Photo by Amina Filkins

:While I say it is no-fail, there are a few tips that go a long way toward ensuring a kitchen novice, or newbie chef, will be successful.”

I grew up learning to cook and bake at an early age. My grandmother would put a stepstool next to the table and teach me to make homemade pasta and cookies. Not everyone had my grandmother. My mother continued teaching me as she was a wonderful cook and baker. My cookbook, Generations of Good Food, is a tribute to the women who taught me to cook. For many people, the kitchen is the scariest room in the house. Fortunately, during the pandemic, families were forced to take their clothes out of the dishwasher and oven and learn to navigate the world of preparing food. What happened was many discovered a joy in spending time together and enjoyed the food they prepared. Families became more adventurous trying different foods from different cultures. As we shed our winter clothes and head outside, the grill often becomes the kitchen. 

To be sure, the various companies which deliver meals to homes flourished during the pandemic. Over time people newbie chefs learned how to pair spices, cook, and eat a variety of meals. In my book, Generations of Good Food, there are recipes for the kitchen novice as well as someone who knows their way around the kitchen. The simplest recipes are certainly the candy but particularly Aunt Mella’s Banana Bread which is a “no-fail.” While I say it is no-fail, there are a few tips that go a long way toward ensuring a kitchen novice, or newbie chef, will be successful. Teaching kitchen newbies how to handle the knife is important but being mindful of ingredients, cooking techniques and enjoying the time in the kitchen is more important.

  1. Read the entire recipe before you begin cooking. I absolutely agree with Ligia Lugo from the Daring Kitchen that reading the entire recipe is key. Making sure you have all the ingredients the recipe calls for is important. However, if meats require marinating or cookie dough has to be refrigerated for two hours before baking it is the difference between success and another kitchen disaster. While it seems to be an obvious tip, we all get in a hurry sometimes and just start dumping ingredients in a bowl only to find we don’t have what we need to be successful.
  2. Keep your knives sharp. So, this doesn’t sound like one of the first things you want to teach your kids in the kitchen. We all love our fingers, and nothing hurts like a knife cut. Lots of people don’t sharpen their knives and it makes prepping meals a lot more difficult. Today there are steel knives made to look like plastic. They are safe for kids, and they work! As an aside, sharper knives make cutting onions less of a teary job.
  3. Learn how to Knead Soft Dough. I love to bake bread, but it requires a whole lot of patience. Most recipes require time for the dough to raise, but some require kneading as you bake for quick use. Kneading dough makes for a soft dough that will be light when cooked. I knead my dough before it raises, punch it down, and often knead it before I make loaves, buns, or whatever I’m preparing. The trick is pressure from the “heel” of the hand and working the entire dough for at least 6-8 minutes and not just one portion.
  4. Sticky or non-sticky rice? Rice is a staple in many cultures but also a great versatile side dish to be mixed with herbs, spices, and vegetables. If you want non-sticky rice, wash, and rinse rice 3-4 times before boiling it. Some people soften it in water for 15-20 minutes before cooking. Want sticky rice? Just cook it.
  5. Cook Perfect Pasta. Obviously, this one is dear and near to my heart. Pasta should be cooked, not sticky and hard. Always add salt to your water, and never add your pasta until the water is boiling. If the directions on the box say al dente pasta in 6 minutes, I always cook it for about three more minutes. My Sicilian grandmother did not like “hard, to the tooth” pasta. She wanted it to be in the next stage, where it falls easily but is not mushy. It takes a bit of practice, but you will enjoy cooking pasta, and it is easy for the newbie chef to master. It also tastes better.
  6. Season your food. Seasoning foods is a gift. Newbie chefs should be taught that care is needed when adding basic salt and pepper. Too much salt is not only harmful to your body, but it also can ruin a good dish. But the world is made up of so many spices, and each culture have a spice blend used in cooking. Teaching people to appreciate spices, either individually or in a blend is truly a skill.
  7. Taste your food. One of the easiest ways to determine if foods are seasoned, cooked, or missing something is to taste them. It is difficult to go back and fix a dish once it is on the table. Taste the cooking in different stages. For example, tomato sauce tastes differently after it has simmered for a while than when you first add your spices. I also sometimes taste cookie dough or even cake batter – I know you’re not supposed to do that….however, if the dough or batter doesn’t taste good, the finished products will not taste good either. Teaching the newbie chef to trust their palate is important.
  8. Learn to love herbs. Herbs often make the dish. While fresh herbs are often the choice of cooks, frozen or dried also add flavor to dishes. Each culture has a blend of herbs they use in cooking. Use a single herb or mix it with others to create a flavor profile unique to that dish. Herbs add flavors to salads, main dishes, and even desserts like adding basil to pound cake batter. Many home cooks have an herb garden growing in the kitchen. I grow herbs on my patio pots in the summer and then dry them in the fall for use in winter.

If this seems like a lot to learn or teach someone who is new to the kitchen – then take it in small bites. The most important thing is for kitchen novices to be comfortable in the kitchen. The more time you spend in the kitchen, the more you will want to explore different foods, techniques, and recipes.  

Grab a copy of Generations of Good Food on Amazon or at It is a compilation of 200 recipes including dishes for a newbie chef, and you will enjoy reading the stories about the recipes that brought family to the table.


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