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dotIf you want to get into this hobby, you must be prepared to chop, slice and hack. You'll have to fry, boil and broil. You must have the stomach to debone, julienne and dice. You'll need the courage to peel, whip and baste. Don't worry -- it's not medieval torture you're getting into! It's cooking, where you'll also get to taste the product of your labor.

dotCooking is a hobby in which you prepare foods to create interesting and appetizing dishes. Cooking is both an art and a science -- you'll develop both an artistic flair for flavors and knowledge of techniques and ingredients.

dotThere's a big difference between cooking just to keep yourself from starving and cooking as a hobby.

"I think when you cook as a hobby you don't necessarily even prepare things you like to eat, but rather things that are fun, interesting or fiddly to prepare," says Amy Gale. Sometimes she prepares mushrooms and bakes fruitcakes, both of which she hates to eat!

dotThe key to enjoying this hobby is to like the cooking, even if you don't necessarily want to do ALL the eating.

"Lots of people like to eat, but don't necessarily like to cook," says Marni Wolberg, a cooking enthusiast. "I think the difference lies in the amount of enjoyment you get out of the cooking process."

dotYou can cook anywhere you have a kitchen and enough counter space to work. You will also need a considerable number of essential tools. Wayne Fagan, a professional chef, recommends buying these basics:

  • A good set of pots and pans -- they should have a fairly thick bottom and provide even heat distribution
  • A decent paring knife and a cook's knife -- look for high quality stainless steel
  • Wooden spoons
  • Wire whisks
  • Non-rust bakeware
  • Spatula
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Colander
  • Garlic press

dotIf you buy it all new, cooking utensils could cost a small fortune. Phillis Isaachson works with the James Beard Foundation, a nonprofit organization in New York City dedicated to food appreciation and the art of cooking. He estimates that a set of pots and pans is about $350. A set of quality knives can run up to $250.

dotYou might try shopping at garage sales and flea markets -- you might get a deal on some items. The important things to spend money on are good knives and pots.

dotIn addition to the basic tools, a good cookbook is required.

"Get one that's more like a reference book, so you know where to start if you need to know how to make a particular sauce, or how long to cook a roast, or what the basic ingredients are for making your own pasta," says cooking enthusiast Ron West.

dotA sense of adventure is important for an aspiring cook. You have to be willing to take some chances and realize that everyone has a few spills in the kitchen. "Most of my disasters have been limited and fixable, like a pot of oil igniting, stuff burning so badly I had to use Drano to clean the pot, and the toaster oven bursting into flames," says Wolberg.

dotMost cooking enthusiasts admit to a few cooking accidents, but they say there are some things you can do to avoid making common mistakes.

"Not reading the recipe right through to the end before starting is a really common mistake. So is using poorly thought-out substitutions. I cringed once watching a friend use powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar to make cookies," says Wolberg. Likewise, margarine doesn't always work well in place of butter and yes, eggs are important.

dotWhile it's difficult to determine exactly how many people are involved in cooking as a hobby, it's pretty safe to say that the number is large. Just look at all the shops and magazines that cater to cooks!

The James Beard Foundation has about 4,000 members. There is also a large number of professional cooks. The International Association of Culinary Professionals in Kentucky has about 2,500 members.

dotWhile cooking has always been necessary for survival, more people are getting involved in cooking for fun. Many people who have traditionally stayed away from the kitchen are picking up some pots and pans.

"I find that men are becoming more interested in cooking and I think the younger women are starting to see that it can be fun and enjoyable," says Fagan.

dotA flair for cooking can lead to a career in the kitchen, as a cook or chef, sous chef or pastry chef. Others have gone into careers in catering.

"I've done a bit of catering in the past for special occasions," says Wolberg. "It's just a part-time thing though, because I didn't want my hobby to become a chore."

dotBoth hobbyists and professionals share a love of working with food.

"A good chef is passionate about working with food," says Anne Gardiner, who teaches culinary science. She also writes a column called The Inquisitive Cook with teaching partner Sue Wilson.

For those who want to go pro, Gardiner has this advice: "Cook as much as you can until basic methods and techniques become second nature. And don't forget that the art of cooking goes hand-in-hand with culinary science."

Getting Started

dotRegardless of whether you're cooking for fun or profit, gourmet cooking can be healthy and rewarding.

"There's a real feeling of satisfaction when you've created a successful dish and other people like it," says West, whose favorite dishes are Greek, Italian or Chinese. "There's something magical about cooking in a wok."

dotIf you want to get cooking with a fun and tasty hobby, here are some tips to help you get started:

"Experiment a bit and start with something simple. Don't try to be too fancy at first -- and watch the spices. Most importantly, just do it, and share your creations with someone," advises West.

dotFind a friend who likes to cook. Ask if you can look over their shoulder while they cook. It's a great way to learn. Start small and gather knowledge and tips along the way.

dotWhile the experts say there's nothing like just getting in the kitchen and cooking to learn, there are some things that can help you feel more comfortable. Try signing up for a cooking class at a local college or community center. You can find out about courses by calling these places or by asking at a kitchen store. There are also lots of cooking shows on TV that allow you to watch the experts slice and dice.


James Beard Foundation

International Association of Culinary Professionals

American Culinary Federation


Bon Appetit

The Joy of Cooking,
by  Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
Round the World Cookbook,
by  Marguerite Patten
Meals Without Meat,
by  Marion Raymond


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