How To Cook Like a Man
I love cookbooks so I might have been a little disappointed when I was asked to review a non-cookbook. I mean this was like actual homework and I didn't get to cook anything. When I saw the title "How to Cook like a Man" I think I know why I was asked to review this book, a little gender-profiling maybe?
Daniel Duane was a journalist, surfer, and rock climber. Everything he did he went all in. When he faced fatherhood he decided to learn to cook. His wife's great-grandfather built four top hotels and restaurants across the country when he immigrated to the United States and her family was full of gourmands and foodies. His family was the opposite. He knew how to cook pasta, stir-fry, and burritos and that was about it.
Daniel did have one food relation. He grew up in Berkeley and his pre-school teacher was Alice Waters, now Executive Chef and owner of Chez Panisse. The first thing Daniel decides to do to get into cooking is to go head first into the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. And he doesn't just wade in, he dives right in. At one point he has a dinner party where he serves potato pasta, potato gratin, sautéed potato slices, and roasted fingerling potatoes.
After Vegetables he moves on to Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook and then onto Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook. He is spending so much on ingredients for some of the meals that he ends up enlisting friends to help prepare and pay for the elaborate meals he is now making. He has a very funny story about making an entire truffle meal from the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook. He obtained a lot of free truffles on a writing assignment and ended up using a lot more truffles than the recipes asked for since if a few truffles are good, more must be better. There are some people that went to that dinner that will not eat truffles to this day.
The book isn't all Chez Panisse either. After reading The Omnivores Dilemma he goes out and orders half a grass-fed cow. He then goes further down the "moral" eating and this takes him into a brief stint with offal cookery. Near the end of the book he goes on a Amazon buying spree and orders books from all the mainstream American celebrity chefs: Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, Joël Robuchon, Mario Batali, Tom Colicchio, John-Georges Vongerichten, and Harold McGee. From the book it doesn't seem he ever cooks a single recipe from one of these books but instead he decides he can try many of these chef's restaurants with one trip to Las Vegas. In a slightly confusing but funny turn this turns into a magazine article where he goes to Las Vegas to try nine of these restaurants in thirty six hours; and he eats nothing but very expensive steaks.
The book is not really about the cookbooks though; it is about trying to learn some lesson from the cookbooks or the cooking. About what kind of food he should be cooking and what kind of recipes he should use; or if he should use recipes at all. Along the way his writing assignments give him encounters with several chefs. He writes a book with Alice Waters, he cooks with Fergus Henderson (a pioneer in offal cookery from London), and at the end of the book gets some cooking lessons from Thomas Keller.
There were a few things I did not like about the book. It was a little disjointed and sometimes it felt like the stories were not related. It was hard to follow at times because of all the references and quotes used. He also threw in a lot of small chef or cooking related tidbits that sometimes were amusing but sometimes I wondered why he was telling us about it. The book was also not G-rated; there were several off color stories and many of them seemed to add nothing to the book.
The book shouldn't really be called How to Cook like a Man, but should be called How to Cook like an Extremely Obsessive Man. It is that obsession that creates many strange and funny moments. Even though I didn't think it fit in, the chapter where he eats close to 30 high-priced steaks in less than two days was hilarious, and there were several other stories I enjoyed. Many of the meetings with the chefs give you a nice glimpse into what they are really like and how they think about food and cooking. I found it interesting that Thomas Keller (and many other chefs) really seem to dislike cookbooks and recipes in their usual format, despite having written so many of them. The lessons he learned were sometimes insightful or thought provoking. I enjoyed the final lesson the most, where he decides that cooking is about making things you like and eating it with family and friends.