When I was twenty-three, my cooking skills consisted of little more than boiling water and scrambling eggs. I survived college and the subsequent years by making macaroni and ordering takeout. I’d always wanted to cook from scratch, but since I came from a noncooking family and lived in New York City, I had neither the resources nor the necessity to learn. Most people I knew in Manhattan used their ovens as storage space. to store their sweaters.
In the fall of 2003, a cable fluke opened my eyes to the culinary world: I was erroneously granted access to the Food Network. Since my only other options were Telemundo and QVC, I started spending my time watching cooking shows. I watched chefs deglaze a pan, I watched them chop, dice, and sauté, and I absorbed the basics of how to construct and prepare a dish.
One Christmas, my roommate and I planned an elaborate Christmas dinner. My usual contribution would have been setting the table and buying a pie, but this year I surprised her by offering to sauté some mushrooms for our side dish. As I began, I imagined I was Ina Garten or Michael Chiarello—what would they have added? I melted some butter in a sauté pan, mixed in some fresh garlic and shallots, threw in the mushrooms, and added salt, pepper, and chicken stock, and—voilà!—I had created something tasty and delicious.
My skills have progressed to the point where I now make almost everything from scratch, from boiling my own stock to frying my own tortillas. It all started with mushrooms, but I’m now a bona fide cook who can whip up almost anything, anytime. If anyone from the Food Network is watching, here’s a big thank-you from me—and from my hungry fiancé.
Next in the My Go-to Dish Series: Giddy with the Power of Garlic
Recipe: Sautéed Mushrooms alla Alli
Twelve Creative Dishes That Combine Dinner and Dessert
Cupboard Cooking for the Lazy Chef
How to Prepare and Cook Garlic