Understanding the Basics

Graham and Treena Kerr with a few of their books
Nov 11, 2016

Understanding the Basics


Food for thought?

I had the great good fortune to be ordered to stop an initiative in the food services for the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1961-62.  The details of that budget saving concept are in my book Flash of Silver…the leap that changed my world on pages *111-112 and have no further bearing here.

I was asked, at the time, what I wanted, since they couldn’t pay me to stop!

I replied that I’d like to have a research kitchen, fully staffed, that would run a whole series of tests on all the known basic methods of cooking (about seventy-three), especially those used by large commercial kitchens.

I set up a comparison test where we used the application of logic and compared Method A for roasting meats with Method B -and then the best with Method C and so on until we reached a ‘proper’ conclusion.

When once we had decided upon a given basic method I would then try this out at home for the family and then write it up in the early morning -starting at 4am, for two hours before setting out to work to finish the commercial application.

I did this until I had served out my five years as chief catering adviser to the Air Force.

It was at that date, in September 1963, that I began to photograph each method in our home kitchen with our locally famous photographer Hubert Sieben. The book was released by A.H. and A.W. Reed in New Zealand and Australia as the ‘Graham Kerr Cookbook’ -and much later as the ‘Graham Kerr Cookbook by the Galloping Gourmet’ by Doubleday for worldwide distribution.

So…what about now?

That book went on to win a gold medal at the Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt in 1968, which proved the need for a keen understanding of the basic methods…really, of any skill employed by craftsmen and women, scientists and artists.

A knowledge of basic techniques provides a firm foundation upon which personal creativity can flourish.

My fellow television chef Jacque Pepin has provided an excellent example to us all about returning time and time again -to the basics of the cuisine that he learned and has followed brilliantly for many years.

Because of the need I had to care for my wife Treena and her early stroke and heart attack…and then Type 2 diabetes; I revisited my ‘best culinary methods’ in order to see if any could be ‘tweaked’ to make them less ‘risky’ (for her) and more nourishing without losing the essential delight we had in cooking and sharing…good food with one another.

Over the years I have done my best and my books, since 1975, have laid out these experiments and their continued progress.

My beloved and myself and 28 of my cookbooks. Circa 2008

I have spent so many years trying to grasp both old and new basics and so want you to seek out your very own, no matter where your skills may lie. I am certain that creativity flourishes upon a firm foundation of the BASICS and who doesn’t want to have such a sense of security?

This week I read Treena’s poem Magical Morning

*Page 111-112 Paperback Book. Page 130 -130 eBook



  1. SALLY ANDREWS Says: 1:02 pm

    Graham and Lynn,

    I find myself tearing up as I read both your words of encouragement. I face an indefinite and quite frightening future in work and marriage, and you have helped me to be calm and not panic. I know God will answer my (and your) prayers, He always does, but it’s hard not to compare myself to all the “success” surrounding me, and feel worthless, but to live my own life the best I can.

    God bless you both!

  2. Graham Says: 8:04 pm

    Sally…here I am at last! this week has been really full, but now the tide is out we can build sandcastles with so much sand in all directions! Here is what I believe you may wish to do? Offer yourself, as the early Macedonians did, first to the Lord and then sit still and wait to know his will for the next season. It’s so easy to say…but the waiting and listening is the really hard part! In the midst of listening consider this advice it’s called P3. Begin with Play…then Passion…then purpose and imagine where you would find it FUN to go to ‘work’. Ask how that might blend with your passion for helping people make wise choices that nourish them and those they love. Finally, think about why you would want to do something like that…what is your REAL purpose…and it’s not cash flow, it never is. Cash may flow but only as a result, never as an objective that you want to enjoy. Oh, and remember during the waiting period that you are being prayed for…and loved for just the dear person that you are. It’s called ‘upstreaming’ and most of us will face it sooner or later. Love, as always. Graham

  3. Lynn Severance Says: 1:48 pm

    Sally, I am touched in reading your comments. I can relate to all you have shared. And I feel confident Graham will have some “rich” insights for you but my heart is jumping in here right now.

    I found myself at age 49 unexpectedly having to leave a beloved teaching career – take an early retirement for health reasons. It was a tremendous transition and I felt “lost” for some time. I had a direction of what I wanted to do – not so much an official career change but something that was possible given my circumstances.

    I discovered that the skills involved in teaching and the skills I had in other areas of my life simply (though not simple!!) had to find a new focus. The question I had to ask is, “How can I take a skill and apply it with a different focus?” I can’t be sure if you are still wanting to remain involved in some arena of the culinary world.

    But in my own life circumstances, where I once wrote curriculum for my school district and state, I was led to an online opportunity via a support group for those who live with chronic illness. They had a need for devotional writers. Where once I could sew (and no longer can), I came to see that I was now “stitching with words”.

    I’d wonder with your background and talent if there is a means for you to become a mentor to those who are now beginning their careers – or needing encouragement as they have similar talents and could use your wise investment into their lives as they seek out their direction or hone their skills? Wishing and praying for your best as you are in this transition time.

  4. SALLY ANDREWS Says: 12:17 pm

    A friend asked me yesterday how hard it was to create recipes for my books. I had to think hard to answer him as I didn’t want to seem superfluous and say “well, pretty easy really”. I remembered keeping a notepad by my bed for my recipe dreams, next to the shower, with me on my morning runs to capture sudden ideas that would appear. I’d pour through magazines to get outside of my own culinary repertoire, watch dishes as they passes me in restaurants, and then go home and play. I liken it to making a dress. You see something you like in a store, but can’t afford it, so you find a pattern and tweak it to be like that dress. BUT, without first learning the basics of dress construction, how to sew and use a machine, you’d never be able to do this.
    So, Graham, what I wonder is, what does one do, when in their 50’s they want to change their career. With all the celebrity around food now, I find it unappealing. Is it ever too late to go back and start learning the basics of a whole new world? It’s a scary thought.

  5. James Thompson Says: 5:58 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with what you said Graham. Learning the basics it what carries me through. I’ve studied Chinese Kung-Fu nearly all my life. True mastery is not being able to execute fancy techniques, No. It’s mastering the basics. If forced (I want to stress forced) to defend himself/herself, it’s their mastery of basics that wins the day. Cooking is, for me, no different. I can’t tell you how many times it was my very knowlege of basics that I was able to improvise, adapt, and overcome. I found that no matter what I’ve done in life, I’ve always come full crcle. Learn the basics, learn intermediate, then advanced then ..lol…..An even greater understanding of the basics which is what saved me time and time again. This was a brilliant topic to discuss. The basics to anything is so important! Thank you and God bless.

  6. Lynn Says: 12:47 am

    One of life’s joys is discovering the gifts that God has embedded into us. Next comes an appreciation of the gifts that others have been given that enrich our lives. Interwoven is the acceptance of our gifts and building on their foundation, as Graham has shared (and Jon and Chef Karl have also mentioned in their comments).

    Creativity is fueled, be it for a life long career or during times when our lives take an unexpected turn. We may be called upon to use our gifts in new ways. Circumstances can change but the “basics of us” do not. Cannot the Giver of our gifts help us discern how He wants to use them – and us – to make his world a brighter place for all?

  7. Livia Mora-Fowler Says: 3:24 pm

    Nourishment is basic! Whether for the soul or the body, both are served fully when we imbue our joy in preparing food for others. Done in the right frame of mind/spirit, there is sublimation of what, to some, can appear like drudgery in cooking. From the “Galloping Gourmet” and clearly through today, your body of work, it seems to me, continues to carry your unique and vital spark to make it basically practical, inspiring, and blissful. Thank you for continuing to nourish us.

  8. Karl Guggenmos Says: 10:52 am

    Thank you Graham for stating the obvious so masterfully
    We have come so far from believing that we should always be mindful of the basic.
    Off course in cooking it’s the craft that gives as the foundation for all we do as chefs.
    The basics is what builds confidence and it is only when we understand and master the basics that we can venture forward into the Art and Science of cooking.
    But even in life we must understand and master the eternal basics of our Creator who laid them out for us in His Book
    and only then will we have the freedom to “work out our Salvation ” and live life to the fullest

  9. Jon Stevens Says: 7:37 am

    When all else fails, go back to basics and if you still fail, you have not gone back far enough. You may have to go all the way back to your relationship with God to get it right, but hmmm…maybe that’s how it is supposed to work.

  10. Jean Says: 7:07 am

    We enjoy watching America’s Test Kitchen today. Using modern methods and technology has made my cooking xperience so much more joyful and robust than when I was a child. I especially love the microwave, crockpot, cast iron and blue enamel roasting pan. The ability to have professional cookware and stainless steel has also made our home cookery experience delightful. Less work – more fun.

  11. Patti Jean Meehan Says: 6:42 am

    I simply cannot imagine a fate worse than death. Perhaps prison or torture. So far I have not experienced those so no I have not experienced a fate worse than death. I love life as hard as it can be sometimes.

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