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Food & Cooking

The difference between a chef and a cook: A chef has two to four years of formal training and manages a kitchen. 

Me, I’m just a cook.  But not a bad one. At least that’s what family and friends say.

I’ve been the chief cook in the family for most of my life, but for the first few decades I was opening jars of Ragu spaghetti sauce, using canned veggies, mixing up Riceroni and Kraft Mac and cheese and baking frozen pizzas.

Some time in the early ‘90s my son came up with a really nice gift: he gave me a high quality chef’s knife.  I started paying more attention to food prep and listening to the Chef’s Table on WHYY (NPR in Philadelphia). Then a big turning point: I was waiting for my car in a muffler shop and picked up a copy of Saveur magazine.  It intrigued me, but didn’t seem quite right to me.  I kept a subscription card, but then went to Borders and inspected the cooking magazine section.

Cooks Illustrated – that was my epiphany.

Within 24 hours I had an oven-proof skillet and was had produced a breakfast frittata.

Dancing in the Kitchen

We have a small kitchen. Not much cupboard space and small counters.  So I’ve adapted over the years.  And what has evolved in the kitchen is a very nice workspace.  We changed from an electric stove to gas. Spice racks and pantry shelves line the stairway to the cellar.

In professional kitchens, the movement of cooks, servers and others is referred to generally as “the dance.” My little workspace won’t allow for big chorus numbers, but there are times when I’m in the middle of prep, timing one dish, nuking ingredients for another to make sure everything is done at the same time – well there is a bit of a whirl and fair to it and I feel like I’m doing my own little dance.

Cookbooks and Books for Cooks

I have too many cookbooks.  I could survive on Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and a good internet connection.  But there are so many great books out there.  Some day, I want to “cook through” a few of them.  Jerusalem and Plenty by Yoto Otolenghi; The Smitten Kitchen cookbook by Deb Pearlman and Simple by Diana Henry are my leading choices at the moment.  Oh, and a shout out to Teresa Buns for her little volume: Very Sala Dressing.  I haven’t use any store-bought dressing in years.

And on the subject of food in general,one name: Michael Pollan. 

I’ve read all his food books.  Great stuff.  I love the way he distinguishes between the “food” that you find in the department around the perimeter of a typical supermarket and the “edible foodlike substances” you find in the middle of the store.

Pollan boils it all down the this:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

A worthy aspiration, I think. I’m trying to live up it.

Oh – and if you’d like some inspiration to get you out to a farm market or join a CSA, read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in the Life of Food.