Cookbook Recommendations for a Bachelor

A dear friend of mine emailed me recently and asked me what were my top 5 cookbook recommendations for his nephew, who had just moved out into his first apartment and was hungry.

My "bachelor" 7-year-old son Flynn's favorite cookbook.

Guys who move away from mom for the first time often don’t realize that food doesn’t just appear on the table. I had the fortune of already having worked in restaurants and being a good cook the first time I moved out. More

Your Continuing Cooking Education

The coffee table at our house

I have a Master’s degree in creative writing. But I’ve always said, the way I learned the most was by reading the great writers. Same with cooking.

I didn’t go to school for cooking. Most chefs didn’t. (Nor did William Faulkner or Virginia Woolf have Master’s degrees in writing.) I cooked in restaurants when I was a younger man. But I learned the most by reading, observing, studying what the great chefs were doing and doing that too, and by trial and error. More

“Better Cooks, Not Just Recipe Followers…”

I was preparing a cooking workshop for a group of women later this week, and got thinking about exactly what it was I was trying to teach them, beyond the type of food they had requested…

A friend of mine recently gave me a cookbook, “Serious Barbecue” by Adam Perry Lang. After perusing various recipes, I turned to the introduction. Lang talked about learning to cook in culinary school and famous French kitchens, and then re-learning from Texas-born ranch hands on a ranch in New Mexico. “My new friends,” he said, “were as passionate as any of the professionals I’d met in French kitchens.” In reflecting on his journey and his reason for writing the cookbook, it was, as he said, to teach people “to be better cooks, not just recipe followers.”

Not trash.

This phrase stood out brilliantly to me. For it is exactly what I’m trying to do with this blog. And with my teaching of other people. I’m trying to do this myself with every meal I prepare — be a better, more mindful cook. When a friend invites us over for a roasted chicken she’s purchased from Costco, and I ask if I can keep the carcass when we’re done, it’s not because I’m weird (despite the startled look on her face); it’s because (as I will explain to her) this roasted chicken is filled with flavor and will make an insanely good stock. And then I leave the bones to her and explain to her how to do it. That is not a recipe, that is cooking.

Next time you’ve get a roasted chicken from Costco or Zankou or wherever — or roast one yourself — when you and your kids are done picking it over, throw the carcass in a big pot with enough water to cover, an onion, a bay leaf and a couple tablespoons of salt, an cook for about an hour. Then strain. You’ll see what I mean — this ain’t Campbells, and you made it with something you were going to throw out. (And you can freeze the stock in plastic baggies in the fridge to make soup whenever the spirit moves you.) This is respecting the animal that gave its life for your meal. This is cooking.

When I was in my 20s teaching English, I decided I didn’t like teaching very much. But now I find I love it. Maybe I just wasn’t teaching the right subject.