For New Cooks: Learn Technique or Focus on Flavors?

If you want to learn to cook well, should you focus on technique or devote your energy to experimenting with flavors?

Many Chowhounds weighed in on the side of learning technique first, including small h, who offers one practical reason why: "Because it would be frustrating to keep burning your flavor experiments."

mateo21 agrees. "Technique all the way," he says. "[A] horribly overcooked pork tenderloin with apples or licorice is still horribly overcooked and not going to taste that great."

Still, others think that dedicating yourself early on to the finer points of flavor pairings and profiles pays off. "As a classical violinist, I was trained with a heavy emphasis on melody and technique. Many times at the expense of the music," wyogal says. "As someone who has 'crossed over' to traditional styles of music, I find that ... understanding of 'flavor' goes much further than technique, musically speaking."

escondido123 adds that you can come to understand flavors by "being exposed to them." "If you come from a culture that eats bland food, being exposed to 'spicier' flavors broadens your understanding," escondido123 says. "[T]asting varied foods makes you better able to distinguish flavors. Very small example: I always used lemon on fish until I was in Tahiti where they served lime. Found I love that flavor and now often use lime where I might have used lemon—and it always makes me think of that vacation."

And some say that both technique and a good understanding of flavors will develop naturally if you just spend enough time in the kitchen. "I think just being around food and being given the run of the kitchen is more important than making a decision about technique vs flavors," sueatmo says. "My kids all cook, and the kid who spent the most time messing around in the kitchen is by far the best cook."

Discuss: Technique versus flavors, which should you learn first?