Food Preparation - Foundations of Cooking

Study cooking online. Learn about food preparation, food handling and safety, cooking equipment and tools, and more.

Course CodeBRE212
Fee CodeS1
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Distance Education Course - Cooking and Food Preparation

  • Learn how to prepare and cook food.
  • Understand the principles for selecting, cleaning, cutting, preserving, flavouring, mixing, cooking; and everything else involved in preparing food for consumption.
  • Become a better cook at home, socially, or for work

This is a stand alone course; but one that also complements Food and Beverage Management, Event Management and Self Sufficiency. Some students may wish to become more self sufficient, others may wish to work in a restaurant, catering services, culinary supplies (eg. a kitchen shop) or hospitality services.

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • History of cooking/ Trends
    • Principles of Cooking
    • Nutrition
    • Scope of the Catering industry
    • Weights and measures
    • Basic cooking techniques
    • Terms
  2. Fruit and vegetables
    • Why eat Fruit & Veg; How much a person should eat; How poor preparation can damage nutritional value
    • How to choose fruit and vegetables when shopping
    • Basics of preparation- peeling slicing etc
    • Cooking techniques
    • Nutritional information relating to food group
  3. Cereals & Starches; Bread, cereals and potatoes
    • Preparation- including how to make fresh pasta
    • Why eat cereals & starche; How much a person should eat; How poor preparation can damage nutritional value
    • How to prepare potatoes- different types of potato dishes- mashed, boiled, daulphinoise etc
    • Cooking pasta- different recipes
    • Cooking Rice, cous cous etc.
    • Nutritional information relating to food group
  4. Meat Fish and Alternatives
    • How much a person should eat
    • How poor preparation can damage nutritional value
    • Selecting the perfect cut of meat/ basic butchery, fish mongery
    • How to prepare and cook it, which sauces compliment it.
    • Eggs- cooking different types
    • Cooking with pulses
    • Nutritional information relating to food group
  5. Milk and dairy
    • How much a person should eat
    • How poor preparation can damage nutritional value
    • Cheese making basics
    • Cheese types and recipes
    • Basic recipes e.g. Macaroni cheese
    • Dairy free cooking
    • Yoghurt
    • How to make it, use in sauces
    • Dairy free cooking
    • Nutritional information relating to food group
  6. Fats and Sugars
    • How much a person should eat
    • How poor preparation can damage nutritional value
    • How to make perfect puddings
    • Types of fat
    • How to adapt recipes to reduce sugar and fat- catering for low fat and low sugar dietary requirements
    • Nutritional information relating to food group
  7. Flavouring Food
    • More on complimenting foods- sauces- cream, wine, butter, vinaigrette etc
    • Stocks
    • Use of herbs/ seasoning
  8. Menu planning on a Small Scale
    • Designing menus- complimenting foods
    • Recipes simple to advanced- Seasonal foods
    • Planning a dinner party- case study
  9. Menu Planning on a Large Scale
    • Planning Meals/Catering for parties and events; outdoor, indoor etc
    • Restaurant Menus/Catering

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Working as a Cook or Chef

Chefs will prepare a variety of foods, from entrees to desserts. Chefs are responsible for creating recipes and menus, then preparing the foods for customers at restaurants and other food service establishments. Chefs and head cooks are also responsible for supervising and managing other kitchen staff to ensure the quality and uniformity of food presentation is maintained, such as junior chefs, chef assistance, kitchen staff, and prep staff. They will also be responsible for ordering the correct quantity of food to be able to fill requirements. 
In larger restaurants there may be a team of chefs and kitchen staff. They will each have a designated job that they complete.

Chefs may work across a variety of different roles, or may specialise in a particular food, such as pastry chefs, breakfast chefs, short-order chefs, teppanyaki chefs, soup chefs, executive chefs.

There are so many different opportunities for a chef. They may start their own service establishment, or work for someone else. The type of establishment they can work in varies from a fast food restaurant to fine dining, a beachside café, a hospital or school cafeteria, a retirement village, a holiday resort; not to mention to mention the different types of food that may be prepared at different establishments.

Other chefs work as private household chefs, preparing meals for individuals and families. This type of chef prepares meals to the client's specifications and dietary needs and personal chefs prepare a week's worth of meals that can be reheated. They can be self-employed or work for a company that provides this service.

There tends to be a fairly high turn around for chefs, and chefs are generally in high demand. You may find that if you get a job in the kitchen you will be able to move your way up to a head chef position relatively fast.

Risks and challenges
Working as a chef can be very physically demanding. The environment is often very hot, they spend a lot of their time standing, and lifting heavy pots and pans.

Their work is highly stressful. The kitchen can be very fast paced and the environment can be highly pressurised.

Many chefs will work long and unsociable hours, including late evenings, early mornings, weekends and public holidays.

How to become a Chef
Whilst much of the learning will be completed on the job, a chef will generally have undergone some form of training. There are many different options available for training, from short courses to courses lasting several years. Ultimately it will be the experience that is gained on the job that will be of most value.

When you start as a chef you will most likely start at the bottom of the ladder working as a dishwasher or kitchen hand, then working your way up.

As a chef moves up the ranks they will need to develop leadership and management skills to run the kitchen efficiently.



Cooking is defined as the process of preparing food for eating by applying heat. Scientists have found it difficult to determine when exactly human beings started cooking and in general believe that the controlled use of fire by humans for the purpose of cooking food existed somewhere between 125,000 and 250,000 years ago.
Today’s cooking results of the evolution of agriculture, commerce and greater transport links between countries which has allowed us to access new ingredients and learn different cooking techniques and recipes. We have also benefited from new inventions and technologies from the first pottery pots used for boiling water to the invention of the microwave and beyond. 

Cultural aspects of Cooking

Most cultures have developed different cooking traditions and practices which are influenced by factors such as climate, which affects the foods available to the cook, economic conditions and religious traditions. Today when visiting large towns and cities we are able to choose between a wide variety of different cuisines e.g. French, Italian, Chinese and Indian. We shall examine each of these types of cuisine in later lessons. However, it is also notable that in the past 100 years traditional food choice and eating habits have also changed dramatically. As a society we are eating away from home much more than ever before. When at home we are also eating more pre-packaged meals or take-outs

Ingredients used in cooking and Nutrition
In the main, ingredients used in cooking are derived from living things. This includes meat, eggs, and dairy products derived from animals and vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts come from plants and mushrooms and the yeast derived from fungi. In the process of cooking we also utilise water and minerals such as salt.
Going back in time the food we originally consumed was obtained by hunting and gathering and then over time to basic farming ad fishing processes. While today’s farming processes are more complicated utilising intensive farming and industrial processes.
The food we eat is composed of nutrients - proteins, carbohydrates and fats in addition to water and minerals. Cooking involves a manipulation of the chemical properties of these molecules. We shall now look at these nutrients in more detail but please note that nutritional information is covered in greater depth in other courses.

Protein serves a number of essential functions in the human body.  It is needed to build and repair muscles, to make hair and skin, fight against infections and to carry oxygen in our blood. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are twenty different amino acids, and while our body can make some of them, there are eight amino acids that our body can't make.
These are called essential amino acids and the only way we can get them is through the food we eat. It is important to eat a variety of protein foods every day to make sure your body gets all of the essential amino acids. Protein itself is derived from edible animal material such as from muscle, offal (internal organs), milk and eggs.
These animal sources are all good sources of protein that have all eight essential amino acids. Protein is also found in smaller amounts in plant foods such as legumes (beans and peas) and in nuts and seeds. These plant sources can lack some of the essential amino acids and it is therefore important for vegetarians to eat a good variety of plant foods to ensure they get all the amino acids the body needs. Cooking denatures protein which means that it changes the structure of protein. In doing so the taste and acceptability of the product is increased e.g. a cooked egg tastes better than a raw egg and is more appealing.

Carbohydrates provide our bodies with the most efficient source of energy. Carbohydrates come in two forms - starches (also named complex carbohydrates) and sugars (simple sugars). Starches are found in foods such bread, rice, pasta, cereals and potatoes, while sugars are found in fruit and vegetables and also in foods such as sweets, soft drinks and cakes. Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet and should make up 50% of our daily calorie intake. When planning meals we must therefore ensure adequate intakes. The majority should come from complex carbohydrates, preferably the wholemeal varieties, as well as a large intake of fruit and vegetables.

Fats are found in most foods, it is either present in foods from the beginning (such as in meat and cheese), or it's been added in cooking. Fat supplies essential nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids (EFAs) which are thought to have a positive effect on heart health and the immune system.  Fat can itself be divided into two main groups - saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature and can usually only be found in animal sources such as in butter, hard margarine, cheese, whole milk and anything that contains these ingredients like cakes, biscuits, chocolate and pastries Fat is an essential component of good cooking helping the ingredients in food, come together for texture, and flavour.

Food Preparation- the basics

By following this course we hope you will develop a love of cooking and at this stage you are probably eager to get started on learning some recipes and cooking techniques. However, whether you are cooking at home for friends and family or are intending to use your newly acquired skills in the catering industry, it is important to appreciate the steps involved in basic food preparation as ignoring these can be costly later. In fact to fully appreciate this you could spend some time watching a professional chef, the best chefs will ensure that all essential ingredients are sourced and prepared well in advance allowing all meals to be cooked quickly to order. 

Here are some basic steps to consider- additional tips for different types of food will be given throughout the course.

Step one - Source your ingredient in advance, Whether you intend following a recipe or are preparing a dish you know off by heart, the first thing you need to do is make sure you have all the necessary ingredients. There's no point starting to cook and then finding out that a vital ingredient is missing. To avoid this happening take all the ingredients out of the cupboard and line them up on your work surface (i.e. all ingredients that do not need to stay in the refrigerator until cooking).

Step 2 - Wash your hands- Your hands can easily spread bacteria around the kitchen and onto food. This is why it's important to always wash your hands thoroughly with soap both before cooking and after handling raw ingredients such as meat and poultry.

Step 3 - Keep your worktops and cooking materials clean- Before you start preparing food, it’s important to make sure that your worktops, kitchen utensils and chopping boards are clean. Also don't forget to change dish cloths and tea towels regularly as these can also harbor bacteria.

Step 4 - Separate raw meat/fish from dry/ ready prepared ingredients-more details on food safety and raw meats / poultry are given in lesson 3 but at this point remember that it is especially important to keep raw meat and fish away from foods ready for consumption such as salad, fruit and bread. These foods won't be cooked before you eat them any bacteria that come into contact them will not be killed in the cooking process.

Step 5 - Where relevant wash, peel, chop and grate ingredients before you start cooking.

Step 6 - Clean up/ clear up as you go along so that you keep work surfaces clean and manageable

Cooking Terminology

As you start following recipes you are likely to discover some cookery terms that are unfamiliar. A few basic food preparation and cooking terms are shown below and others will be provided in different lessons of the course. Try to ensure you are familiar with each of the preparation/ cooking techniques used in a recipe before you start out.

Preparation terms:

Cutting refers to breaking foods up into smaller pieces which are usually in a uniform shape. There are different cutting techniques which are considered in other lessons e.g. slicing, dicing and shredding. In contrast chopping is a term used to refer to cutting foods into pieces such as cubes when chopping foods we generally make a larger cut and the chopped food does not have to be uniform.

Whisking refers to the process of beating an ingredient repeatedly and vigorously to allow air to be incorporated so that the food becomes frothy. Common foods that are whisks include eggs and cream.

Is a term used in bread and cake making. Kneading involves mixing stiff dough by repeatedly compressing it and folding it in or over. Kneading allows the development of sheets of gluten in the mixture and to incorporate air.

Cooking Methods

Today we use a vast array of different cooking techniques including baking, roasting, stewing, frying, grilling, smoking, boiling and steaming. Many of these techniques can be traced back thousands of years to more recent methods such as micro-waving. We shall examine some of these methods in this lesson. Throughout the course you will also have opportunities to try out different cooking techniques and will see that the chosen method of cooking greatly affects the end result with some foods being more appropriate to some cooking methods than others.

Roasting is defined to cook food in an uncovered pan. This is a cooking method that utilises dry heat which can be from an open flame, oven, or other heat source. In the roasting process food may be placed on a rack, in a roasting pan or rotated e.g. on a rotisserie. As foods are roasted they are exposed to high heat which produces a well-browned surface and seals in the juices. Roasting is a good cooking method for large, tender cuts of meat and can also be used to cook poultry and fish. Additionally, you can roast vegetables and this works particularly well if you are roasting alongside especially if you roast them alongside meat. You can also roast firm fruits, like apples, pears and tomatoes. This is usually referred to as baking instead of roasting but essentially there is no difference in the process involved 

Frying involves cooking food in fat over a heat source. It is believed that this method of cooking has originated in ancient Egypt around 2500 BC. There are different methods of frying deep frying food e.g. in deep frying food is submerged in hot, liquid fat, while in frying (also called pan frying ) or sautéing food , food is cooked in less fat which des not completely cover the food. You can fry a wide variety of foods including vegetables, eggs (e.g. in the form of a fried egg, omelette or pancake), fish, meat and poultry.

Equipment required: heat source, fat or oil and a suitable pan e.g. a Shallow Frying Pan - for eggs, fish, meat etc, a Sauté Pan or deep pan with a lid for frying chicken etc.

Grilling involves the application of heat to the surface of food, commonly from above or below the food source.

Grilled foods can be cooked in a number of different ways including over a heat source e.g. on a barbeque or gas/ electric grill, under a heat source e.g. under a gas or electric grill or between heat e.g. between electrically heated grill bars. You can grill a wide variety of foods including Fish, meat and vegetables, e.g. mushrooms and tomatoes.

There are several advantages to grilling foods e.g. food can be cooked quickly, foods are given a distinctive appearance and flavor,  grilling meats is also far healthier than other methods which are used to cook meats as this method allows some visible fats to drain from the meat. As a disadvantage, grilling can dry out foods and is not suitable for older tougher cuts of meat.
Equipment required: A grill and tongs/ spatulas, are necessary for getting foods on and off the hot grill rack and for turning over foods.

Involves cooking in the steam resulting from boiling water. The water itself never comes into contact with the food. Steaming can be done by pouring a small amount of water in a saucepan and keeping it on the boil so that the resulting steam can cook the food or alternatively it is possible to purchase a specifically designed steamer both techniques require you to ensure that the cooking water does not run dry. Steaming is a healthy method of cooking as it requires no fat to be added and also helps to preserve the vitamins and minerals in food against boiling where these nutrients can be leached out of the food and lost into the boiling water.
Equipment required: Heat source, large cooking pot, water and a steaming rack, colander, or steamer

Boiling is defined as cooking in a liquid that has reached its highest possible temperature of 212°F (100oC). Most foods can be boiled including pasta, potatoes, rice, vegetables and seafood. Boiling food has a number of advantages e.g. it is an easy method of cooking which lends itself to large scale cookery. It is also an effective method of cooking older, tougher cuts of meat and poultry making them more digestible. Despite these advantages, there are also some disadvantages. One main disadvantage is that water soluble vitamins are lost into the cooking water. This is a particular problem if vegetables are cooked in too much water and for too long. Some boiled foods can look unattractive e.g. some meats and boiling can also be a slow method of cooking food. 
Equipment required includes a suitable pan e.g. saucepans/ stock pot;  heat source, cooking liquid e.g. water, stock, milk, cream.


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Karen Lee

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Lyn Quirk

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Jade Sciascia

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