Cooking and baking artistry has exploded on television and social media in the last decade. But we’re not all Gordon Ramsay, Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart or Chris Koetke. So how do we add some pizzazz in our dishes to look like we cook like a pro? MSGdish got Chef Koetke to chat with us about how to seem like a pro in the kitchen.
MSGdish (M): What dish do you make that makes a huge impression with minimal effort?
Chef Koetke (K): There’s actually a lot you can do that is not incredibly hard. One of the things that always impresses people that looks difficult but really isn’t is crepes. My kids have been using my grandfather’s crepe recipe since they were like 6— it’s the best in the world. I’ve made it all around the world and people always say, “C’mon, are these really the best crepes in the world? They try them and they say, “Oh yeah… these are the best crepes in the world.” It’s really not hard. (See below for his grandfather’s famous crepe recipe.)
Making pasta noodles from scratch is actually really simple too.
(M): Wow, pasta from scratch?
(K): See, that’s what I mean. It sounds more complicated than it is. Remember, pasta was an “of the masses” kind of food so it’s very cheap to make. It’s flour and eggs. Of course, if you start making shapes and ravioli and stuff, it’s a little more difficult but a basic fettucine is simple and cooks in salted water in like 2 minutes.
(M): If I want to look like I can cook like a pro, what garnish can make almost anything look good?
(K): In today’s world, it’s microgreens [the shoots of salad vegetables]. A little sprinkle or a little pile on top of something and it looks really great. It used to be that garnishes required a lot of manipulating of the food, like making flowers out of vegetables or turned mushroom caps, but today that’s not such a big thing. If you want to make something look really great, really fast, use microgreens.
(M): We all love salt and pepper, but if we want to cook like a pro, what are the top 5 seasonings that every cook must have in their cabinet at all times?
- Absolutely mustard. I’m talking real Dijon from France or like a beautiful stone ground mustard. It goes with just about everything.
- I’m a miso fanatic. We tend to think miso is Japanese or Asian, but you have to look at it not as an Asian ingredient but as what it is: salt, umami and flavors that come from fermentation of soybeans. I’m a huge fan of dark misos because they have a big hearty flavor. I use it a lot. Soy sauce works as well. I think of it as liquid miso or miso as solid soy sauce.
- I have to have hot sauces. Hot sauces or Gochujang (Korean chili paste).
- Merken is a chili spice mix, it’s kind of hard to find. It’s smoky on the chili side and comes from the south of Chile and is the seasoning of the Mapuche people. That is a “wow” seasoning. I put that on everything. Similarly—this is hard to find as well— this chili, Isote is from Turkey and it’s a chili that’s not particularly hot. It’s sundried so it develops amazing depth of flavor; incredible beautiful flavor.
- The last would be fresh limes. It’s something that I picked up in Mexico (Key limes in particular) they squeeze lime juice on lots of stuff. At first I thought it was unusual, but now I get chicken soup and immediately, I’m adding lime juice. It creates this really bright acidity that makes the food pop.
(M): What are five cooking tools that every single cook should absolutely have in their kitchen?
(K): A really good Chef knife, whisks of multiple sizes, a really solid wooden spoon, a great cutting board, and the last one… gosh where do I go with this? You know, there’s something called a China cap. It’s a conical, metal strainer that is essential in the kitchen. People usually use colanders and the water goes everywhere and it’s a mess. This conical thing drains perfectly and is not a mess.
(M): Do you have any tips for hosting a gathering?
(K): Absolutely! When it comes to entertaining. The biggest tip is: chill out! There is nothing more uncomfortable than when you go to someone’s house and you can tell they’re stressed. Entertaining should be fun, that’s the point. Having people over is to enjoy company and share friendship, the minute it stops being that and starts being stressful, then it’s not meeting its goal.
Secondly, don’t try to do something that’s crazy. People try to do something very complicated and if you don’t have that level of skill, then don’t do it. Pick something simple.
Finally, try to do as much as you can before your guests arrive, even a day ahead of time. Think about it, restaurants don’t even cook things from scratch when you sit down. For example, mashed potatoes; they reheat perfectly in the microwave. That’s why I like stuff like braised meats as well.
(M): A person walks into your classroom and wants to know the first thing about being a cook. What do you tell them?
(K): It’s what I tell all my students around the world: it boils down to three basic words:
Passion, ours is a passionate business. You have to love it because it’s hard. We’re driven by our passion to create, do excellent work and make people happy.
Discipline, is on the other end of the spectrum from passion, but they work hand in hand. Your passion will never be fulfilled without discipline.
Intensity, you have to embrace the intensity. Kitchen environments are not for the faint of heart. We tend to really like intensity. We dig that. If you live life that way, and have discipline and passion to back it up, you can do great things.
“Cook Like a Pro” BONUS Tips from Chef Koetke:
Tip: Throwing greens (Asparagus, green beans, and broccoli) in ice water makes them bright and green. First boil the vegetables in super salty water, then add even more salt and then put it immediately in ice water. Once cold, get them out of the ice water and put it in the fridge—it’s called shocking the food and that process will seal in all the green color.
Tip: Risotto is basically rice that was meant to be sustenance food. The only trick to risotto is cooking the rice to the point where it’s perfect; the center is al dente and it’s floating in a rich, starchy sauce. There are a couple little tricks, but once you know those little tricks, it’s really easy. To tell when risotto is perfectly cooked, smash a grain of rice between your thumb and forefinger. If it is perfectly cooked, you will see 3 tiny white dots in the center of the smashed grain of rice.
Tip: Inspiration for food sort of happens. It happens in a lot of places. Certainly, you can get inspired at a nice restaurant, but travel, eat street food and in little hole-in-the-wall restaurants and in people’s homes. It’s not high-artistic food that is inspiring, food that has soul and culture has depth.
Koetke Family Crêpe Recipe
- 3 eggs
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ stick melted butter
- Additional butter if needed for coating saute pan
- Beat eggs until well mixed.
- Add flour and mix using a wire whisk until the flour is just incorporated. This is an important step as over-mixing can result in tough crêpes.
- Add milk, sugar, and salt. Mix to incorporate.
- Add 1/2 stick melted butter--being sure that the butter is liquid, but not hot. Mix and let rest for 1/2 hour before using.
- Heat a small sauté pan over moderate heat. Lightly coat with additional butter. Pour a small amount of crêpe batter, swirl the pan to spread the batter evenly over the bottom of the pan. Pour out any excess batter. Return the pan to the heat. When browned, turn over and finish cooking.
- When cooked, remove crêpe from pan. Ideally, they are eaten hot from the pan with whatever toppings you desire (I love some simple real maple syrup.). If you are using the crepes for another preparation later, do not stack hot crêpes, but rather spread them out on a counter while they cool. Once cool, the crêpes can be stacked, wrapped in plastic wrap and held for 4-5 hours at room temperature.