Culinary school is an expensive proposition, and a commitment of years.
A trip to Aspen, Colo., for the summer Food & Wine Classic only takes three days and gives participants access to lectures by some of the country's best chefs. Sure, it's an expensive proposition as well, but for serious food fans, it is a remarkable opportunity to pick the brains of culinary trendsetters.
You won't get to cook a souffle, or even practice knife skills. But careful listening at a number of demonstrations turned up some similar themes and offered excellent tips along the way.
Jim Webster, Times food critic
Don't be a slave to a recipe
Considering that all of these chefs have cookbooks to sell, that's pretty bold advice, but it came up over and over.
"Take a recipe and make it your own. If a recipe calls for capers and you don't like capers, don't use capers. If you can't find anchovies, don't use anchovies." — Thomas Keller, the only U.S. chef with two Michelin three-star restaurants
"Recipes are great, but learn techniques and build your own recipes from there." — Michael Symon of Iron Chef America on Food Network
"I was on Martha Stewart's show, and she said, 'You aren't following the recipe!' And I said, 'But it works!' " — Jose Andres of Made in Spain on PBS
Fat is not the enemy
The axiom that "fat is flavor" was uttered more than once.
"Find an olive oil you like. Find a store that will let you taste them. If they won't, find another store." — Mario Batali of many series on Food Network and PBS
"I'd rather eat a little bit of something that is really good than a lot of something that is flat and 'healthy.' I eat a lot of fat and I'm relatively healthy. And I have a shiny coat." — Michael Symon
Salt is not the enemy
Too much salt may be bad for you, but the consensus is that any amount of salt you may cook with will be less than what is found in processed food.
"People see chefs grab a bunch of salt and sprinkle it on the food and freak out. But they don't think about how much more there is in that can of soup." — Michael Symon
"We use different kinds of salt for different things depending on whether we are cooking or finishing a dish. You can also season with acids (vinegar or citrus). We don't season with pepper. If you add pepper to something, it adds pepper flavor. You're changing the flavor, not enhancing it." — Thomas Keller
Chicken breast may be the enemy
It is popular with diners at large, but chefs find white meat bland and boring.
"We rarely serve chicken breast, and when we do, we (grind) the thigh and stuff it in the breast to make it taste like dark meat." — David Chang of New York's Momofuku restaurants
"Boneless, skinless chicken breast on a Caesar salad is evil." — Michael Symon