5@5 - Robert Irvine
December 22nd, 2010
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

For amateur cooks, stepping inside the kitchen can result in an eclectic menu of anxiety, food in need of some serious salt, or potentially, a lesson in fire safety.

To all those home cooks seeking redemption in 2011, Chef Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s "Worst Cook in America" and "Restaurant Impossible," is here to help the cause.

With just a handful of easy rules and techniques, Chef Irvine believes that even the most culinarily challenged can become more kitchen saavy in the New Year.

Now, go forth and show that risotto who's boss. (Hint: it's you.)

Five Things You Must Master to Become an Expert Cook in 2011: Robert Irvine

1. Taste as you go.
"It’s simple: if you don’t taste your dish until the end of the cooking process, how will you ever know if it’s seasoned correctly? Develop the habit of tasting your food throughout the preparation process. One tip to internalize: you should never have to salt your food at the table if seasoned correctly beforehand. This can also lead to more confidence in experimenting with spices and flavors you might not otherwise have had a chance to try."

2. Learn how to cook vegetables.
"Not only are vegetables the centerpiece of a healthy, well-balanced diet, but every adult should master the skill of cooking fresh veggies. The good news is that it’s actually really easy. Serve them as a side dish, or change things up with vegetarian-friendly main courses, such as my Salad of The Greens with Fennel, Mint and Orange or my Terra Firma Vegetable Medley. You’ll feel better and be taking advantage of a delicious level of the food pyramid, all at the same time."

3. Take the time to learn basic knife skills.
"Basic knife skills make a cook’s life far simpler (and safer): prep time is quicker, fewer accidents will occur in the kitchen, and at the end of the day, knife skills are one of the fundamental basics of the kitchen. Invest in a good set of knives, and if you take care of them properly, they will last you a lifetime.  To the point of learning to cook vegetables, mastering knife skills will allow you to cut those squash, peppers, cucumber, etc. the same size, which means the vegetables will cook evenly."

4. A blender is a cook’s best friend.
"After knives, the blender is second in the list of tools you should acquire if you are serious about mastering the kitchen in 2011. A blender will allow you to make almost any sauce imaginable, but soups as well.  Additionally, smoothies are a year-round breakfast treat, and nothing starts your morning off right like blending together a mix of orange juice, bananas and strawberries."

5. Understand temperature control.
"While serving as a team captain for the "Worst Cooks in America" blue team, I learned that the number one kitchen mess up is temperature control. By following a recipe’s instructions on heat and the various levels needed throughout most recipes, taking the time to educate oneself will eliminate the smell (and taste) of burnt food in your kitchen forever."

Experts: Any more tips for the amateur cook? And amateurs: Are there any particular dishes you can't master? Let us know and if it's a recurring trend, we might help you out in an upcoming feature.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Holidays • New Year's • Think

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Joan

    My list would include two of the five:

    1. Learn basic knife skills. Use and maintain a GOOD set of knives for safety's sake. All you really need to start is a chef's knife, a paring knife, and a serrated bread knife. Expect to pay ~$200-300 for just these three. Don't fall for the el cheapo set in the block for $50 at Walmart–they'll rust, bend, break, and become dangerously dull.

    2. Taste as you go. Also SMELL as you go. Like wine, food has a nose. You can learn creativity by smelling ingredients before and as they're combined.

    3. Use recipes as guidelines. Don't panic if you run out of something or don't have it available. Improvisation in the kitchen is a good thing, and while you may make some mistakes, you may also make masterpieces.

    4. Don't become a slave to your measuring devices. Have you ever seen a chef on TV use measuring spoons or cups? Again, most measurements in recipes are to be used as guidelines, not laws. Be flexible.

    5. 99% of all "gourmet" recipes start with sauteéing onions and/or garlic in olive oil. Once you have this base going, you can add just about any veggie or meat, a little salt/pepper, some herbs/spices, and have a fantastic meal. Experiment.

    December 29, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  2. Tee Jay

    My 5 tips would be.... Get good heavy stainless steel cookware and learn how to take care of it..... Buy a good set of knives and take care of them.... One or two good books for reference, Joy of Cooking is excellent.... Temperature control, don't use high unless boiling water or blackening..... Turn off the tube, stay in the kitchen, and PAY ATTENTION! I have to also agree with "taste as you go" for 5b.

    December 22, 2010 at 11:03 pm |

    If I were to give someone five tips to become an expert cook, I sure would not waste a tip on buying a blender. Maybe tip five should be buy a Slap-Chop.

    December 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
  4. Paul W from Santa Clara

    Here are a couple of drop-dead simple tips that will make you a better cook no matter what your skill level.
    – Broil instead of Bake. Get the benefit of baking, but brown your food at the same time
    – Reduce. If you have a sauce or soup, homemade or from the jar, just simmer at a low temperature. Reduce water content and increase flavor.
    – Parboil Arborio Rice before you make Risotto.
    – Pound partially-thawed meat. Ice crystals obliterate meat fibers so you super-tenderize meat
    – Try marinating a roast for 2 weeks

    December 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
    • Joan

      Didn't know about ice crystals in meat. Thanks for the tip! :)

      December 29, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  5. Ryan

    Is this a joke? Robert Irvine? He was fired from the Food Network for fabricating lies on his resume like claiming he baked a cake for the royal's wedding and he attended Leed's University to get his job. I can't take this blog seriously anymore, using someone like him for an article!

    December 22, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  6. Superchik

    I can boil water! :D

    December 22, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  7. scott

    I tend to undercook everything! Help! Probably need to learn how to use a meat thermometer, but I can never get the timing right on any meats it seems, then i cut at the table and guess what, 2 mins in the microwave...

    December 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
    • Joan

      Meat thermometers should go in the thickest part of the meat. I usually move mine around a bit to different areas, and go by the lowest reading. Thicker, denser meat naturally takes longer to cook. Make sure your oven is hot enough. If you're afraid of over-browning, just cover with a foil tent. This will actually help internalize the heat as well, which will help reduce the time. Good luck! :)

      December 29, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  8. Damien

    use a blender or robo coop to make my hollandaise and you're fired,using a blender to do the things you're describing does not make you a master cook, it makes you a hack and it's one of the things that separate a master cook from a short order cook

    December 22, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
  9. Damien

    and #5??? really i think that has more to do with health department regulations and food borne illness

    December 22, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  10. Damien

    what's sad is #3 on your list isn't being taught at some culinary schools, i had to teach an intern how to properly hold a mushroom to cut, he was 2 weeks short of graduating and had paid over 20k for his degree

    December 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  11. really?

    Was this article a joke? There was absolutely no clout to this article at all. Next you can print something about being a better driver; 1. Put your hands on the wheel..... Come on.

    December 22, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
  12. Chaz Romano (not real name. take that CNN)

    i am 18 and have almost mastered knife skills. i can medium dice an onion in 30 seconds.

    December 22, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
  13. vel

    Get a Joy of Cooking. Do what it says. No, you *don't* know better. Then when you mastered the basics, you can do anything. No one in my family was a good cook. I decided to become one. And that's how.

    December 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
    • Ian

      Yes, absolutely. Aside from an old gem of my mothers (a 70's edition of the Purina (Flour) Cookbook), the Joy of Cooking is indispensable. The basic bread recipe alone is worth the cost, not to mention the detailed ingredient descriptions, techniques, and most other useful knowledge.

      I can't think of one other cookbook I would rather have, and I could do very well with it alone.

      December 22, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  14. Dave the 1st

    F-in customers!!!
    Nice one truth.

    December 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • Truth

      I have learned to mark my calendar as "unavailable" from 1500 to 1530 each day...:)

      December 22, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
      • wendy@truth

        wish i could... that's in the middle of pricing... just by luck i saw it! :)

        December 22, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
      • Dave the 1st

        yeah, wish I could too. Got a very nice customer that had a serious problem. It was my co-workers that screwed it up.

        December 22, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  15. RichardHead

    Next to Symon this is the next guy I dislike.

    December 22, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  16. Queen of Everything@All

    Damn! I missed it! Oh well, I'd hit that like a Mack truck.....twice.

    December 22, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • wendy


      December 22, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Queen of Everything

      That accent...those arms...that chest. Awww sookie, sookie now.

      December 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  17. Jdizzle Mchammerpants

    I’d hit it. NOT

    Then the dutchie.

    Paaassss the dutchie pon de lef’ han’ side!

    December 22, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  18. wendy


    December 22, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  19. Truth

    NOT hittitng that

    December 22, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
    • Truth

      BOO YA!

      December 22, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • wendy

      D@MN refresh button!
      i'd not hit it...
      dutchie here please...

      December 22, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Jdizzle Mchammerpants

      They tricked me! I was looking for a picture, then happened to see the link off to the right with yesterdays article still displayed.

      Well, Played Eatocracy (and Truth) Well played......

      December 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
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