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March 8, 2008

How I Learned To Cook

Filed under: Books — Twistie @ 7:51 pm

I know, I know, the book recommendations are usually Francesca’s gig. Well, I’m hijacking it for today.

I recently found myself at loose ends for new reading material. For once, the pleasures of re-reading Anthony Trollope and PG Wodehouse seemed somehow lacking. I wandered into my favorite local bookstore and began browsing the shelves.

When I do this, I invariably check out the cooking section, because I love to cook. In fact, cookbooks rank as my personal pornography of choice. Reading a good recipe, I find my breathing going shallow as my mind conjurs up a vision of making and serving dish after glorious dish. I can smell each ingrediant as it sizzles in my mental pans. I can practically taste the combinations right there on the page.

So when I spotted this book, well, my interest was piqued immediately.

How I Learned To Cook

After all, if there’s one thing in the world I love more than good cooking, it’s good writing about cooking. The combination is irresistable to me. More than that, I was always the kid in class who wanted to know why the people in the history books did what they did. It wasn’t enough for me to know that so and so invented such and such or this person assassinated that person. I wanted to understand what made them do these things.

So finding the crossroads between food, words, and the whys and wherefores of personal choice made buying this book inevitable.

Now I’m basking in the joys of reading great cooks talk about cooking. From Anthony Bourdain explaining how to pick the right dish to prepare on a morning news show (hint: do not do steak au poivre, no matter how quick and flashy it is lest you risk setting off the studio sprinklers) to Mario Battali talking about how he learned that more is not always better while working in a tiny Italian trattoria where pasta rolling machines were held in great contempt, to Rick Bayless recounting his childhood obssession with Julia Child, the stories are heartfelt and told in entertaining voices. Some resonate more specifically with me than others do, of course, but all the ones I’ve read thus far have delighted me in their various ways.

So if you love food or a good story that really says something about how someone ticks, do yourself a favor and read How I Learned To Cook.

And if you have a good story from your own culinary education, I’d love to read it.


  1. My mother cooked for my father, and my father had definite tastes: hominy came from a can, rice came from a box with the word “Minute” in the title and was seasoned with sugar, and pork chops were meant to be paper-thin and fried to the consistency of shoe leather. When I turned 16 I got my first job as a page in a library, and I discovered the cookbook section. I pored over the lot on my breaks, and eventually ordered my first subscription to Gourmet magazine. I taught myself to cook from those books and magazines as best I could in college dorms and military barracks. I hate to admit it, but secretly the best part of getting married the first time was moving to an apartment and having an actual kitchen. I discovered that I had a gift for cheesecakes and German food and barbecue, and came very, very close to applying to the CIA. Unfortunately, military assigments and a bad case of repetitive-stress injury (to my grip; there was never anyone to show me the right way to hold a knife and a whisk and a pastry bag) put the kabosh on that. But I still subscribe to plenty of food porn (hello? Saveur?), and keep my family, friends and co-workers very, very happy. Even Dad grudgingly admits that my butterflied boneless 1″-thick grilled pork chops are fabulous.

    Comment by Whitney — March 8, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

  2. There are those who claim I never did learn to cook. However, this evening I got to hang out with my cool cousin J, who has been a professional chef for more than 10 years. He described the maple pecan pie he made last week and I told him his great-grandmother had a very similar recipe. Then he talked about how he likes recipes where everything is in weights and it’s very precise and you get the exact same results every time. Why yes, one of his parents IS a programmer…

    Comment by Jane — March 8, 2008 @ 11:17 pm

  3. I picked up certain specific skills from people I lived with or knew over the years. I learned how to make bread from one of my boyfriends from college. I learned how to chop up vegetables for Chinese food from Taiwanese graduate students I shared a kitchen with. I learned how to make Mexican food and flanken from a guy I knew in college. The rest has come from a pretty big collection of specialty cook books and feeding three kids and a husband. I did NOT, however, learn to cook from my mother or the women in my father’s family, who were all really awful cooks who never met a vegetable they could not overcook or a piece of meat they could not turn into shoes.

    Comment by Toby Wollin — March 9, 2008 @ 9:50 am

  4. My biggest memories of my culinary education are making oatmeal raisin cookies with my dad as a kid (he sent me oatmeal cookies in care packages when I was in college, and my friends didn’t understand why it was never chocolate chip), my period of experimentation in my first apartment (when making curry, go for a fruit-ish curry or a vegetable-ish one, but raisins and zucchini don’t really go together *bleh*), and my mother teaching me to make gravy.

    I also have fond memories of instructing my dorm mates on making baked macaroni and cheese the way my mom makes it. Most of them had never seen anyone make mac and cheese from scratch, and after tasting the result, at least two of the five girls said they thought they could never go back to the boxed kind.

    ~JaneC, spreading the gospel of food that looks like food rather than plastic

    Comment by JaneC — March 9, 2008 @ 11:42 am

  5. I (and my 7 siblings) learned my watching mom cook. We had a counter that separated the kitchen from the dining/family room. We could pull up chairs to the counter and watch, talk and lick beaters. My dad also cooked. I have great memories of his saturday morning buttermilk pancakes. He always poured us ice cold buttermilk to drink out of a metal measuring cup. YUM!!! It was also great theater watching him make bread. He was a rather tall and masculine man and instead of kneading the bread, he would punch it out (to the delight of his children).

    Anthony Bourdain. MMMM! If you have not seen his show “No Reservations” you are really missing out!

    Thanks for prompting the recall of these wonderful memories, Twistie!

    Comment by susan — March 9, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  6. I recommend “Jamie’s Italy” by Jamie Oliver – it’s part cookbook, part travel diary and a very enjoyable read.

    Comment by VerseFameBeauty — March 9, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

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