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Ed Maxwell Cooks for Family & Friends
Ed Maxwell is a frequent contributor to thecookscook.com and The Cook’s Cook Community Forum on Facebook. His plating and photography of his mouth-watering dishes are always an inspiration. We asked Ed to write about his personal culinary journey, and were surprised to learn that cooking is Ed’s passion, not his vocation. The self-taught home chef […]
I started cooking while in high school, out of necessity. My stepmother’s cooking consisted mainly of prepackaged meals and frozen diet dinners. I knew there were better things out there, so I began cooking dinner occasionally. I had to fend for myself in the kitchen when I left home at 18. Things were not financially easy, so my ingredients were not abundant. This was the 80s and television cooking shows were just beginning to get popular. I watched every episode of the Great Chefs series and all the other publicly broadcast cooking shows. Jacques, Julia, Lydia, Emeril were all my idols.
After I got married and things got better financially, my interest in cooking really blossomed. I had someone to cook for and could afford the ingredients.
I bought a culinary school textbook (On Cooking) and started studying it. I would recommend this to all cooks at every level. It is an invaluable resource.
Learning knife skills is huge! Too many skip this part. Don’t.
I started collecting cookbooks and recreating the lovely dishes I saw and learned about. The Beautiful Cookbook Series books were always on my coffee table. The big pictures had me dreaming of travel and foods from all over the world. The internet has replaced my beloved cookbooks for the most part, these days, but I still keep my favorite print books close at hand.
Years went by and my wife and I now entertain our friends and family with dinner parties and large gatherings. I built a pit and roasted a whole pig for my daughter’s graduation. You learn a lot about what can be done ahead of time when you’re forced to do it. You also learn about estimating quantities of food when you cook for a crowd. My best advice on throwing events is to have as much done as possible the day before. This is your party and your guests came to see you. You need to make yourself available and enjoy all the hard work you did.
As I have gotten older, I have also been fortunate enough to be able to collect quite a large amount of kitchen equipment. It has taken 40+ years of garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores and just plain shopping to accumulate the tools I work with. I often look for single unique plates to photograph my food. Having a few plates of different color and pattern will really make your food look better. If you can’t do this, get a white plate. Almost nothing clashes with white. Last tip is take lots of pics. You made the plate pretty, now take no less than ten shots, moving the camera in out, rotating the plate etc. You can then pick your favorite shot. A small rechargeable ring light really helps too.
I have collected many knives as well as books, kitchen and tableware, and I love each one for its uniqueness. I don’t recommend knife sets when starting out. Pick up a quality chef’s knife that feels good in your hands and matches your cutting style– are you more of a slicer or a chopper? You should also get a sharp paring knife. Again, one that feels just right in your hand. Also a serrated bread knife, a filet knife, and a cleaver of some sort (I like the Japanese nakiri.) Learn to sharpen your knives and to care for them and you will have them for a lifetime. I keep mine on magnetic blocks or in a chef’s roll.
My cooking these days is most influenced by sites like The Cook’s Cook. I get to collect ideas and adjust them to my palate. That’s what learning to cook is about. Learn the cooking techniques and flavor combinations you like and then apply them to what you have available to work with.