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posted: 1/14/2014 5:30 AM

Cook of the Week: Practice makes perfect for Glen Ellyn analyst

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  • It's all about technique for Elliott Papineau. The Glen Ellyn dad lets technique and ingredients guide his meal planning.

      It's all about technique for Elliott Papineau. The Glen Ellyn dad lets technique and ingredients guide his meal planning.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Cook of the Week Elliott Papineau chops carrots for his Hot/Cold Carrots.

      Cook of the Week Elliott Papineau chops carrots for his Hot/Cold Carrots.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald Correspondent

It may be because he is an equity analyst by profession, but Elliott Papineau of Glen Ellyn, has a different approach to cooking. To Elliott, it is all about technique and the ratios.

"Cooking and baking use a lot of math and science. Once you know the fundamentals it opens you up to something new," he says.

Elliott believes in study and practice when it comes to cooking.

"I'll read about a technique and then keep practicing it until I have it down. I'm very technique driven," he says "When I'm thinking about a meal I think about what kind of skills I have and the ingredients I have. If you're driven by a recipe, and you don't have one ingredient, it limits you. If you know certain core techniques you can make food that is more flavorful and satisfying."

According to Elliott, one of the most important skills he's learned is chopping. Having a good knife is essential, he advises and so is practicing.

"Much of cooking is about repetition, like chopping, trying for a uniform size; I just keep practicing until I don't have to think about it anymore."

Other techniques Elliott enjoys are curing meat, making bread, canning vegetables and even making his own vinegars. Still Elliott isn't just experimenting randomly when he tries new things, he puts a lot of study into them first.

"I read about the processes and talk to people. If you understand what you're trying to do, the outcome is so much better. Once you know the ratios, for example bread is 5 parts flour and 3 parts water, and understand how it works, how the gluten works and what happens when you add fat, then you are open to experimenting."

Elliott gains much of his knowledge from books, and says that having a good relationship with his librarian has been a tremendous resource. He will often suggest cookbooks for their shelves and then he is the first to check them out. One favorite he recommends is "Ratio" by Michael Ruhlman.

Elliott's wife, Kristen, also cooks and the two of them share the responsibility for preparing meals, including the food for their toddler, Landon.

"We'll plan out the week and prep some parts of the dishes ahead of time depending on our schedule. During the week it's always something simple, but on weekends we'll make something nice for our Sunday dinner," he says. Their son will eat what they eat.

"We make all his food. It's a misconception that making baby food is difficult. That's not true. They can eat the same food, it's just prepared differently."

His recent interest?

"I really like doing things with vegetables. They're an untapped potential. In the last 4 or 5 years the thinking has really changed -- vegetables are not just a side dish anymore. I'm always looking for different ways to cook them. For example, roasting cauliflower makes the sugar come out; it is a lot more satisfying and has a richer flavor. The way we look at ingredients has shifted. Now I see the flavor potential of both vegetables and meat as equal."

Elliott loves the fact that his parents own a farm and his family is able to enjoy the bounty of their harvest.

When he does have to shop at the grocery store he is not as concerned with whether the food is organic, as with where it comes from.

"It's more important to know where the food comes from," he explains. "Local is best, it helps the local economy and creates jobs. Many of our farmers are using organic processes, they just aren't certified. I'm not saying not to buy apples from South America, but there just might be a better choice.

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