Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

What skills to learn, what tools to get
daylen
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Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by daylen » Sun Nov 24, 2019 6:24 am

Cooking is a culture universal. Every human population in written history has their own cooking style and traditions. The invention of fire helped humans devote less time to digestion for more time hunting, foraging, and farming. This increase in the ingredient pool lead to an explosion of possible combinations with the corresponding need for appropriate cooking methods. Furthermore, cooking is an activity that requires a significant amount of time for most people. It is a skill worth learning even if only to improve efficiency/cost and not flavor. So, I figured why not propose a Wheaton scale of cooking.

0. Restaurants and take-out. No cooking involved. Level zero.

1. Pre-processed food that just requires heat or adding a spice packet.

2. Recipe required. Step-by-step instructions that assume only the most basic skills of the user (such as cutting, mixing, and straining).

3. Technique focus. Substitutions are made within the confines of general recipes. Specialized tools may be sought on a case-by-case basis. Mastery of individual ingredients such as eggs or pasta. Dish washing becomes more of a concern during this stage, so utensils and containers are re-used when appropriate.

4. A shift back to the basics: salt, fat, acid, and heat. Focus on principles and process. Order of operations becomes paramount. Understanding of basic chemical processes such as marination and caramelization. Cooking sauces from scratch to fit each dish individually. Timing the addition of novel ingredient combinations.

5. A merger between tradition and innovation. Distinct cultural styles are understood and mastered, yet the boundaries are simultaneously stretched. Focus is on how to utilize locally produced ingredients in seasonal cycles without sacrificing variety. Misdirection may be used to surprise by confusing the senses. Cooking is consistently viewed as both science and art.

2Birds1Stone
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by 2Birds1Stone » Sun Nov 24, 2019 8:26 am

Very interesting, especially as someone who is currently teetering on the edge of 3 and 4 (much closer to 3). I am always amazed by Seppia's posts on cooking, as I would peg him with 4+.

oldbeyond
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by oldbeyond » Sun Nov 24, 2019 8:44 am

Interesting!

My cooking is very rustic, I lack the patience and attention to detail to spend a lot of time on side dishes, labour intensive processes (like making my own dumplings or sushi) or advanced sauces. But I do remember there being a point where I started to "get" the process/system on a more intuitive level, and after that cooking is pretty much always enjoyable and manageable. My style is quite rustic and my skill level for some techniques is fairly low, but grasping timing, logistics and flavor combinations makes it quite easy to dazzle the general population, if not foodies, while making it appear somewhat effortless.

AnalyticalEngine
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by AnalyticalEngine » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:32 am

Interesting concept. It explains why a lot of cooking books can be lacking because they focus on level 2. Can anyone recommend any 3+ cooking resources? I have found Alton Brown's Good Eats good for that, but I'd like some printed resources too.

Peanut
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by Peanut » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:40 am

I think the jump from level 4 to 5 here is massive. Within 5 (multiple traditions?) itself are massive jumps even for professionals. Tbh I think these scales are often proposed to conveniently put people at an almost-expert level while ignoring the real process of developing expertise.

A more useful question is how to become an accomplished home chef within the context of ERE. Can you prepare Thanksgiving dinner economically, efficiently, deliciously?

Peanut
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by Peanut » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:43 am

AnalyticalEngine wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:32 am
Interesting concept. It explains why a lot of cooking books can be lacking because they focus on level 2. Can anyone recommend any 3+ cooking resources? I have found Alton Brown's Good Eats good for that, but I'd like some printed resources too.
Well, Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab is a science-based approach to cooking. How and when to salt your burger so it doesn’t dry out, etc.

jacob
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by jacob » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:43 am

I declare myself a level 3 cook. I haven't come across any cooking books (mainly because I haven't been that interested) on that level although I'm sure there are some---I've seen references. What I did in practice (I was into cooking just after I moved out from home) was to first try new recipes for a while ... and then returning to my favorites, I would deliberately switch out ingredients or eliminate them altogether. Baking is probably the easiest/most scientific way to proceed, e.g. what does yeast do, what does milk do (as opposed to water), what does butter do, oil instead of butter, ...

I think level 4 can be seen as a concern for more basic building blocks, but I think it also concerns 3-body effects---that would be the chemical process---in that what do those two ingredients do in the presence of a third ... or a different environment.

I know level 4 exists because I observe that sometimes my dishes come out better than other times but I don't know why. One thing I haven't done but should to make it to the next level is to become very consistent/control for more factors than I am so I can tease out those second-order effects I'm currently missing.

daylen
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by daylen » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:45 am

Peanut wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:40 am
A more useful question is how to become an accomplished home chef within the context of ERE. Can you prepare Thanksgiving dinner economically, efficiently, deliciously?
In that constraint, the seasonal aspect still applies. Utilizing locally produced ingredients and conforming to a seasonal growth cycle allows for robustness across economic scale (essential ERE philosophy), hence in absence of the multi-cultural part, level five still holds.

Seppia
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by Seppia » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:50 am

I think at a certain point along the scale there's the need to incorporate speed and scale.
Cooking for 2/3/4 people or cooking for just 15 is completely different

I think between 3 and 4 (or maybe between 4 and 5) there could be a level where one starts to differentiate the quality of the fresh ingredients they're looking at.
For example, when we go to the market, my wife cannot differentiate between good eggplants and so-so eggplants, tomatoes, fish, meat etc, while for me it's pretty obvious which one is good, which one is terrible, and which one is just ok.

Also, before level 5, I would maybe see another level, where one is capable of producing a reasonably good dish from whatever ingredients he/she is given (to a certain degree obviously), because there's an understanding of how things "work" together.

daylen
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by daylen » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:53 am

Feel free to expand upon or alter! That is what this thread is for! :)

Seppia
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by Seppia » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:58 am

AnalyticalEngine wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:32 am
Can anyone recommend any 3+ cooking resources?
In my experience, to go past level 3 as described here one just has to do this:
jacob wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:43 am
What I did in practice (I was into cooking just after I moved out from home) was to first try new recipes for a while ... and then returning to my favorites, I would deliberately switch out ingredients or eliminate them altogether.
many many times.

cooking fits perfectly in the CCCCC model jacob references often, and the transition from one phase to the next is often the result of passion, observation and repetition.

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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by jacob » Sun Nov 24, 2019 10:08 am

Seppia wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:50 am
I would maybe see another level, where one is capable of producing a reasonably good dish from whatever ingredients he/she is given (to a certain degree obviously), because there's an understanding of how things "work" together.
That's what I considered level 3?! ... or in any case the point when recipes are no longer required. In terms of Dreyfus learning levels, it happens at the "competent" level ... after the beginner stages. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_m ... cquisition https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a084551.pdf

In daylen's terms:
0. Restaurants and takeout(*)
1. Pre-processed. (Novice)
2. Recipe required. (Advanced beginner)
3. Technique. (Competence)
4. Principles and process (Proficient)
5. Innovation (Expert)

(*) I submit that eating has nothing to do with cooking :o :geek: ... An expert eater might know all the menus of all the restaurants in the town down to who cooked them and where the ingredients come from and name of the calf that provided the hamburger; but at the same time literally how no clue how to boil an egg or make a PB&J sandwich. I know or knew people like that.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sun Nov 24, 2019 10:15 am

Seppia wrote: there could be a level where one starts to differentiate the quality of the fresh ingredients they're looking at.
another level, where one is capable of producing a reasonably good dish from whatever ingredients he/she is given (to a certain degree obviously), because there's an understanding of how things "work" together.
Absolutely agree. "What looks good today?" and "What do I have?" vs "Compile list."

Not sure where I would fall on the scale. I consider myself to be a very good pick-up cook, but not a great cook. Analogous to the pianist who can easily, competently play most requests in a mid-scale hotel lounge, but will never become Billy Joel. However, my lack of greatness is in good part due to too many years stuck in the realm of "cooking for kids."

OTOH, I would do extremely well on the challenge suggested by Peanut. Several years ago I prepared an entire Thanksgiving meal from scratch while negotiating unexpected request for reconciliation from ex on telephone.

Seppia
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by Seppia » Sun Nov 24, 2019 11:03 am

jacob wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 10:08 am
That's what I considered level 3?! ... or in any case the point when recipes are no longer required.
mmmh
Maybe I misinterpreted (or, I'm explaining myself poorly), but I interpreted level 3 as
"doesn't need to follow recipes and can find substitute ingredients (within the confines of learned recipes) in case one is missing"
ie I'm going to prepare a reuben, I find out I have no mustard and i use some grated horseradish instead

What I meant is
you show up to someone's place, are given a very limited amount of resources/ingredients and you're still able to create something tasty

not sure I'm making any sense

daylen
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by daylen » Sun Nov 24, 2019 11:18 am

My intention was that level three aligns with what Seppia said. At level three, a curry may be a dish that combines tumeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and chilies with some [variable] meat and oil base. Hence, some of the ingredients are substituted and some ingredients remain fixed to an associated 'staple recipe'.

At level four, ingredient synergies become more apparent.

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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by jacob » Sun Nov 24, 2019 11:40 am

I think the "within the confines of learned recipes" is the sticking point between 3 and maybe 3.5 then. Recipe thinking has to leave one's framework before 4 but I think this happens before going all the way to fat, salt, ... basics or constructing tailor made sauces.

In comparison with lego blocks,
2 is following the instructions/plan in the box
3 if within the confines of the plans is substituting another lego block
3.5 is building e.g. a house, a plane, or a car given a collection of blocks (and no plan)
4. is ditto but building to specs/with a specific goal in mind, e.g. a delta winged plane

In terms of what the person have yet to internalize and what must be supplied externally
0 - the strategy, the tactics, mixed ingredients, basic ingredients, work
1 - the strategy, the tactics, mixed ingredients, basic ingredients
2 - the strategy, the tactics, mixed ingredients
3 - the strategy, the tactics
4 - the strategy
5 - nothing

Translation key: strategy = meal concept (e.g. general Tso's chicken); tactics = cutting, frying, what goes with what, how to tell if more oregano is needed; mixed ingredients = cakemix, mayo, TV-dinners, ... ; basic ingredients = onion, milk, carrot, turkey breast ...

So in terms of what the cook can supply on their own w/o having to look it up (follow a recipe) or buy something specific (like a cakemix), it becomes
0 - nothing
1 - work
2 - work, basic ingredients
... and so on.
5 - everything

7Wannabe5
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sun Nov 24, 2019 12:37 pm

Not sure where to put it on the scale, but always cooking forward might be included. I don't mean quantity cooking for the freezer. An example would be turning bones into broth which becomes soup dotted with croutons from heel end of loaf you baked. Can be extended all the way to tucking scraps into garden "sandwich bed" in anticipation of growing specific sort of tomato next year.

I recently read that there are 4 types of eating; Storm, Fog, Fun, and Fuel. The Science of Cooking might be directed at Fuel, and the Art of Cooking might be directed at Fun. (Storm and Fog are dysfunctional, and well served by super-size servings and convenience snacks.)

Frita
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by Frita » Sun Nov 24, 2019 1:40 pm

Like with many other DIY skills, it seems that proficiency used to be the baseline. My great-grandmother was a Swedish cook living in tiehack camps along the railroad lines. My grandmother helped her when she was younger, cooking for hundreds of hungry men doing logging work during daylight hours. My grandmother was a fabulous scratch cook, could garden/preserve and fish/clean and hunt/butcher, and cook for large amounts of people to a handful. That being said, she bought boxed pizza mix and put sliced hotdogs on it—yuck! While she could make some American fusion cuisine and made fabulous breads of all sorts, she didn’t understand pizza. (She didn’t really eat out so perhaps that was the issue?)

My mom grew up in the 50s, eating my grandmother’s delicious food. She is a frozen food and box sort of gal. When he makes a recipe, it takes a long time with a significant mess. The results range from disaster to impressive.. Quality of ingredients is rarely a consideration. Buffets and places like Costco are valued.

My grandmother let me help her so I learned many techniques and ideas about food preparation. (One time she even had a friend and I make a cake without guidance or a recipe. What a disaster! She ate it anyway and asked what we learned.) I can make decent pizza and scratch cook Mexican and Mexican-fusion about half the time based on living in Mexico. I have ate out more and been exposed to a greater variety of ingredients to incorporate into my cooking. Most of our skills overlap, though I have never attempted to make headcheese and do not like some traditional foods such as Limburger cheese and pickled herring. I do not know how to cook for more than 15 to 20 people either as I have never had the need to do so.

So, obviously, my mom has level 2/3 cooking skills. My grandmother and I are in the 4/5 range but for different reasons. In today’s world little things like rendering my own lard and schmaltz, making a variety of homemade bread products, canning, and scratch cooking is impressive to my peers. In my grandmother’s time, everyone had this skill set though she produced consistently tasty results and was considered one of the best cooks in the community.

On a side note, what is the interaction to body weight? My grandmother was trim, as am I. My mother is obese. Is it simply relying on commercial items or do levels coincide with a different interaction with food?

Laura Ingalls
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by Laura Ingalls » Sun Nov 24, 2019 3:38 pm

I agree with Frita cooking is multi dimensional. My mom is excellent at canning tomatoes and pressure cooking green beans. She bought a book on food safety and canning techniques and then had my dad the master gardener bring in mass quantities of veggies.

She is actually a poor cook. Tends to overcook and under season everything. Works from a tiny reporatorie of iffy offerings.

My paternal grandma was the culinary equivalent of Egos something from nothing log.

The culinary skill I am trying to work on is having a way to eat a pound of mung bean sprouts before they go bad. I make pad Thai and then think I am going to chow main and never get it done before they turn to slime.

Dave
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Re: Cooking Levels (Wheaton Scale)

Post by Dave » Sun Nov 24, 2019 4:32 pm

Fun concept!

@AnalyticalEngine - It may not be clear from Daylen's post, but I think he is basing level 4 off the concepts in the book Salt Fat Acid Heat. I read it earlier this year and my cooking has improved substantially. Nosrat is more of an intuitive cook and the book definitely will help move most cooks along and help them see the concepts behind why certain things work and certain things don't.

For what it's worth, there is a Netflix short series under the same name with Nosrat. It's entertaining, but not nearly as useful as the book.

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