A self-trained “chef”

Would you believe me if I told you that I used to be the pickiest eater? I mean, if it wasn’t pasta or cheese-based, fugghetaboutit. My favorite food, in fact, was Goldfish. I’d eat an entire ZipLock sandwich bag filled to the BRIM every single day and then come home and have more. Hello, my name is Jessica, and I have an addiction to Pepperidge Farm bite-sized orange-colored snack food. Well, I used to. And then my mom had this dish that’s out of this Southern cookbook titled GoodnessGracious. Perfect right? Let me just lay it out for you. First you bring angel hair pasta to just before al dente, then you stir in like half a cup of butter until it absorbs, then you stir in a cup of milk until that absorbs then you stir in half a cup of parmesan (or more “to your liking”). It’s absolute heaven and I’ve eaten an entire POUND of it in one sitting..more than once.

Now, when I was younger I was dancing roughly 20-30 hours a week, burning almost every single calorie I consumed – I never thought or had to think or was taught to think that it mattered what food I ate. At 21 when I stopped dancing my eating habits sure didn’t, but also being so young my metabolism stayed strong for a little while and I kept eating without abandon or awareness. Until the year I graduated college, I was 22 going on 23 and my habits finally started to catch up to me. Dancing had kept my figure lean and toned, and I went to the gym in college after I stopped dancing, so I was pretty taken aback when my clothes stopped fitting. And I just wouldn’t stand for it. It was around this time that I also noticed my skin breaking out… a lot. After some research and self-exploration I learned it was due to a dairy allergy. And I did a video-blog about that here, so please give it a listen/watch if you want to know more about that journey! Long story short, once I cut out dairy I had to get creative with eating because 6 years ago the “dairy free thing” was just getting going. Sure there were plenty of vegans living in Boulder and many vegan options at restaurants, but I still wanted my meat dangit! And finding an animal protein dish sans dairy that wasn’t a burger or a salad or french fries was an adventure.

Something else interesting happened while I was in college, I had a dramatic tastebud shift. Growing up I was intolerant to anything over-seasoned with even black pepper, I just found it too spicy! Green bell peppers have a little capsaicin (the spicy compound of peppers) in them, and even eating those would turn my heat up. I do not like them Sam I am, I do not like green peppers and ham. My bland and under-seasoned palate just wouldn’t entertain the idea of more “adventurous” food. But once I couldn’t eat dairy products and was cooking on my own, I began to realize I liked more food than I ever knew. And by age 25 I was cooking full-blown and perfectly seasoned Thanksgiving meals for dozens of people. I even brined a turkey for 48 hours. #ImSoFancy

So how did I get there? Practice, for one. I only took on recipes that were mildly spiced, so no cayenne or chili powder just yet, and less than and hour to prepare and cook. Ok, I have to be honest. I did work in a restaurant kitchen as a line cook for a brewpub. I was trained how to handle a knife and how to properly cut onions and garlic and tomatoes, and make guacamole (but my current recipe is better, haha). But by no means was I professionally trained in a culinary school, professional environment. And hardly anything we made was more difficult than a chicken quesadilla, which if you think about it just a Mexican grilled cheese with meat.

  1. Get comfortable with your knife skills. YouTube is a vast resource, and you should know how to use more than just your steak knives if you want to be a proficient home cook. Trick question, how do you catch a falling knife? I bet that made you think.
  2. Take a food group you like, most people like pasta, and when you get tired of reheating Ragu or Prego tomato sauce from a jar just Google “pasta recipes” like I did here:

    See? SO MANY OPTIONS. And you don’t have cook every single one or know every single ingredient, but this is part of the process where the curiosity drives us to be spontaneous. This is where we redefine our “comfort zone”, blending what we know we like and inviting new possibilities for other things we may like. Because you probably haven’t had these exact dishes before you don’t have a barometer for how good they “should” be and you’ll end up really enjoying what you make!

    And I don’t know what delish.com is but you better believe I’m going to check it out.

    And last but not least…

  3. Sit at the chef’s counter at restaurants when you can. Watch the chefs make your food. It’s quite a symphony, and when you sit there taking in the smells wafting over to you, watching them swirl a sauce around a pan, tasting as they go (and using new spoons of course), and eventually they intentionally and delicately finish your meal with it, you will fall more in love with every bite, every time. You quite literally taste the love and care that went into making your meal complete. I find it hypnotizing and also viscerally inspiring…obviously.

So, those are my tips, for now. Soon you too will be ogling the Michelin Star restaurants from all over the world and planning your vacations around what you want to eat or what you want to try to eat! Stay tuned for my posts on my favorite cooking tools,utensils and staples for your pantry and fridge.

Bon Appetit y’all

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