Rebecca's Cooking Journal

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What is a “Good Cook” and What is “Gourmet”?

Since I’ve taken up cooking, I’ve been told (or asked) occasionally that I like “gourmet food” and that I cook “gourmet food.” I’ve been stumped by this. I love to eat food that tastes good, but I didn’t think that that preference made me into a French food person. What is a gourmet? What is gourmet food?

Merriam-Webster defines gourmet as “a connoisseur of food and drink” and it defines connoisseur as

1: expert ; especially : one who understands the details, technique, or principles of an art and is competent to act as a critical judge

2: one who enjoys with discrimination and appreciation of subtleties

So I suppose by those definitions, I do meet the connoisseur definition on one hand: While I’m certainly not an expert in any way, I do like the subtleties of food, and I’m learning to discriminate among good, better, and best dishes.

I’ve been thinking over the past year about various levels of cooking, and what it means to be a “good” cook. A few questions I’ve pondered:

  • Is one who cooks Rice-a-Roni and Chicken Tonight (or similar prepared and canned dishes) every evening a “good cook”? What if he or she really likes doing so, and finds the end result delicious?
  • Is one who follows a recipe to the letter a “good cook”? What if they hate doing so, and dread their time in the kitchen?
  • Is one who tries challenging recipes that never turn out a “good cook”? Is one a “good cook” only if their meals are always delicious?
  • Is someone only a “good cook” if they create new meals, basing their creations on past experiences?

I certainly don’t know the answer as to what is a “good cook.” What strikes me, though, about cooking is attitude. I personally think being a good, better, and best cook is all about willingness to try, about learning how to think outside of a box (and I don’t just mean Rice-a-Roni).

That attitude goes back to the definition of “gourmet” and “connoisseur” as one who “enjoys discrimination.”

As I make a soup and add a little more salt, I get excited when I taste the flavor “pop out.” I’m not an expert. I’m not even a good cook in my own mind. But I do get excited about it. Cooking becomes a mystery waiting to be solved, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to figure it out. If not, at least my belly is full until tomorrow.

I wasn’t sure that Merriam-Webster’s was exactly what these people meant when they said “gourmet”, so I turned to Wikipedia. Wikipedia has a more detailed cultural definition of gourmet, and this worries me a little bit.

Gourmet is a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, which is characterized by elaborate preparations and presentations of large meals of small, often quite rich courses.

The term and its associated practices are usually used positively to describe people of refined taste and passion. For some, it holds a negative connotation of elitism or snobbery.

So my next question is this: When someone tells me I am “gourmet,” should I consider that they think I’m a snob?

I don’t like elaborate cooking; anyone looking at my lists of past menus would have to agree I’m not very original or “rich” or “refined” in my cooking. I’m just a stay-at-home mom who wants to create healthful, inexpensive, and tasty meals for my family. What about that makes me “gourmet”? I’m stumped.

So the bottom line is that I don’t consider myself “gourmet” (especially considering the cultural definition from Wikipedia). As for whether or not I’m a good cook, I like to think that’s a dream I’m on my way to fulfilling. Give me a few more years.

What do you think makes one a “good cook”? What would you consider “gourmet”?

Blog Post BINGO “definition” post. Details here.

2 Responses to “What is a “Good Cook” and What is “Gourmet”?”

  1. July 28th, 2009 at 9:02 am

    D says:

    I found this when I googled “how do i know when i’m a good cook?”
    Earlier this week, knowing I would be out last night, I made a dish that would be good for leftovers for my husband.  We enjoyed the 1st servings.  Then, last night, I was out at an upscale, gourmet restaurant and my husband called me to let me know that the dish was better the 2nd time around and that I was a great cook.  I really enjoyed that – it’s easy to take food and cooks for granted, and I was proud of that dish.
    The only problem is that DH eats almost everything I cook!  I enjoy cooking for friends and they enjoy my food, but I don’t have any dish that people request.  How do I know when I’m a good cook?  I don’t have an answer but here’s some more details:
    I enjoy the ingredients and have purchased a farm share from a local farmer.  I enjoy learning how to cook with different vegetables, herbs, spices, ethnicities, and different cookbooks.  Sometimes I follow recipes to the letter, sometimes I use them as inspiration.  I’m not afraid to fail or have a bad dish, and I don’t mind bad reviews or criticism.
    I don’t know if I’m a good cook yet.  But it’s fun to try.

  2. July 29th, 2009 at 6:48 am

    Rebecca Reid says:

    D, I think enjoying the journey is part of the key, here! But I’m in a similiar situation as you: the people I cook for love it but then they’d eat anything. How do we know if we’re good? I don’t know. It’s all subjective. But I’d say if those we cook for love it then we’re well on our way.

    Thanks so much for the visit!