As I begin to travel this week to promote my new book, I want to give away five personalized signed copies. But I want something from you. An “ah-ha” moment.

Earlier in the month, promoting my appearance at Butcher & Larder in Chicago, owner Rob Levitt asked people for just such a moment, a revelation, a moment when you tasted something, combined two uncommon ingredients, used a tool in a new way, that changed the way you saw food, the kitchen, cooking.

I’ve had many, and they’re always a thrill. I write about one in the new book, the time my chef instructor at the CIA, Michael Pardus, tasted my cream of broccoli soup and said, “This is good. But I want you to take this back to your station and taste it again. Then I want you to take a spoonful and put a drop of white wine vinegar in it and taste the difference.”

I did. A single drop changed that soup from fine, just OK, to very good if not better. It was a lesson that would apply not only to broccoli soup, or soup generally, but to everything. The importance of acidity and the ability to use it (Technique #5), would become something I’d consider in everything I made, from soups to stews to sauces, to sandwiches, to meats and fish, to whole composed plates, even to sweet things (I add cider vinegar to butterscotch sauce, for instance, just a few drops, all about balance).

I want to know what your ah-ha moment is. Four people who leave their ah-ha moment in comments below will be chosen at random this Friday (sorry Canada, it’s too expensive and headache making to ship across the border, so this is only for US residents, alas; take small comfort though that the book is dedicated to a Canadian!). Leave a working email (it won’t bet published or used in any way other than to contact you, promise).

The fifth signed copy will go to someone very clever indeed. I’ve included in the book THE twenty techniques I believe a cook needs to prepare virtually anything in the kitchen. But I left one out (on purpose). The first person who comes up with it, gets the fifth copy. If no one does, check back and I’ll give some hints, but I’m hoping someone figures it out.

I’ll be in Chicago this week as mentioned, also doing a demo at The Chopping Block, followed by an open signing from 1:30 to 2:30.

But if you miss those events, and even if you don’t, join me at Publican, one of my favorite restaurants, this Wednesday evening where Paul Kahan, one of my favorite chefs, and his staff have created a special menu, and where I hope to hold court with as many people as possible who care as much as I do about cooking! I’ll be there from 7 to 10—hope to see you there. (Call 312.733.9555 to reserve a spot; it’s not listed yet on their site but I will indeed be there.)

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465 Wonderful responses to “Ruhlman’s Twenty Giveaway:
Win a Signed Copy (Ah-Ha!)”

  • Emma C

    I think my biggest a-ha! came when I realized how simple it can be to cook — no recipes, no fancy techniques. The simple stuff will get you 99% of the way there for most home cooks.

  • Maggie Driscoll

    My ah-ha moment was when my sister gave me a copy of “The Making of a Chef” (seriously). It changed my life. I became a caterer and have been making wonderful food ever since. I enjoy my life’s work and I have a very appreciative client base as well.

  • Sam

    I can’t remember if it was in Elements or in Ratio but one or the other mentioned to “rewet” stock bones (and make a second stock, or more of a broth really, with just new vegetables). I’d never thought of that. I’d never heard of that. I’ve been making my own stock for years but till that moment my homemade stock was so precious, something had to be deemed worthy or it got that canned paste instead. (Tortilla soup? Forget it, that’s like 6 to 8 cups of stock, with the flavor of my delicate garden herbs obscured by chili powder.) Now though, my output is doubled, my stock is labeled with a “2” if it’s “second stock” and something that’s highly seasoned (or creamy enough from a puree, or, well, cream) gets the “2” stuff and the good stuff is for clear soups and sauces. It really changed everything. I had just bought a can of that paste when I read that too. I never opened it. I have never needed to again.

  • Attrill

    What I love about cooking (and other interests I pursue) is that there are always a million “A-Ha” moments waiting to be found.

    My most recent one was while reading Seven Fires by Francis Mallmann. I grill tomatoes regularly, and always make sure to get a bit of char on them – but I took one look at the photo of his burnt tomatoes and couldn’t believe how much he burned them, and that he cooked them at such a high heat. I decided to give it a try and was blown away with how great they were (and I sprinkled them with Veal Salt of course).

  • Peter

    Heat retention. Going from using a cheap aluminum pan to something with heft to retain heat made a world of difference in my cooking.

  • Kim Graves

    My ah-ha moment: When I was first learning to cook poached and boiled preparations that I felt “needed something,” I found that I didn’t have to add the ingredient and then try it. I could smell the preparation and then immediately smell the proposed addition and let the smells combine in my nasal cavities to give me a good idea of what adding the ingredient would actually do do my dish. This way I could experiment with different proposed changes without actually changing the original. And then you can go wild and smell 2-3-4 changes at a time; e.g.: what would I get if I added thyme, sage and orange peel to my rabbit braise? This is not perfect, but it works surprisingly well.

  • simone

    My a-ha moment was when I tried a recipe for roasted cauliflower. I grew up on frozen cauliflower and always thought I hated it. I thought that it was because it was frozen (and overly mushy), so I thought buying fresh and and steaming it for my family would be a huge improvement. I tolerated it but no one else liked it. Then I tried a recipe for roasting it–just a little olive oil, salt in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Seriously yum! Pasta with roasted cauliflower is now my daughter’s favorite meal, and honestly, we could probably finish off 3 heads of cauliflower between the 3 of us.

  • Deanna

    My “ah-ha” moment came after a trip to Belgium. While dining in the pretty village of Chassepierre, I ordered a salmon appetizer which was accompanied by a small portion of scrambled eggs. I liked scrambled eggs just fine, but I never thought twice about them. But *those* eggs! Those eggs were sublime! They were moist & creamy & … luxurious. Months, even years later, I could not recall my entree, but I kept thinking about those eggs!

    I tried over & over again to reproduce those fabulous eggs with my limited skills and by using ever more sumptuous ingredients — butter, cream, pastured eggs — yet I still made boring eggs. I concluded my lack of culinary skill was the issue and I’d only be able to enjoy such eggs again in a fine restaurant.

    Some time later, I’m flipping through Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here for the Food” and I notice he suggests scrambling eggs in a make-shift double boiler. I had never heard of that method. I was skeptical, but what could it hurt to try one more time? Ah-ha! Would you believe it? I made *those* eggs! Those creamy, luxurious eggs! That was the moment I realized the importance of method.

    These are Belgian scrambled eggs that started it all:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/p-h-o-t-o-l-i-f-e/1780810670
    – – –
    Is #21 fermentation / time?

  • Susie Bee

    I think my most memorable ah-ha moment was tasting good quality salt on top of good quality dark chocolate, I’ve never looked back. 21st technique? How to open a bottle of wine before you start cooking?

  • Angie

    My moment was when I realized making a mistake was a GOOD thing, even if the results were inedible. Once I started approaching kitchen time as a safe place to play around, to learn and to fail, I starting really enjoying myself and, go figure, my successes were that much better!

  • Nina

    It was when I figured out that just a drop of soy sauce makes almost all savory foods better. It’s not the sodium, but the added “umami” flavor (not that I knew that word when I made the discovery!). You name it: tomato sauce, soups, stews, steak marinade… it adds a depth of flavor that is difficult to replicate, with leaving any recognizable “Soy sauce” taste. It’s my magic ingredient!

  • Sami

    “Making of a Chef” changed the way I think about cooking. The Ah Ha moment was that instinct would not make me consistently turn out good food. I needed to learn the basics, the knife skills, the ratios, the theory. CIA was not in my future, but the ability to find what I needed was in books and on the net. I no longer cut myself because I have sharp knives. I no longer burn myself because I have learned to be more cognizant of what I am doing. I no longer (well very rarely) have something come out awful because I combined too many things. I learned you can’t fudge when baking because it is a science. It all started a few years ago when I sat down on a summer Saturday and fell into “Making of a Chef”. Thank you, Michael, you continue to be a great teacher.

  • Jill

    My ah-ha moment was when I realized how dang delicious onions are if you add some heat to caramelize them. Not too exciting, but I’m always amazed at how this has changed my love for onions.

  • Jimmy Parks

    My moment, without a doubt, was the first time I braised pulled pork in coffee and cider vinegar. The flavor imparted by coffee is spectacular and I now use it as my braising medium in a lot of dishes. My dry rub for ribs uses finely ground coffee and that is where it started.

  • Aaron

    Going to toss a guess out there and say patience is the one not mentioned. Especially when it comes to results and people not getting what they want, when they constantly mess with their food while it is cooking.

  • Deanna B.

    My most recent ah-ha moment was tasting perfect risotto (with smoke yams, an ah-ha in and of itself). It was a million times better than the risotto I made in Skills 1 and I am determined to replicate it.

  • graciecat

    My ah-ha moment was probably when I realized that I could recreate flavors and dishes from restaurants that I thought were out of my reach. Simple things, like good homemade vinaigrette or fried rice, but still important.

    Guess at the 21st technique – honestly I think the person who guessed Blanching might be correct but to have a different answer I will say Whisking/Mixing.

  • Annie

    Ah-ha…making oatmeal while camping on the coast in Baja California 20 years ago (gasp!) and my friend showed me that adding just a little salt makes sweet things better- actually brings out sweetness and makes it more complex. Something I’ve used in almost everything I bake and cook since then..ah-ha, indeed!

  • trent

    I used to think I didn’t like tomatoes, until I had them in Italy. I thought, “Aha, it turns out I like tomatoes, I just don’t like bland, mushy, lifeless store bough tomatoes.”

  • Steve

    My ah-ha moment was the first time I cut an onion with a real chef’s knife. I never realized how easy it was supposed to be. Until then I had relied on flimsy, lightweight, “never needs sharpening ” (yet isn’t exactly sharp to begin with) knives. From then on, only quality tools in my kitchen.

  • Durk

    Ah-ha moment: Vanilla ice cream with olive oil and sea salt. This was the first time I truly experienced the way salt can transform a dessert or otherwise sweet food.

    As for 21 — courage — what it takes to flip something in a pan, make a pie crust, try a new technique.

  • Kari

    My moment was what brining can do to meat. It is amazing how much better it can be with a little brine.

  • Brian S

    The big one was salt. I’ve always loved to cook but often wondered why my food and the food I was served at a nice restaurant were so different in depth of flavor. Then one day several years ago I was reading something that basically said the difference was salt. I began to season/salt/taste my food at every stage of cooking and the results were amazing! It took my cooking to a totally new level. It’s amazing what a little rock can do!!

  • Jonathan

    Scrambling eggs very slowly over low heat, as described in the Michel Roux book “eggs.” Totally new ball game.

  • Steve

    Hmm, the mysterious 21st kitchen technique. How about; how to stir up an appetite ? Hint, can be done while the chicken is roasting 😉 .

  • Kathy

    My a-ha moment was when I was a kid and first saw my dad put salt on fruit. He usually salted watermelon, cantaloupe and apples lightly before eating them, and I thought he was crazy until I tried it myself. I was amazed by how much the taste changed (for the better) just by doing that. How can salt make something taste sweeter?! Fascinating.

  • Annalynn

    I used to say that I didn’t know how to cook, or cook very well for that matter. My ah-ha moment came when I realized that I started frying my own eggs on the stove before, or around, age 5, and I won the blue ribbon at my cooking/baking school for making a macapuno (young cocounut) roll which was served during my grandpa’s birthday.

  • Rachel

    My ah-ha moment came after making bread for the first time. I used four very basic ingredients (flour, water yeast and salt) and created something so much better than the sum of its parts. I haven’t bought bread from the store since!

  • Erik

    When I was twelve, my family and I drove from San Francisco to Toronto to visit two of my aunts. While at my Zia Regina’s, my mother asked me to get something from the garage for her, and upon walking in, I was greeted with the most beautiful culinary sight of my life: from the rafters hung scores of salumi, a prociutto, some coppa, and other porcine delights. From that moment, I knew I would practice this craft myself.

  • Terrie

    What comes to mind is a couple of years ago, the first time I tasted pasture raised, local pork. The flavor, texture, and even fat, were better than I could has possibly imagined. How had I spent my whole life eating supermarket pork and thinking it was good?

    For 21…it has to be either “Enjoy” or “Family”

  • Melinda

    My ah-ha moment was realizing that it was the umami flavor that made everything I loved so tasty. I now try and add that via balsamic, fish sauce, parm, tomato paste, etc. to all my main dishes and I’ve been much happier with my results.

  • ali

    lots of aha moments in cooking, but how the correct use of salt in so many ways can transform a dish.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    crap i had such a good aha moment this past week…oh well donate my copy to someone special…my aha moment came via my inbox with several pics of my single daughter took pics of her making the same Arroz Con Pollo I made for while she was visitng..and w/o a recipe she did it…I swear I never knew she cooked

  • Karen Evans

    My ah-ha moment came from reading Ratio. Knowing that I can make basically anything – especially when it comes to baking – just by knowing a few simple ratios (i.e., 321 pie crust and “Chicago” biscuits!) changed my life as a wannabe chef. Now I am fearless when it comes to baking. Knowledge is power! Even if I don’t win your new book, thank you for Ratio and the “of a Chef” series. Truly inspirational!

  • Tobi

    Homemade chicken broth and homemade ricotta – both are simple to make and both make a world of difference in my cooking and baking. Heavy-bottom pots are my other ah-ha moment. I can now actually get that nice seared crust everyone talks about. How did I live without them for so long?

  • john

    My aha moment came when I stopped trying to make famous chef X’s version of a dish and started making MY version. I know how all of my tools and ingredients act in my kitchen.

  • Ed

    My ah-ha moment occurred many years ago and it was about a very common and taken for granted food…the potato. Having eaten potatoes all my life, I was stunned when I first tasted heritage fingerling potatoes grown in Vermont. My wife and I looked at one another and said simultaneously, “so this is what a potato is supposed to taste like”. A true revelatory moment!!

  • Sarah

    I grew up eating my mom’s Korean food, and I could never figure out how she could make a simple soup of (what looked to a young kid) just radishes taste so amazing. After I grew up, moved out, and started cooking for myself, I finally realized it was the onion, kelp, and dried anchovies. That subtle but crucial umami flavor is what I came to associate with my mom’s cooking, and now I try to find ways to incorporate it into my regular cooking, whether it’s using fish sauce, soy sauce, mushrooms, etc.

  • Peyton Polk

    Last week, for my sons baseball game, i got together a whole group of books, food, old home ec books (i am a teacher..), true crime, what-have you, cause Lord help me baseball is so boring but if i have a book i can pretend Im involved…. and two of the books, and i bring a few, were The Soul of a Chef, and A Return to Cooking. and i am such a dork. i just put together that you wrote about Michael Symon years ago, and you are still writing, about everything, Eric Ripert, all kinds of things.. and i got to explain to my ten year old, who is my step son, and we dont share a lot, but we share a love for food, and i got to tell him “this is about micheal symon, and it was written a while ago, and this is michael symon now, you watch him with me, on Iron Chef…” and then to realize that the same author, you, put all that together, was an AHA moment for me. I felt very smart… but really, it was just me playing catch up. But I thought it was magic that you followed a now-popular chef before my son was even born, and you are still pointing the way to fabulous things in food. It was a nice moment that I wouldnt have had otherwise. and bringing families together over food….. thats really cool. thank you…

  • Jonathan

    My ah-ha moment was realizing the simpler the cooking the better the dish. It’s my goal in cooking nowadays.

  • Blake

    It was a sweet potato soup with ginger, miso, and milk. I thought the combination would taste horrible. But it came together in a beautiful. I learned that you should really think about what each ingredient tastes like to make a good dish rather assuming milk will never go with Japanese ingredients.

  • Steve Culliton

    Technique 21: Patience. Flavor moment: Fresh toasted corriander and toasted pepper ground together.

  • Ben

    I had a fun ah-ha moment when sampling sorbet at a fresh and local ingredient only sorbet shop in the Bay Area.

    They had many very interesting flavors, but the one that I really wanted to try was the coconut, thai basil, and lime flavor. It’s like curry sorbet! Or so I thought… The flavors were really interesting, you could distinguish each one easily. But when taken in as a whole, it was immediately reminiscent of another flavor that I particularly loved… It took me a few tastes to get it (they made me buy a cup by then), but when I realized what it was, I was shocked. It tasted exactly like one of my favorite cheeses! A cheddar coated in espresso and lavender (“Barely Buzzed”, it’s called). The similarly is uncanny. My wife is familiar with the cheese as well, and I confirmed it with her. Such different ingredients coming to the same overall flavor profile – Food is just amazing.

  • Matt Ray

    I grew up in a processed-foods household. My Nana, who lived in my hometown for a short time before her death, would regularly prepare spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce, and I’m embarrassed to say that I never ate the stuff (it tasted nothing like master chef Boyardee’s product). Now, fast-forward to my senior year in college. I roomed with a friend who prepared dinner one night for his girlfriend. He made extra and invited me to join them. I cannot remember what the main course was, but I was blown away by the side dish: canned corn…with fresh, diced jalapenos. One simple, fresh ingredient gave the sweet yellow corn a more savory, vegetal, and brighter taste! This simple side sparked an overall change in the way I viewed food. No longer did I simply need to steep dried Ramen noodles in hot water and add a seasoning packet for a complete (albeit tasteless) meal. Now, freshly-baked bread, a few slices of great cheese, and a simple salad with a quick vinaigrette are my equivalent to the drive-thru and Hungry Man meals of my past. I like to think that this simple side dish also reconnected me to my Nana’s style of cooking, which I was too young and clueless to appreciate during her time on Earth.

  • Curt McAdams

    One of several ah ha moments was the fist time I actually lt meat rest after taking it off the grill. I thought I’d had great steaks before but was surprised at what a difference such a simple thing as waiting made.

    When you’re in Chicago, try a great newish place in Logan Square called Longman & Eagle. I’m biased (my brother is a part owner and did much of the woodwork there and upstairs in the inn), but they do a great job of foods I think you’d really appreciate.

  • Eric Scott

    My ah-ha moment — the first time I incorporated all the techniques I’d read about (brining, prep, wood, temp control, etc) and smoked the best pulled pork I’d ever tasted – on my first time, no less. My wife had bought me a smoker for my birthday and now there’s no turning back. I rarely go elsewhere now for BBQ.

    A close second — ratios. The awe-inspiring simplicity of it all really hits you right between the eyes.

  • Jenn

    My aha moment was when I finally realized that I was able to multi-task in the kitchen with little fear that I would miss something…something that used to intimidate me. Now my son is very thankful that I can put a whole dinner on the table in less than 1/2 of the time that it used to take me. My mom has even given me compliments on how I’ve “grown up” in the kitchen.

  • Brian B

    turning my steaks frequently during cooking and resting for a while off the heat. the first time i did it was the best steak i had ever cooked, and ever since it has yielded perfect results.

  • mary lynn

    My ah-ha moment came years ago while making a stew. It was almost finished and it just tasted blah. I decided that it needed a little jazz, so I had just cut a lemon for salad dressing and I gave the stew a squirt of lemon juice. Couldn’t believe the difference!

  • Twinkles

    The moment I tasted my own homemade cheese for the first time. The idea that milk plus time plus bacteria could taste so good and be so simple to put into action was crazy. I now have a “cheese cave” and keep pushing myself to make more complex cheeses. There is something so satisfying in making something so beautifully simple and delicious. I continue to learn the benefits of patience which is my biggest struggle.

  • E. Nassar

    Many years ago I was browsing the cookbook section at Barnes and Noble and I noticed a book by some young guy I never heard of. I’m sure you know him now: Jamie Oliver. He looked, and indeed was, my age at the time. I flipped through the book and he had all these recipes for homemade pasta and -shock!- fresh bread from scratch! I had previously been so intimidated with both of these items thinking they are the domain of the professionals and always avoided them. Something just clicked when I saw his book (his first one) and i simply just thought “WTF, if he can do it, then I can too…I can at least try”. Now I have a family of my own and I cook and bake a lot with and for them. More importantly I make sure they always have freshly baked bread at home. The cool thing is that the “novelty” never wears off. It’s almost like magic how flour and water transform into an impressive loaf or pizza with some time and yeast. It still impresses me and any guests I have. Same goes for tender homemade pasta. For that moment I’m eternally grateful to Mr. Oliver.

  • Becca CF

    My a-ha moment came when I realized how you can apply the same cooking idea to many variations of the same dish. If you know a simple pancake recipe, then you have unlimited ways to actually make pancakes. I have found that it helps to be a little bit fearless as well when tinkering with a recipe because most of the time it doesn’t end in complete disaster. It might just not be what you were looking for at first.

  • Nick

    My biggest ah-ha moment in food was the first time i ate sweetbreads. Although I am a very adventurous eater, there was something off-putting about their name (sweetbreads are not, in-fact, a type of sweet bread), and being a student of medicine, I knew what they were before eating them. However, they have become one my favorite foods, not only to eat, but to cook as well. From the first moment i tried them i was awarded confidence to eat more delicious offal from then on.

  • oliver

    the aha moment-
    It happens all the time, and it’s the realization that everything in the kitchen happens for a reason. Understanding those reasons and fundamentals that result in the physical and chemical changes that happen to food when we cook is the key to progressing from a recipe follower to actually learning how to cook. For me, “Ratio” was a big key that helped unlock a lot of mysteries behind things like batters, doughs, etc. and to illustrate the point that really knowing how/when to use your ingredients, no matter how simple, is the difference between mere sustenance and something special.

  • Tyler

    My ah-ha moment would have been the first time I had a home garden grown, vine ripe, tomato that was still warm from my Grandparents garden, sliced thick on a piece of toast with a little mayo on the bread and salt and pepper. It was the first time I realized how good a “real” vegetable could be. Corn picked straight from the field would be a close second.

    As far as the only technique not in the book . . . . I guess you’ll have to send me a book so I know what 20 techniques you’ve included 😀

  • redpeace

    Very strange. My comment doesn’t appear any longer. Ah-ha moment was learning complex doesn’t mean good. I still make an effort to simplify when it comes to seasoning and ingredients.

  • Paul

    For me, while working in a fairly typical american restaurant one summer while in college, one of my many ah-ha moments was that a “fancy” pink sauce for pasta was traditional red sauce with cream added at the very end. It is my go-to sauce and has met with rave reviews and questions about “what I do” when I serve it.

    The 21st technique is failure?

  • Joey Meicher

    My ah-ha moment took place shortly after reading The French Laundry Cookbook. More so than the recipes, Thomas Keller, Susie Heller and you conveyed the finesse, attention to detail, and drive it takes to cook food at a level close to the food served at the French Laundry. I cook at a restaurant, and when I critique a dish I have made, I can say to myself, “Is this how they would have made it at The French Laundry?” An example is agnolotti, and the way I organize them on a sheet tray after cutting them; I line them up in perfect rows because that is probably what they do when they make the agnolotti at The French Laundry. The French Laundry Cookbook shows the importance of doing all the little things that may seem insignificant and the resulting dish that the cook can be very proud of because they refused to compromise or take shortcuts.

  • Trish

    I think my ah ha moment would have to be not so much a cooking technique, but the realization I actually could cook. I never gave it much thought, going into the kitchen to whip some dinner or bake a cake. I just did it because I liked it and I’d been doing it since I was young. Then one day it hit me, that I was good at this. Now I don’t just like to cook, I love it.

  • Joe

    21: Experiment/don’t always follow the recipe

    A-ha – the first time I tasted duck confit at Lolita. I never really got out of my comfort zone when eating before, I just stuck to chicken/beef/pork and the normal cuts of meat. Once I tried duck confit it really opened me up to trying any kind of food prepared any way. Now if there is something out of the ordinary on a menu (skate wing, pig’s ear, pig’s head, etc.) I have to try it so I won’t miss out on something else I may love to eat.

  • Jon in Albany

    Until about 10 years ago, I was always just so-so on chocolate. While visiting a vineyard in Napa, I tried a hollow dark chocolate orb that was filled with Cabernet. It was an amazing pairing. I had no idea chocolate could be that good.

    No chapter on Sous Vide? 🙂

  • Peter D

    Last year I was lucky to have had lunch at The Fat Duck. For the opening course our waitress rolled a steaming dewar of liquid nitrogen to the table, took a charger from underneath the tabletop, and injected a puff of mousse into the liquid. A rounded meringue shell emerged and was dusted with matcha powder. I picked it up and placed it in my tongue. It was cold, and then it disappeared… And for the first time in my life I tasted nothing. The mousse had neutralized all flavor in my mouth. It was an unexpected epiphany, and a strange intersection of food and abstraction that changed the way I thought about food entirely.

  • jim clay

    my ah-ha moment came when i was tasting a newly made batch of passion fruit ice cream, i grabbed a spoon and took a scoop of the ice cream, put it into my mouth without realizing that the spoon had been resting on a pile of chiffonaded basil. i just about spit it out, but then the flavors hit my tongue… a truly “food-porn” moment, that i have shared with countless others since then.

  • Erin Wilson

    I’ve had so many a-ha moments since living on my own and cooking for myself and friends. I would say my biggest are twofold. In the larger sense, it’s been how amazing, flavorful and filling vegetarian meals can be. Without having a large cut of meat to fall on for the main entree, I have been forced, happily, to experiment everyday with how to creatively use vegetables, fruits and grains. On a smaller scale, the first time I cooked Brussels sprouts for myself, making a small X in the base and blanching them, I was blown away by the sweet, buttery flavor. I couldn’t believe I (and SO many others) had spent my life hating this gorgeous veggie.

  • erin

    my ah ha moment came when i realized onions are really not that bad if you cook them or carmelize them and pair them with a few of your favorites. my husband is a big fan of meatloaf but putting onions in it was never an option until i came across a canjun meatloaf recipe. it had several other veggies in and and i never even tasted those creepy little onions, needless to say they have managed to sneak their way in to many other recipes in our home, including homemade pasta sauce!

  • Michael Kahn

    My a-ha moment: getting distracted for a moment while cooking steaks on an iron skillet, and returning to find beautiful browning. That taught me that I needed the patience to leave my food well enough alone while it cooks. There’s no need to constantly poke, prod, and stir (unless you’re doing a stir-fry). It only holds food back from all it could be. After that a-ha moment, I had the confidence to let nature take its course in the pan without fear, with delicious, Maillard-inspired results.

  • Michael Kahn

    For the 21st technique: if the first is “think” (ie, use your head), then the last might be “love” (ie, use your heart).

  • JB in San Diego

    I’ll go with knife skills as the 21st technique. Chop, mince, crush, julienne, brunoise, supreme, butcher, de-vein, slice, dice, score, sharpen!

  • Patrick Barringer

    My ah ha moment came when the importance of using pans that retain heat was pointed out to me. So simple, yet so important.

  • Keith

    Technique #21:
    Although it goes hand-in-hand with #1 Think –
    I think the most important thing is…
    Taste!

  • Julie

    For the 21st technique I’m going to say “Taste”. Tasting is definitely an acquired skill as I’m sure my husband will attest.

    As for my Ah-ha moment in cooking — I have to say pan searing fish. When I was young, it seems that most home cooks — my mother included — only baked fish. When I took out a pan and seared my first piece of fish, I was amazed at the difference in taste and texture. A skill worth knowing.

  • Rob S.

    I think my moment came a couple of years ago, when I realized that I didn’t need to obey the letter of the recipe as law. Substituting ingredients was not only possible, but often an improvement!

  • Mrs. Scrimp

    My a-ha moment was when I was 12. My mom taught me how to make a roux. Sprinkling flour into hot butter, stirring, and watching it magically transform into a thick, delicious sauce was totally revolutionary and I’ve been devoted to cooking ever since.

  • Laurel

    I think my a-ha moment was when I first got a decent set of cookware and good knives. I liked cooking before but had no idea how much easier and precise it would be with quality tools! I was much more eager to experiment after that.

  • Mario Capozzoli

    After culinary school here and abroad, and years of restaurant work, I finally figured out how to use water–yes H20–in my recipes. Watching Jaques use it to thin, to add gloss, to enhance texture, to expand the flavors of herbs…the use of water is endless…and we tend not to include it much as an active ingredient …(other than use it as a cooking technique).

  • Brett

    I have two a-ha moments.

    The first is the use of a sweet component in savory dishes. Just enough to round out the flavor. I tend to use honey in many savory dishes or sauces just to add a little something that most people can’t quite put their finger on. I don’t use too much, as I don’t want to sweeten the dish, but like your example of a drop of vinegar to completely change the character of the flavor profile, a drop or two of honey can do the same for savory flavors.

    The second has to do with water content in breads. Having tested several different bread recipes, ratios, and techniques, I have come to the conclusion that the best breads are the product of many things, one of which is a nice wet dough. The ability to keep your dough at just that point of not being sticky, but also not being “dry” is important for best results from fermentation and air pockets in the finished product. It takes some getting used to to handle a wetter dough, but makes a huge difference in the end result.

  • Lonnie

    My Ah-Ha was learning to use carry-over heat to my advantage in bringing all the components of a dish together at the same time as well as providing rest time for my proteins.

    You left out a chapter on BBQ, you did include grilling, but BBQ is a whole different beast!!!

  • Joel Mitchell

    My slowly developed “ah-ha”: Most iconic dishes around the world are poor-folk food: Meals made from scraps & bits & leftovers. When I’m cooking at home, I’ve learned to identify what each “traditional” ingredient contributes (herbs, acid, etc) and just make do with what I have.

  • Mo Lisi

    My ah-ha moment was a taste memory flash back to a series of events with my grandparents. I was picking my tomatoes in my little container on my apartment stoop, tasted one and it all came back to me: my nonno handing me one in the field, my nonna letting me crank the tomato press, canning them with my other grandmother, making sauce with my grandpa for his restaurant. It is the planting, the reaping, the alchemy and the sharing of food that move me. The gestalt that led me to become a chef professionally, feed people great food with gusto and share with my students. Not just an ah-ha but an aaah!

  • Robert S.

    My “Ah ha” moments.. using a cherry pitter on fresh lychees. Learning to eat kiwis without peeling them, opening up a mangosteen without a knife, waiting until a passion fruit is super wrinkling when precise ripeness occurs, opening up a Sweet young coconut with a Young Coconut Punch tool (instead of a screw driver and hammer), using papaya as a meat tenderizer, and peeling a pomegranate under water.. pulp rises and seed fall to the bottom of a bowl.

  • Holly

    I’ve had so many ah-ha moments that I can’t even count them. If I had to pin point the biggest one it would have to be the one that was probably the catalyst for them all. It was just after I left home, about a year after high school, when all the shopping and eating decisions were mine and there was so many more choices (moved from small town with one grocery store to ‘big’ city) and all the choices were mine. Not did I not have to eat the same old things, but I didn’t have to prepare them the old ways either! Seems basic, but for a small town girl of 19 back in the mid-nineties, that was quite the revelation.

  • Jason

    My biggest ah-ha moments came awhile ago. The first was learning that pasta should be finished in the sauce. Second was learning to use quality/in-season/fresh ingredients, especially fresh herbs.

  • Patrick Dennis

    Cooking eggs and home fries with a dollop of saved bacon grease… “A ha!”

  • Sherri Steiner

    A ah-ha moment for me was when I tasted a lemon topped raspberry pie. I wouldn’t have thought to put those 2 flavors together. It was deelish!

  • David Goldberg

    My ‘ah-ha’ moment came when I first saw that crazy video for ‘Take On Me’.

    But seriously folks – it was when I read Kitchen Confidential and realized that cooking with soul and being a celebrity chef are two different things.

  • Cheryl in Lyon

    Ran out of beef bouillon and realized that marmite/vegemite could be used for the umami element — no one I know likes the stuff, most hate it, but no one has ever been able to pin it down as my ‘secret ingredient’.

    The other one (and I didn’t want to put this as my main one for fear of looking like a kiss-up, lol) was the whole “Is something missing and you can’t figure out what it is? Add vinegar” revolution!
    Thanks!

  • Brian G.

    I can think of two Ah-ha moments:
    1. Learning to season and salt as you cook. Growing up, my mom would salt (exactly the amount the recipe called for) just before serving. It wasn’t until years later that I tasted food at a friends that had been seasoned as it was cooked, truly developing an amazing depth of flavor on simple ingredients I never would have imagined.
    2. Second big moment was was learning to let meat rest. After eating well-done steaks for years off my dad’s Weber, I eventually learned to appreciate steaks and meat that weren’t cooked to the consistency of charcoal. Despite having unbelievable meat at restaurants for years, I couldn’t figure out how I kept overcooking my meat. Once I learned to let the meat rest after taking it off the grill, I have truly mastered grilling steaks on my Weber at home.

  • Dru

    kale, made into the base for a salad, by adding brown rice vinegar and letting it rest..changed my world and relationship with dark green leafy things.

  • Maneesha

    My Ah-Ha moment came a when my daughter said, “Why can you not make the picture in the book?” Once I started trying new recipes and getting out of my comfort zone, it just got better from there.

  • Janis

    My epiphany was realizing that it took only a few ingredients to make one of the best leg of lamb I ever had. It was a compound butter made with anchovies and garlic and shoved in slits in the leg of lamb. Transcending.

  • Kris P.

    One of my ah-ha moments came after subscribing to a farmer’s co-op. Fresh, local produce every week to the tune of an entire tote bag+ worth. What to do with a handful of ground cherries? How about the three enormous cucumbers? Or the pound and a half of peppers? When faced with a bevy of a single ingredient get creative… make a sauce, make a dressing, make a chutney, make a soup, add it to bread, blanche and salt, or go the raw route. I learned the power of preservation and application.

  • Tasha

    My A-ha moment was moving out and discovering the world beyond my mom’s small town / limited menu. I could never get over my first taste of goat cheese & strawberries.

  • Pigflyin

    My ah-ha moments was my introduction to proper canned tomatoes. Never understood the appeal of tomato sauce until I had dinner at a Italian friend’s parents place. Garlic, tomatoes, olive oil and pasta. Easily the best meal ever.

    I didn’t realize what a good product they can be. I always thought that “fresh from supermarket” is better than canned. But the “fresh tomatoes” from supermarket was never this good! In understanding why, I slowly learn more about food.

    how supermarket able to store green product and force ripe them. that’s how come I got apples all year round!

    How there are supermarket variety that looks good on shelf but taste nothing like it.

    How canning and preserving are part of our civilization – evolve from the need of food in winter and the lack of refrigeration. Canning at the peak of ripe tomatoes is actually a good thing.

    I learn about seasons and rotate food across the year…save me money too!

    The next summer after the “tomato incident”, I help with canning the tomatoes my friend grown and my obsession with food just grows from there.

  • Polly Crowninshield

    I love your new book and will be giving it to my three grown children for their upcoming birthdays…leaving me without one…hence the need for one. An Ah Ha moment came to me recently in Sardinia when I had spaghetti with Bottarga…the spaghetti was cooked to perfection, and the Bottarga was incredible! I had never experienced it before, but knew I’d love it after a description that Mario Batali gave of it on his show one day.
    . A technique that I use in my kitchen several times every week is…fermentation! I make my own yogurt, creme fraiche, kimchee and pickles…I way prefer the taste of my own yogurt made with organic non ultrapasturized whole milk…and making kimchee is awesome! I’m happy to tell you more if you’re interested.