Saturday, March 27, 2010

What's Cooking?

It disturbs me that thaw-and-serve in school and TV dinners at home -instant foods- have changed the societal connotation of cooking.  When my school kitchen staff says we’re cooking the main meal, in fact what we’re saying is that we’re reheating, thawing the meal out.  When I first started in my school kitchen, I heard our garden vegetable soup described as “pretty much from-scratch.”  It actually just involved heating up a can of tomato soup with canned beans and a bag of frozen vegetables.  That certainly doesn’t describe a from-scratch soup to me. 

Baked good are another category of food where homemade used to mean something different.  With all the mixes and refrigerated products out there that simplify the process down to placing pre-formed dough rounds on a baking sheet, do we really consider this homemade?  As a kid, I genuinely thought that brownies should start with a boxed mix and there was no other way to make them!  Luckily, going to culinary school and spending some time in a professional pastry kitchen changed that idea.    

I am a part-time private chef for twenty-five people, and when I first started I was dismayed to find I had inherited a large collection of commercial brownie and cake mixes from the previous chef.  Incorporate water into the mix and it's oven-ready.  Oil and eggs are not needed.  It took me months to clear the shelves of the mixes before I started making the sweets myself.      

Homemade and from-scratch imply care and quality in food.  But when all kinds of shortcuts are used in cooking, you get an inferior product studded with preservatives and other ingredients you don’t want to ingest.  It's not real cooking.           


  1. The only thing that I recall my high school cafeteria making was this dessert that was basically instant pudding, graham crackers, and cool whip. It was probably the BEST thing they served, dessert wise and the only thing partcially 'homemade'.

  2. In my high school in the 1980s, we had delicious made-from-scratch yeast rolls & other good quality meals. So much has changed now.

    The irony is that I have found that many things are just as easy to make from scratch as they are to use a mix or processed item. For example, I used to buy jar spaghetti sauce. But, I wanted more veggies & spices in it. One day I tried making it from scratch. Just as easy & tasted waaaaayyyy better.