Before I went to culinary school, I was a mediocre cook. I knew how to do a few things in the kitchen, but most of the time I would open the freezer or look through my cabinets, grab a box with a list of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, put it in the microwave, and voila! Dinner was made.
But now that I’m a chef, I see food in a different light. Instead of it being something to simply please my palate, I realize food – and whole food at that – is integral to my health and well-being. Instead of going to the pharmacy, I want to go to the “farm-acy.”
Recently I've become quite an advocate for teaching people to cook as part of their overall health. So how does cooking correlate to better health? To me, it's quite simple. You can go to a nutritionist or a physical trainer who can teach you what foods to eat, but if you don't know how to cook them and make them taste good, why would you want to eat them? If you need more convincing, here are my top five reasons you should spend more time in the kitchen cooking:
1) Nourish your body
The greatest thing about cooking at home is that it's usually healthier. Yes, it's easy to swing by the local fast-food place on the way home or pull a box from the freezer. But do you really know what's in the food you're eating? Remember … food is fuel for our bodies, and if we put junk in, we feel lazy and lethargic. But if we eat real foods – ones with labels we can pronounce and understand – we gain strength, energy and vitality. And wouldn’t it be incredible if we could prevent ourselves from getting sick by eating better food?
Cooking doesn’t have to be fancy. All my friends think that because my husband and I are chefs that we have these elaborate meals that take hours and hours to prepare. But quite the opposite is true. Sometimes just the simplest of ingredients make the best dishes. As an example, check out the recipe below for fresh asparagus with lemon vinaigrette. It’s bright, flavorful, quick to prepare and is a celebration of springtime.
2) Nourish your family
Now that I’ve become a mom, I’ve discovered how important it is to teach my son to cook. Although he’s 2 ½ years old, he’s already joining me in the kitchen. Yes, it does take longer, and he makes quite a mess, but when he’s involved, he gets excited to eat what we make.
Even if you don’t have the time or the inclination to teach your children to cook, the simple act of including them in the meal planning process can be fun. When children get to make choices in what your family eats, they’re more likely to eat it themselves! It’s also an excellent way to spend time together. You will be giving your children valuable skills they’ll use their entire life.
3) It’s fun
Many people laugh when I tell them cooking can be fun – especially if they're juggling multiple priorities and a family. I admit that finding time to cook between taking care of a child and having a full-time job is very challenging. But cooking can be a time where you find release. Try this: rather than thinking of cooking as a stressful chore, think of it as a joyful experience.
Sometimes the simple act of changing our perception of something can go a long way. Put on your favorite music. Grab a recipe you meant to try. Pour a glass of your favorite vino and dive in. Start cooking on the weekend when you have a bit more time. Revel in your ability to make something fantastic. Repeat!
4) It stimulates your brain
Think about it. Cooking requires the use of all our senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell. Each of those senses uses a different part of your brain. According to Dr. David Eagleman, Ph.D., neuroscientist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "The brain works through associations, so the more senses you involve, the better." How’s that for a real-world brain exercise that actually works?
5) The more you do it, the easier it gets
Just like learning any new skill, the more you practice it, the better you get. Yes, you’ll make mistakes. I make them every day. The key is not to get frustrated with yourself. The great thing is we learn the most from our mistakes. If you make one, take a deep breath, brush yourself off and try again. I’m willing to bet you’ll be successful the next time around.
And I’m going to help you along the way. Over the next several months, I’ll be posting articles to help you master your skills at home. We’ll start at the beginning, building a foundation. If you’re already a seasoned cook, you might learn a few new tricks! Regardless of where you’re at, you’ll improve your skills and be more confident in the kitchen.
In my opinion, cooking – like health – is a journey, not a destination. By being a better cook, we can all nourish ourselves, our families and put a little more enjoyment into our daily lives. I hope you'll join me along the way!
And here's the bright, flavorful and quick recipe I promised above:
Asparagus with Lemon Vinaigrette
From the kitchen of Chef Tse
- 3 bunches asparagus, about 3 pounds, ends trimmed
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoon chopped herbs such as tarragon, parsley, cilantro and/or thyme
- Salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and blanch until they turn bright green and are tender; about 3 to 5 minutes depending on size. Remove bundles with tongs from water and plunge into ice bath. Once cool, remove the string and dry asparagus on paper towels.
Whisk together lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Whisk in oil and herbs. To serve, divide asparagus among plates. Spoon vinaigrette over asparagus and serve immediately.