Can’t boil an egg? Professional chef tips on how to go from zero to kitchen hero

Keeping things simple in the early stages is key to culinary success

One-fifth of Brits have admitted they’re useless in the kitchen, with a quarter of us saying we can’t even boil an egg.

This is according to a cooking report from Waitrose, which also found that only 18 per cent of us have made a salad dressing, and less than half – 45 per cent – have baked a Victoria sponge cake.

Some of us however, are more confident, with 45 per cent describing their cooking skills as “fairly good”.

But for those with nothing going in the kitchen department, we’ve rounded up the quickest tips from the hottest chefs to take you from cooking zero to hero before dinnertime.

1. Keep it simple

“Use recipes that you can achieve in less than an hour and don’t involve too many ingredients and processes,” advises Great British Menu finalist Avinash Shashidhara (Avi). “It helps build your confidence and makes you want to cook again.”

Millie Simpson, kitchen manager at Sauce, Michel Roux Jr’s cookery school at The Langham Hotel, agrees. “It’s best not to read a recipe, buy ingredients and prepare a new dish all in one day, especially if [you are] entertaining,” she points out. “Allow yourself some time, get prepared, maybe even do a practice run before showcasing the recipe to friends or family.”

2. Get organised

“Mise en place [the setup of ingredients beforehand] is key,” says chef Dipna Anand, co-owner of famous Southall restaurant Brilliant as well as Dipna at Somerset House. “Get your prep out the way. So when you’re making a curry, chop your onions and green chillies. Make your ginger and garlic paste, purée your tomatoes, chop your coriander and refrigerate all of this.

“You can even do this two to three days in advance. When you’re ready, get all the prep out the fridge and you can dish up that curry within 20 minutes.”

A quarter of Brits are still struggling with boiling an egg (Photo: Getty)

3. Watch and learn

“YouTube is a brilliant tool,” says Will Murray, chef patron of Fallow restaurant. “There are countless videos on filleting a fish, sharpening a knife, making a sauce – pretty much anything is available to watch (and for free).”

He also recommends TV shows like Saturday Kitchen to get enjoyment and inspiration from food.

4. Use your senses

“Cook with your senses – taste, smell, touch,” says Avi, head chef of Pahli Hill Bandra Bhai, where his menu is inspired by Mumbai’s home kitchens. “Most recipes are not 100 per cent accurate so you can give them your own touch. Cooking will always be a trial and error process and it’s not a big deal if you mess up a recipe.”

“By touching and smelling ingredients you get to know so much more about them,” agrees Manuel Prota, head chef at Italian restaurant Jacuzzi. “For example, if something is ripe, or how best to chop it so you’re not going against the grain.”

5. Buy a pro knife

“The first thing anyone needs to start cooking at home is a professional chef knife,” says Sameer Taneja, executive chef of London’s Benares restaurant. “Sounds fancy but trust me, it makes all the difference in enjoying your meal prepping.”

6. Cook the books

“I think the best way to get yourself into cooking is to completely consume yourself in cookery books,” says Will Murray. Murray recommends Michael Ruhlman’s book, Ratio, for those “wanting to brush up on their skills”.

Getting to know and trust one decent cookbook can help you more than a hundred recipes grabbed from different online sources. We know that Delia Smith’s classic One is Fun!, first published in 1985, taught a generation of cooks, but there’s something out there to suit everyone. Avi recommends The River Café Cook Book Easy for its simple, seasonal and elegant dishes. Manuel says The Flavour Thesaurus is the bible for both beginners and advanced cooks.

My own favourite for new cooks, especially those starting university or moving into their first flat, is Lindsay Bareham’s A Wolf in the Kitchen, which has hardly aged in a quarter of a century, and gives advice on shopping and cupboard essentials as well as covering loads of skills.

7. Write it down

“Get a recipe notebook to write down recipes that you have done and want to make again, this helps you improve on what you have done before,” says Giovann Attard, executive head chef of Sicilian-inspired restaurant, Norma. “I think becoming an amazing home cook or a professional chef starts from loving to eat great food, trying different things and experiencing flavour combinations.

8. Visualise the whole experience, from shopping to eating

“Formula 1 drivers close their eyes and imagine completing the whole race-course before turning on the ignition,” says Chris Galvin, chef patron at Galvin Restaurants. “Home cooks should do the same and envision the cooking process from start to finish before they start chopping away.”

9. Make it fun

“Try and enjoy the process and make it a fun activity by cooking with your partner, friend or flatmate,” says Avi. “I love asking my mum and family members to talk me through family recipes and to help using alternatives for ingredients that aren’t available.”

10. Do it with love

“The best result comes from emotion,” says Manuel Prota. “Don’t be shy to start cooking for people that you love. It will make you more focused because you’ll want to make something that brings them joy.”

11. Taste your food as you go

“Focus on the flavour and seasoning in the beginning,” says Millie. “The presentation can always be worked on later but make your food delicious and generous and you’ll always have happy guests.”

12. Get feedback

“Use social media to your advantage,” says Dipna. “When I cook a dish I take a picture of the finished dish and pics of the process too. I then post these and get lots of people asking questions and commenting on it. That inspires me to make more and cook more often.”

Learning how to make sauces will instantly expand your repertoire (Photo: jhoenack/500px/Getty)

13. Learn your sauces

I’m not sure those who say they can’t boil an egg are ready for hollandaise, but if you could do both you’d have a very quick and fabulous dish at your fingertips. “A good sauce can elevate lots of dishes,” says Millie. “Start with the classics such as mayonnaise, hollandaise, pesto, condiments, dressings. Once you conquer the basics you are free to explore and put your own creative twist on things.”

14. Don’t leave things to the last minute

“Most home cooks don’t account for sufficient time to prepare a meal, which tends to be lengthier than the actual cooking time on the recipe,” says Chris Galvin. “You have to carve out time to go shopping, really think about the recipe you’d like to create, and make the shopping experience something you look forward to rather than seeing it as a chore.”

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