Or so the saying sort of goes.
Now, you can likely teach yourself how to properly poach an egg, grill an octopus, sear a halibut, or plate a dish from browsing different YouTube videos.
Or, you can learn all of those things and more from watching the single epic video embedded at the end of this post.
It’s like getting a free master class in cooking techniques, well, because it is: Gerron Douglas, executive chef at the Conrad New York Hotel, demonstrated these cooking techniques for me in his kitchen last month at the ATRIO Wine Bar & Restaurant.
Chef Gerron, who took over ATRIO’s kitchen last year after serving as a chef at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events, the Waldorf Astoria, Amuse, and other restaurants, says his goal for ATRIO is to “create a dining experience that speaks to local ingredients and seasonal options, with a little bit of a global influence,” adding that New York’s mix of cultures lends itself to a creative menu where he does “a little bit of American, a little bit of Mediterranean [and] a little bit of French and Spanish. While we don’t want to necessarily be all over the map, we still want to have a world cuisine.”
Watch the video and in addition to learning step-by-step how Chef Gherron (pronounced JHERRON) prepares the Avocado Toast, Grilled Octopus, and Roasted Halibut at ATRIO (AT pronounced like “at” in “cat”) – you’ll hear me mispronouncing these things and you’ll pick up many pro cooking tips along the way.
Here now, some of the things you’ll learn from the video, which, again, is embedded below.
How to Poach an Egg
- Heat your water until its bubbling, not crazy boiling.
- Add a little white distilled vinegar to your water. The acid will help coagulate your egg.
- Don’t crack the egg directly into the water. Break it into separate container so you can more easily slide it into the water and, if necessary, pick out any eggshells.
- Before slipping your egg into the water, create a vortex by swirling the water with a spoon. Then, gently pour the egg onto the vortex, which helps the egg keep its shape. Yes, cooking relies on science.
How to Grill Like You Know What You’re Doing
- Massage oil into whatever you’re grilling – vegetable, meat, chicken, or fish, in this case octopus – until it’s coated, but not dripping.
- Don’t use only olive oil as your massage oil, as it will burn. Mix up your own blended oil: 25% olive oil for flavor and 75% canola oil.
- Add a little bit of salt to whatever you’re grilling; in the case of the octopus, it was braised first for a few hours in some red wine and spices to make it tender
- Look for the hot spot on your grill. Run your hand above your grill and when find that place “where you can’t hold your hand there for more than a second or two, bingo, you hit it,” says Chef Gerron.
- If you don’t have a ginormous restaurant grill, an outdoor grill, or any grill atop which you can gracefully place food, you can use a grill pan on your stovetop. Just let the pan get hot enough “to the point where smoke is coming off [of it] but not where you’re going to set off fire alarm,” suggests Chef Gerron.
- The “fun part”: After grilling the octopus on one side for about three few minutes, dip it in a marinade of blended oil, sherry vinegar, and crushed red-pepper flakes and put it back on the grill, where as illustrated in the photo above, it’ll flare up, and the sugars in the vinegar will begin to caramelize it without giving it too much of a char.
How to Pan-Sear and Roast Fish Like a Boss
- Turn the heat up under a heavy-bottomed stainless steel saute pan. “A hot pan is key to having fish that doesn’t stick,” says Chef Gerron. Don’t add any oil yet.
- Also make sure your oven is on. The chef says you’d be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t be, how often home cooks overlook this step. Crank it up to 425 or 450.
- Use a six-ounce portion of skinless halibut, fluke or some other flaky white fish. Pat it dry on both sides with a paper towel.
- Once your pan is hot, add the oil. Use the 75/25 blended oil suggested above.
- Season your fish, but don’t salt it until you’re just about to put it in the pan. “As soon as you salt something it starts to draw out the moisture,” Chef Gerron explains.
- Lay the fish into your hot pan, away from you, so you don’t splash yourself.
- Use a spatula to hold your fish down until it “releases itself” or relaxes. After pressing it you can give the pan a little shake to see if the fish has released itself from the bottom, aka is not sticking.
- Then, chef says, “let your oven do the rest of the work and “leave the fish on one side. A big misconception is that you need to flip the fish, back and forth… it cooks itself all the way through on one side.” Leave the pan in the oven for about eight minutes.
- Pro tip: If you open the oven to check your fish, close it as soon as possible so your oven doesn’t lose too much heat. If you need to check your fish, pull it out, close oven to check it, and then put it back in if necessary.
How to Plate a Dish Like a Pro
- Experiment with different colors. In the case of his avocado toast, Chef Gerron used a black plate to make the green of his mashed avocado stand out.
- Adding a fresh herb or some other green will make your plate pop. You can also place a bit of green on top your fish to hide a split or other imperfections.
- Try using a larger plate with a smaller portion. “It’s like framing a masterpiece,” Chef Gerron says. “When you have that negative space that larger plate gives you, it almost creates border around what you’re doing and it automatically makes things look nicer.”
- Give your plate a little wipe with a towel to get rid of smudges before serving the dish.
- Garnish in odd numbers. When he plated the octopus, Chef Gerron garnished with a micro-green with the wonderful name Hearts of Fire, and he only added three of them. You “always want to add things in this fashion in odd numbers, [in threes or] even five or seven,” he says, as there’s “something about doing even amounts that doesn’t look natural.”
A Word About Food Allergies
Having worked in many kitchens, Chef Gerron is naturally sensitive to guests with food allergies. But he especially understands the concerns of parents with food-allergic kids because he’s the dad of a food-allergic kid.
Chef Gerron and his wife discovered that their six-month-old (they also have a six-year-old) is allergic to lactose. He notes that “nowadays so many kids are being diagnosed with allergies that we take it very seriously [at the restaurant] and are very mindful not only of children, but of guests in general who have allergies, and we are as accommodating as possible when it comes to taking care of those guests.” So when writing the menu, he tries to include items that are naturally gluten free – the halibut dish, for instance.
Favorite Off-Duty Eats
When Chef Gerron is off duty or home with his family and wants something quick and easy to eat, he noted (as I’ve heard from many busy chefs) that his wife does much of the cooking at home, and their go-to dishes might include “rice or a grilled chicken or fish, some salad. If we do have time, I’m a big fan of oxtail. And macaroni and cheese,” which he notes is a family recipe.
“It’s one of the things I learned how to make from my grandmother,” he says, “who was one of my inspirations for actually getting into cooking.”
Here now, the video.