Most of us own cookbooks we may use only occasionally; not so for Daniel Duane, who reflects on his food-soaked and recipe-drenched mania in How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession.
How did this book come about? Why did you decide to write this book now?
My books always come to me from whatever is at the center of my life at the time. When I wrote Caught Inside, I was obsessed with surfing, and rock climbing was my obsession when I wrote about El Capitan [El Capitan: Historic Feats and Radical Routes]. Food and cooking had become enormously important to me, and I thought it was time to reflect upon why I’d become so obsessed with cooking.
You spent eight years cooking your way through all of Alice Waters’s cookbooks. What were some of your failures and some of your successes?
I made a pigeon soup that was just ghastly. I didn’t realize that I needed young pigeons, and the ones I used were older, tough, and tasted like liver. So my pigeon soup tasted like liver soup. My most disappointing meal was one I prepared for my in-laws. The centerpiece of the meal was two roasted chickens. After an hour I went to check on the birds, ready to pull them from the oven juicy and succulent only to find that I had not turned on the oven and the chickens were still raw. My greatest success is certainly the very simple meal—grilled chicken, simple tomato salad, simple potato dish—that I fixed for my children one evening. In that moment, I realized that cooking was about more than following a recipe just right. The kids, my wife, and I all loved the food; the food was good for them, and I could take pleasure in doing my job as well as being satisfied with my cooking craft.
Was there a point at which you integrated your cooking obsession into your life?
Well, I’m still a very active cook, and I’ve even been struck by lightning by the next cookbook I want to cook my way through: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. But my meetings with Thomas Keller, author of The French Laundry Cookbook, liberated me from the cookbook obsession. After I served a kind of apprenticeship with Keller at Per Se, he gave me the confidence that my fundamental cooking techniques were solid and that I needed to let go of the cookbook and just cook.
One of your goals was to become a “proper father” through cooking. Did you?
Yes, I think so. I had a pretty hard transition to fatherhood; I mean, I was this surfer and rock climber who hadn’t really thought much about kids in my life. So, cooking was the place I hid out during that transition. I put all my energy into cooking, and it became my way of giving in family life.
What do you hope people will learn from your book?
That’s there’s immense satisfaction and pleasure in learning new things. Food can give us a never-ending experience of pleasure and learning.