I’ve spent a lot of time so far this year working on a forthcoming cookbook that I think readers of Edible Philly will be excited about. I’ve been serving as recipe editor for Michael Solomonov’s first book, to debut in 2015.
Like many Philadelphians, I’ve been completely dazzled by Solomonov’s food since Zahav first opened in 2006. Working through his recipes, on paper and in my own home kitchen, is a huge responsibility, a tremendous learning experience and a lot of fun.
Not long ago, I was telling some friends in yoga class about my work on this project. I wasn’t surprised to hear everyone in the group gush about their meals at Zahav and express excitement for the book. But I was surprised by their shared line of questioning: Will there be 30-minute meals in this book? Can I find everything I need at the Acme? Will there be one-pot dinners?
As a recipe writer, I have heard all this before. What surprised me is that this group—a dedicated core of thrice-weekly yoga attendees, people willing to spend more than five hours each week on the mat—was so reluctant to spend the time in the kitchen it takes to make the food they had been oohing and aahing over minutes before. You’d think a bunch of health-focused yogis would be willing to dedicate as much time per week cooking as they spent in pursuit of an ever more perfect downward facing dog.
But there’s an idea in yoga (or running, or CrossFit, or whatever) that seems to be missing when it comes to cooking—the idea of practice. No one thinks that they will accomplish some limb-twister of a pose on their first try, yet almost everyone expects to turn out a restaurant- quality version of a dish not only on their first attempt, but in 30 minutes or less. And using only one pan. After a spin through the supermarket express lane.
This is just crazy. Cooking what we eat is at least as important as practicing yoga or any other sport and clearly far more important than time wasters like watching TV, which the average person does for more than four hours per day.
Maybe we get the daunting idea that our weeknight dinners should be multi-course and tablescaped from TV, or perhaps some magazines make people think they should be undertaking some novel culinary adventure every single day. Maybe conflicting information about what makes for a nutritious meal leaves everyone flummoxed as to what they should cook. Or it could be just that basic kitchen skills have faded from most people’s lives over the past couple of generations, making the knowledge gap seem much more formidable than it is.
But good, even great, home cooking takes less time than a yoga class. It’s just that it takes practice. The next time you cook something that doesn’t meet your expectations, I have a suggestion for you: try it again. Research the way various recipes do it and take more time on your second round. This is the only way to learn to cook if, like me, you didn’t have the benefit of learning from a skilled family member.
When I interviewed chef George Sabatino for our first “Cookshelf ” column on page 40, (that’s us in front of Cook’s terrific cookbook inventory in the photo to the left) he told me that he’s made every single pasta recipe in his favorite cookbook and that it was only through learning from mistakes that he gained his now-masterful grasp of charcuterie. When his new restaurant, Aldine, opens in July, we’ll enjoy the benefits of his willingness to put in the hours to become one of the most exciting chefs in our city.
But I hope any inspiration you might take from these pages inspires you not only to make reservations but also to get cooking yourself.
It takes time, and practice. You will mess up your kitchen. You might make mistakes sometimes and need to order a pizza. You may even need to wash a few dishes. But I firmly believe there is no better way to increase the quality of your life.