Chef Reveals The Biggest Mistakes He Sees Home Cooks Make

Ever wonder what it must be like for a professional chef to watch novices like the rest of us struggle in the kitchen? Is it how a pop star feels when she hears her hit song being butchered during karaoke night, or maybe it's similar to the experience of a professional baseball player, watching his son or daughter play in a particularly uncoordinated Little League game? Surely, there has to be a moment when someone who gets paid to cook for a living wants to slap the spatula out of Aunt Betsy's hands at a family barbecue and shout, "If you flip that burger one more time, I'm disowning you!"

Chef Craig Emmons, research and development chef for the meal delivery service, Freshly, conceded that yes, indeed, members of his profession are cringing when they see us make certain common mistakes. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Emmons revealed the kitchen amateur moments that make him shudder the most.

Cheap ingredients will ruin your dinner

Who doesn't want to save money, and is buying that big bag of cheap potatoes instead of tender heirloom tubers really going to change how that shepherd's pie turns out? Actually, yes, it will. According to Chef Emmons, the raw ingredients make or break the final product. "You get what you pay for," he said. "The difference between success and failure can sometimes come from buying the right ingredients."

Of course, you don't need to choose the most expensive item at the grocery store for every single ingredient, but for key items like fresh produce or meat cuts, quality matters. "Most people think they are saving themselves a lot of money but they don't know what they are buying," Chef Emmons added. "The difference in cost is smaller than you think." And if you end up throwing away the leftovers because you just can't even contemplate eating that same meal again, you would have been better off splurging on the ingredients in the first place. Then everyone at your table will voluntarily become a member of the Clean Plate Club.

Getting clever with the recipe usually will backfire

Another mistake that makes Chef Emmons cringe is when a novice tries to doctor up a perfectly fine recipe, which renders the meal inedible. "Some people feel the need to be creative and change a recipe they've never tried," he said. "Depending on your skill level, that can be a poor decision. I hear people complain about recipes they've tried only to find out they were making changes to them without the necessary knowledge."

After all, the recipe creator might have chosen specific ingredients or flavors for a reason. Just because you like nutmeg better than cinnamon doesn't mean this flavor is the best choice for a cookie recipe, and while it's true that chicken breast might be healthier than a chicken thigh, your recipe could end up unbearably dry if you choose the wrong part of the bird. Emmons' advice? "Learn a recipe before changing it," he urged. "Get to know a recipe that interests you, try it the way it is first, then make notes on what you think you can do to improve it."

Tackling an advanced cooking skill when you're a beginner may be a recipe for disaster

Cooking is fun, and it's very exciting to discover that you don't have to go to a fancy restaurant to enjoy delicious food; with the right tools and ingredients, your next amazing meal might be at your fingertips. Except, if you've never tried an especially intricate cooking technique before, your ambition can backfire, Chef Emmons warned.

"I talk to a lot of people who try to do things outside of their skill level or culinary understanding. While I commend their adventurous spirit and desire to improve their skills, you have to go about it the right way," Emmons advised. "Research what people are doing with a particular recipe or technique. If you take the time to seek knowledge and improve, put that advice to good use."

When you are offered advice from a professional and then throw it out the window once you're in the kitchen, Chef Emmons added, don't be surprised if your food doesn't taste... well... edible. "I can't count how many times someone has asked for my help, listened to me explain to them how to do something, then go home and do something completely different and then come back to me and ask what went wrong," he said.