that they serve at your work place.

Learning general cooking information is great, it really is critical, but only as useful as learning aerodynamics is to actually flying an airplane. You do need both!

To echo someday someday , think of work as a school, a place to put into practice what you read. THE CHEF is always "right"... Not really but, until you want to find a different job don't argue, file it away for use in the future...

You might want to let the Chef know what you are doing. It is possible that he/she could actually help you and provide training opportunities, and lesson material guidance. Maybe even some books or other suggested reading. It could also appeal to their ego because you are saying "I want to be like you". Even if that is the last thing you want! LOL

Take the job and the work seriously, but don't lose your sense of humor! If you can continue to enjoy the insanity of a commercial kitchen, you have a chance!

Good Luck!
Joined Aug 15, 2003
Learn the 6 mother sauces and all their small Sauces. Also Learn the big 13 cooking methods.

6? o_O

Meh, I can count on one hand the number of times I've made the classic mother sauces after I left culinary school. What is the 6th mother sauce? Do they teach that now? Vinaigrette? Mayonaisse? lol...

Actually I guess I've made hollandaise/bernaise quite a few times, so that might be a good one to learn.

But yes, I agree, learning cooking methods is key!
Joined Jan 11, 2018
Every Italian place serves Tomato Sauce

Every Steakhouse Serves Brown Sauce/ Demi Glace.

Mac and Cheese is always best with a Bechamel Base.

Hollandaise is on every menu.

Veloute is a bit old school, but some chefs use it still i guess??

SIX :)
Joined Aug 15, 2003
That’s only 5....

Also tomato sauce from escoffier is way different than a marinara style tomato.

Real espagnole includes roux, etc. nowadays we just reduce.

You might be right though, maybe just knowing the mother sauced is valuable. Hard to say, IMO.
Joined Jan 11, 2018
"The professional Chef" Says Brown Sauce and Demi Glace are two different sauces, bu that is obviously debatable.

Besides the point, it is good to know these and how they can be used in a professional Kitchen.
Joined May 5, 2010
I don't know fellow culinarians, but reading and studying a book is not going to teach you how to make a sauce or use a knife.

Chef Aaron B

"Every Italian place serves Tomato Sauce"
oh you mean Marinara.....2 different things

Every Steakhouse Serves Brown Sauce/ Demi Glace.
Pfft...not really

Mac and Cheese is always best with a Bechamel Base.
I'll give you this one, unfortunately many places use packaged convenience products

Hollandaise is on every menu.
When I see Eggs Benedict on the menu for under $10.00, I know it's not real

Veloute is a bit old school, but some chefs use it still i guess??
Some things are never out of style

SIX :)
Joined May 30, 2015
The Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child are also two great books to expand your repertoire of recipes. I built my repertoire from these books, and I learned technique from Emeril Lagasse. Best 3 teachers I ever had & never met.
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