London - There are many things in life in which I’m a failure, but at the top of the list is cooking. Once, when attempting to make chicken kievs, I ended up with three firemen at my door after forgetting I’d put food in the oven. I’ve also taken a friend’s filling out with a sticky toffee pudding that I’d microwaved for infinitely longer than I should have.
So I don’t bother. Instead, I live off ready-made food in packets and cans.
But all that is about to change, thanks to the man who promises to teach anyone - even me - how to cook quickly.
A phenomenon in America, author Tim Ferriss, 35, claims in his new book, The Four-Hour Chef, that in only a few hours he can teach you all the techniques you would learn in two years of cookery school.
Not only that, but he claims the learning method he has developed to crack cooking can be applied to anything - from learning a language to becoming a master at dance.
It sounds ridiculous, but over the past few years, the ‘accelerated learning’ expert has mastered just about everything using his method.
He speaks seven languages - including Mandarin, which he learned in six months, German (in three months) and Spanish (in eight weeks). Six months after taking his first tango lesson he became the Guinness World Record holder for tango spins.
He sounds like a nightmare, but to his millions of Twitter and blog followers he is the ultimate lifestyle guru, with two other best-selling books, The Four-Hour Workweek, about using technology to cut down on work, and The Four-Hour Body, about maximising weight loss.
And now he’s on to cooking - which he promises me did not come naturally to him. ‘Until a year ago, I had never used my oven,’ he says. ‘The only things in my refrigerator were alcohol and mustard.’
Now he can cook dinner for 70 - the number he catered for at his A-list book launch. So, what is the mysterious blueprint? Called DISSS, it’s surprisingly simple.
‘Step one is deconstruction,’ says Tim. ‘So if I’m learning a new skill, I think about how to break it into the simplest components.’
With cooking, it’s a case of sectioning it into ingredients, equipment, and skills; with languages it’s a case of chopping it down into vocabulary, verbs and grammar, and so on for almost any discipline.
‘Step two is selection: picking the activities to focus on to maximise results,’ says Tim.
‘Then there’s sequencing: what order do I need to learn the various pieces of my skill in?’
For example, it’s best to learn the basic foot moves of a dance before working on your posture and arm positions.
‘Step four is stakes, which means making sure there are consequences to not sticking to your plan,’ Tim says.
He explains research shows that doing something five times is enough to start a habit, but often we don’t have the willpower to get that far. He says there needs to be an incentive - such as signing up to a dance competition, or booking a holiday to the place of the language you’re learning.
Tim says people who can’t cook get overwhelmed because there is so much to take on. Cooking isn’t like mastering one skill, it’s learning several at the same time - from understanding ingredients to knowing which utensils to use - and, because it’s complex, we give up. But breaking it down makes it manageable.
So, here goes with my first step. One skill that Tim says is vital to master for cooking is learning how to use a knife - which he tells me while brandishing a cleaver. Chopping is involved in almost every element of cooking, and if you can master it, things fly along very nicely. We begin with learning how to hold a knife properly. He gives me a plastic knife to ensure that there are no injuries, adjusts my hands and tells me to make my way through a pile of celery. Within 15 minutes, I’m making light work of it and feel chuffed.
The next step is ‘selection’ - choosing the minimum ingredients for maximum taste. ‘Whenever I read a “simple” recipe, my first question is: can I use half the ingredients and half the steps?’ says Tim.
As a result, many of his recipes feature fewer than four ingredients. As for peeling vegetables - don’t bother. He suggests just scrubbing veg with a coarse sponge. Oh, and don’t worry about oven temperatures - just set it to 180c.
‘It doesn’t matter what you’re cooking, it’ll work 90 percent of the time,’ he says.
Final rule - don’t be overwhelmed by herbs, just stick the following list on the fridge:
Fish: fennel or dill;
beef and pork: rosemary;
Next is sequencing. Tim’s book outlines 15 recipes, starting with the easiest.
‘Each takes about nine minutes to make, but teaches flexible techniques you can apply everywhere, so by the time you finish these recipes you’ll have learned the techniques to cook for the rest of your life,’ he says. ‘Plan to cook twice a week for the next three weeks. This is enough to cement any new behaviour.’
Alarmingly, the first recipe in his book is for osso bucco - which sounds very fancy to me. So fancy, indeed, I don’t know what it is.
Apparently it’s lamb shank and, according to Tim, it takes five minutes to prepare (and two hours to cook). Simply chop a few carrots, place them in a pot, add the four lamb shanks, a tin of tomatoes, five cloves of garlic and a few glugs of white wine. ‘It’s my favourite, easy recipe,’ says Tim. ‘But it’s a dish you’d probably spend £20 on in a restaurant.’
Other recipes in the book include scrambled eggs, coconut mash, harissa crab cakes and steak. By the time you’ve made your way through those, it’s time to celebrate with a dinner party. Book it before you start to learn and the pressure will be on to keep going.
I promise I’ll give it a go - but, to be honest, I have no intention of doing so. But then a strange thing happens. I’m in Waitrose about to buy a ready-prepared salad when I decide that no, damn it, even I can add meat, carrots and tomatoes to a pot. So I approach the brave new world of the butcher’s counter and ask for lamb shanks.
For two hours, I hover around the kitchen and make my way through the left-over white wine. My expectations are low and so are my sister’s. When I announced that I was going to cook, she assumed I meant heating up a pizza and was worried when she found out I was cooking ‘actual meat’.
Finally, we sit down to supper - and it is delicious. I feel disproportionately pleased with myself.
It reminds me of something Tim said when I asked why he wants to learn these new things: he said it was to make him ‘feel alive and excited about the world’.
He’s right. When we’re young, we learn new things every day, but gradually that stops and with it goes a bit of enthusiasm for the world.
Could mastering even little skills, like cooking a joint of meat, help to re-ignite the enthusiasm? I think so. Maybe I’ll start on Mandarin next... or at the very least, scrambled eggs.- Daily Mail