The impostor syndrome of an untrained chef

The impostor syndrome of an untrained chef
by Ioana Negulescu
Reading time - 3 min

I’ve spent the past ten years inhaling every piece of knowledge I could find that related in some way or another to food. I’ve gone from a terrible home blogger who naively thought that bringing people to the blog through search engine optimised posts was more important than the accuracy of the recipes. I traumatised boyfriends, friends and family members as I asked them to wait while I photographed a dish in my home studio setup.

Later, I learnt to plate purées and use microgreens to garnish dishes. I grew pansies on my terrace to use them as decoration. I regularly went home with boxes of pea sprouts from Metro. My purées were grainy, my fish overcooked despite its crispy skin, my dishes rather unbalanced and my microgreens too many. Thankfully, I continued to receive unconditional encouragement.


I remember the first time I decided to cook. I was 13 and came back from an international school event, where I tried awwamat, a Levantine dessert of fried dough balls coated in honey. I went home and with no recipe, no Google search and no questions to the more experienced cooks in my family, I made something that resembled the sweet. I mixed the dough with my hands and learned how the ratio of water to flour changes the consistency of the dough.

This discovery sparked a relentless pursuit to take on pizza baking a few years later. I followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe, like every homecook at the start of their journey. Instead of quattro formaggi, I used five types of cheese. My diavola was covered in a blanket of spicy salami. And my capricciosa was so exuberant it may well have come straight from the Rococo era. For a brief moment, I considered my future as a pizzaiola, until my parents’ horrified look at the fridge I had just emptied in one pizza endeavour made me understand it would not be a sustainable business.

The first time I realised I was an impostor, I deleted half of the recipes I had published on my rather successful small blog and banned myself from writing recipes altogether. It took many years until I started jotting down my steps, but at that point, I could summarise a recipe in a few sentences, without the need to explain why I cooked the eggs at 63ºC and how to make a custard. In the ten years I have been more seriously involved with food, I learned and doubted, critiqued and improved. I frustrated other boyfriends, friends and family members, making them feel like I am never satisfied with my cooking results. For me, it is simple: everything, no matter how good, can be even better and I need to understand why and how.

As time passed, I developed my palate and an understanding of chemical processes through cooking, but I still lack the basic know-how of a culinary school student: how to perfectly brunoise vegetables, how to fillet a fish or debone a chicken, how to make a simple Hollandaise without picking up my Larousse Gastronomique. I keep wondering: is culinary school just like every other school, where, without practice, you forget as quickly as you learn? I was taught that one of the most important skills to have is know how to find what you’re looking for, be it a recipe, a technique or someone else to help out with the tasks you don’t know how to handle. And when there’s no one to fillet my fish, I turn into a butcher…

Am I an impostor?

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