2021 is a fresh start for just about everyone. And for some, that means finally heading to the kitchen and learning how to cook.
Cooking can seem rather overwhelming for certain people, so we decided to reach out to one of the best Montreal chefs, Chef Pamika Sukla, owner of Pamika and Mae Sri, two incredibly popular Thai restaurants in the city, known for authenticity and flavour beyond compare.
Chef Pamika Sukla offers some of her tips and advice to help you get started and make 2021 the tastiest yet.
Answers were edited and condensed for clarity.
Cooking can feel really daunting for those just starting out. What's the best place to start?
The thing that makes it overwhelming for most people is that they often try to take on too much at first.
Whether it's finding the best recipe, going to the grocery store wondering if this particular one has all the ingredients, buying the tools, preparing everything, balancing the flavours, making sure the elements are well cooked - all these tasks can make a person feel like cooking is an insurmountable, time-consuming problem.
But it doesn't have to be. Make it as simple as possible in the beginning. Start with meal kits, detailed online recipes and sauces that provide you with tried and true flavours. Consider these like "training wheels" for cooking. They take out the stress of having to balance the flavours on your own, knowing how much of this to put or how much of that to cook.
You can be confident that if you follow the guidelines, you'll get a decent result and that positive reinforcement of making something delicious will give you the motivation to cook more and more!
With enough repetition, things will start to click and you will get a sense of what a well-seasoned dish tastes like. A good meal kit or sauce with a specific step by step recipe provides you with a structure so that you can focus on mastering the basics first.
More importantly, it allows you to have fun in the process because that's what it's all about!
What is the biggest mistake that people make when they start out cooking?
Underestimating the base of your dish.
A good example in Asian cuisine is rice. It's quite common for people to brush off the importance of knowing how to properly cook their rice. There is an art to washing the rice, choosing the right grain for the dish and adding just the right amount of water so that the texture isn't too mushy or too dry. We tend to focus on the flavours, the seasoning, the fancy presentation, without first mastering the basic elements of the dish.
The basics can seem boring but they are most important! It's like building a house. You wouldn't start decorating a room before establishing the solid foundation first. The same goes for cooking!
Bonus one from Chef Pamika: a lot of people don't taste their dish as they cook it! You have to taste along the way. Every time you cook, you're using different elements.
Different pieces of meat or vegetables were grown in unique ways. They all have their intricacies that might affect the flavour and texture of your dish.
What is something that can seem really intimidating to people that are new to cooking that is not as scary as it looks?
The steps I do are hard to explain in words and as a picture is worth a thousand words, we recently made a recipe video that you can watch online to learn and cook my version of Pad Thai: In the video, I use our Pad Thai sauce prepared in-house at the restos. It's made in small batches to make sure the quality and taste are always up to the highest standards and true to Thai traditions.
Just recently, we made them available for everyone to buy! You can order them online and have them delivered to your place!
If you're feeling adventurous and want to explore different flavours, we've knocked out the hardest part, the sauce. By using the basic techniques shown in the video and our sauce you can recreate and enjoy an authentic Pad Thai in your very own home.
It's like having your taste buds travelling to a different continent minus the cost of the flight ticket!