Chefs Reveal the Best Cooking Advice They’ve Ever Received

Pass It Down

There’s an old saying – practice makes perfect – and that’s certainly true of developing your skills in the kitchen. With time and a will to learn, anyone has what it takes to become a good cook. However, if you’re looking for a shortcut, look no further than these pearls of wisdom from local chefs and restaurateurs. Gathered from years spent in the culinary world, their advice will help you master everything from the best scrambled eggs to a sensationally seasoned soup.  

Prepare, prepare, prepare…


Brion Voges headshotBrion Voges, Chef, Fiamma Pizza Company 

“I got the best cooking advice I’ve ever received from a co-worker on my first day in a restaurant job. He told me, ‘Prepare, prepare, prepare.’ If I could pass one thing along, it’s that great food requires preparation. That doesn’t mean great cooking is difficult – quite the opposite. It simply requires a small amount of foresight. Preparation is often what makes a great cook great.”



brown eggs on a white background


Susan Danner headshotSusan Danner, Owner, Longhorn Restaurant

“At Longhorn, we go through 60 to 90 dozen eggs a week. They’re really a staple in the kitchen – you can fry or boil them; bake a pie, cake, or quiche; top salads with them; and serve them for breakfast or dinner. I think most people don’t realize how often eggs are used in the everyday foods we eat! 

No matter what dish you’re creating, there are a few things to keep in mind when working with eggs. First, purchase your eggs from a reliable source for the best quality. Second, make sure you store them correctly (in the refrigerator, and keep them covered). Third, only cook with fresh eggs – once they’re past their prime, it’s time to toss them.” 

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Everything in its place…




Philippe Gehin headshotPhilippe Gehin, Chef, La Cabriole

“My advice is the first thing a chef instructor teaches his students: mise en place. This French term means to put everything in its place before you begin cooking – including all the ingredients and cooking tools required to achieve your favorite recipe. For example, if your recipe calls for pasta with tomatoes and basil, you should have your salted water already boiling, your tomatoes diced, and the basil chopped. Mise en place prevents you from running back and forth in the kitchen, and it’s such an important concept for meal preparation and execution.”



Cynthia Wood headshotCynthia Wood, Chef, Davis Wayne’s

“A great cooking tip I learned from my mother is how to make the best scrambled eggs. Instead of adding milk or heavy cream, add cold tap water to your eggs and mix them with a fork. This makes the eggs light and fluffy. 

When scrambling the eggs, add cheese when they are almost done. Remove the eggs from the heating element. Continue scrambling the eggs off of the heat until the cheese is completely incorporated. These simple tips have officially made me the scrambled egg champion in our family.”



fried fish


Larry Torrence headshotLarry Torrence, Founder & Owner, Uncle Larry’s Restaurant

“As a kid growing up, I watched my mother Mildred Torrence cook in the kitchen. I learned a lot from her since she made everything from scratch. So that is what I do – I fry fish the old-school way. I mix my own seasonings and breading, and I do not use batter. If I could pass on one piece of cooking advice, it’s this: When you get ready to bread your fish, make sure the fish is cold and wet so that it will hold the breading.”

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Perfect each ingredient…


Carolyn Birkhead headshotCarolyn Birkhead, General Manager & Chef, Ooltewah Whistlestop 

“I would have to say the best cooking advice I’ve ever received was to prepare each individual ingredient as if you were going to eat it alone. For instance, if you are making a stew, season and prepare the beef tips as well as if that was your main course. Roast the carrots and onions like they were your favorite side dish at Thanksgiving. This way, you have all the individual flavors working together instead of having one bland-tasting dish.”



sea salt


Monica Smith headshotMonica Smith, Operating Partner & Chef, Mean Mug Coffeehouse

“My grandmother is largely responsible for fostering my love of cooking and baking. One of the most memorable pieces of advice she gave me was about using salt to enhance the flavors of your recipe. It’s not only a great ingredient to season a dish, but in many cases, it plays an important role in food preparation. I love incorporating sea salt into baked goods or a good smoked sea salt into savory dishes.”



Justin Bennett HeadshotJustin Bennett, Owner, Pizzeria Cortile

“As a kid, I watched my dad make something out of nothing more times than I can count. His ability to make a meal without a plan from the ingredients and leftovers we had at the house had a huge impact on how I approach food and cooking. The ability to not waste anything and come up with a meal quickly and creatively has helped me in my whole life, not just the kitchen.”

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Taste first…


person stirring a steaming soup pot


Joan Marie Worsham headshotJoan Marie Worsham, Owner, Bluegrass Grill

“I have a dear friend who happens to be one of the top postal mechanics in the United States. He always stops by the restaurant around 5:15 a.m. as he starts his day to pick up a cup of coffee. I am finishing up the soup of the day at that time of the morning, and I’ll ask him, ‘What do you think?’ His standard wise answer over the years is this: ‘Add a little bit to a cup and taste it and see if you like it before you add it to the entire batch.’ 

His advice has served me well, whether it be more wine, some fresh-squeezed citrus, or a bit of sweetener. His advice allows me to experiment and learn what works since I have been trained by the ‘school of hard knocks.’ His advice has encouraged creativity and self-trust in my cooking.” 



small glass bowls of spices


Duda Goulart headshotDuda Goulart, Company Chef, Rodizio Grill at Hamilton Place

“Growing up, my mom would always say: ‘Temperando a agua quando se ferve qualquer coisa.’ This translates to, ‘Season the water before you boil anything – really anything!’ Every type of food has its natural minerals, proteins, and vitamins; cooking methods can enhance or detract from the food’s natural elements. Tap water has much lower levels of minerals, therefore adding salt to water when boiling vegetables, meat, and pasta will help balance minerals between water and the food you boil. This method will provide you with better color, flavor, and texture on the food boiled.”

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