In this article from Salon, an excerpt from Mark Bittman’s essay in Man with a Pan, Bittman describes the four stages of learning to cook.
In the first stage, you follow recipes exactly. I definitely remember doing this and when I am outside of my comfort zone, I still sometimes do.
In the second stage, you can compare recipes from various places and see what the differences are. You might have some preferences and have tweaked the recipe a little bit to the way you like it better. This reminds me of my mom’s cookies–she never quite follows the recipe, but it’s really close. She has learned what she prefers.
In the third stage, you are starting to put together the things you have learned. You can wing it with the things you know. “This is the stage at which you bring cookbooks to bed, looking for links and inspiration.” I think this stage is a lot of fun, where you are constantly getting ideas from the recipes you see. It makes cooking magazines and blogs extra-fun.
In the fourth stage, you can fully cook. You can take whatever is available and go for it, even if you don’t know what it’s going to be when you start out.
When I was progressing into stage three, I didn’t even realize that there was a difference between how I was cooking and how I used to cook. Gavin helped me understand this–we would buy a new vegetable and I would do some research on the internet. He would expect me to print a recipe, but I would just wing it based on what I had learned.
I believe I’m currently somewhere between stages three and four. I definitely don’t get as much inspiration as I once did from looking at other recipes, but I still enjoy it. I don’t know how to make everything, but I do know how to make a lot of things, even things I have never made before, like salmon cakes. I’ve really enjoyed progressing to this point.
What stage do you think you are in?