I’ve been cooking professionally since I was 22 years old, but I began my life in the kitchen when I was 10. I didn’t know it at the time, but my obsession with the 1972 edition of The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook would blossom into not only a love of cooking, but a love of learning about anything and everything related to food. I devoured cookbooks like novels. I became obsessed with the Sunday cooking shows on PBS. The reason I made food my career was because I could learn something new every day for the rest of my life and still probably know less than 1% of all there is to know. It’s an ongoing journey, a lifelong study, and after 15 years I still find myself amazed by so many “new to me” discoveries. When you love something the way I love food, you never find yourself far away from your sense of wonder.
Today, somebody asked me about the best piece of cooking advice I’d ever gotten, and I didn’t know how to respond. My life has been full of thousands of wonderful pieces of advice that have made me a little bit better at what I do every single day, and I have to pick only one? I can’t possibly determine which one is best, but I do know which one comes up most often when I’m teaching or answering questions on Twitter, and it is this: whenever a dish is “missing something,” 70% of the time, that something is acid. Most people’s instincts (my younger self included) will try to fix the dish with herbs, spices, salt, or “secret ingredients.” Seriously, seven times out of ten, all you need is a squirt of lemon or a teaspoon or two of vinegar. You might not even notice the flavor, but you will notice that it feels more alive. The other 30% of the time, the thing that is missing is salt, and it’s important to add it a little bit at a time while continually tasting. That reminds me of another piece of sage advice that should be drilled into your brain: You can always add more of something, but you can’t take it away. Always err on the side of under-seasoning, because then you can make an adjustment. Go overboard with the salt/ spices/whatever, you’re just going to have to suck it up and feast on your mistakes.
What’s the best piece of cooking advice you’ve ever been given? Leave them in the comments so we can all get a little bit smarter.