Pity the home cook, scrambling to feed the family or wow dinner guests, armed with only a handful of wonky knives, a set of ancient pans, and a list of various dietary restrictions. To the rescue: sage wisdom from professional chefs and their forthcoming cookbooks.
Don’t fear the cleaver
To optimize restaurant recipes for home cooks, chef-authors scale down the quantities, simplify the language, and leave readers plenty of room to experiment.
“My recipes all show a very simple technique—roasting a carrot, boiling an egg—and how the reader can dress it up,” says Ned Baldwin, chef-owner of Houseman in New York City, of How to Dress an Egg (HMH, Apr.). PW’s review called the book, coauthored by Baldwin and veteran food writer Peter Kaminsky, a “chatty everyman’s guide.” Learning fundamental recipes and adapting them to a variety of dishes, Baldwin says, is key to successful home cooking. “The world has had enough of cute books about cute chefs in cute restaurants. I wanted to write a useful book that helps people cook.”
Though professional chefs exude kitchen confidence, many still remember fumbling around, trying to tell a simmer from a boil and a sweet potato from a yam. “I was the worst cook in America when I started—I shopped via the pictures on the frozen food boxes,” says Nashville restaurateur Mee McCormick. “Cookbooks had lots of ingredients I’d never heard of.” In My Pinewood Kitchen (HCI, Apr.), named for her Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile venture, she worked to make the gluten-free Southern recipes from her restaurant’s kitchen easy to replicate, focusing on familiar terminology and ingredients.
Brendan Pang, a MasterChef Australia competitor who in 2019 launched a mobile dumpling kitchen, Bumpling, in Perth, got his culinary start by watching his grandmother make pork wontons from scratch. In This Is a Book About Dumplings (Page Street, May), he uses a similar show-and-tell style, with step-by-step photos to help newbies master the different styles of dumpling folds. “There is a common misconception that it requires years of experience to be able to craft a dumpling from scratch,” he writes, “but when broken down into the basics, all you need is flour, water and a tasty filling.”
Cooking like the pros isn’t just about what they do but about how they do it. Professional chefs don’t, for instance, desperately dash from fridge to mixing bowl to oven; their work surfaces are laid out as carefully as an operating theater. “Read the whole recipe before you get started, and make sure you have the tools and techniques prepared,” says Cronut creator Dominique Ansel, who owns eponymous bakeries in Hong Kong, L.A., London, and New York. In Everyone Can Bake (Simon & Schuster, Apr.), he gives a master class in how he commands the kitchen.
“These are largely ambitious projects, requiring equipment such as metal rings and acetate,” PW’s starred review said of the book’s professional, precise recipes. “Pastry-chef-wannabes will thrill to this challenge.”
Long, gleaming prep tables, professional equipment, and 800-degree pizza ovens are nice to have, but many chef-authors acknowledge the likely limitations of the reader’s home kitchen. “I always try to approach a recipe that I’m scaling down by using relatable equipment; if I’d use my Vitamix, I just say blender, ” Suzanne Vizethann says of the approach she took in Welcome to Buttermilk Kitchen (Gibbs Smith, Apr.), named for her Atlanta restaurant. “I try to think in terms of what a home cook is likely to have. I learned a lot from doing demonstrations at farmer’s markets and talking to people who were just learning.”
In Beatrix Bakes (Hardie Grant, Mar.), Natalie Paull, who owns the North Melbourne bakery for which the book is named, recommends a $4 dowel from the hardware store in place of her commercial dough roller. She scaled down the batches and prep time of her popular cakes, leaving the essence of the recipes intact: a 24-layer red velvet cake, for instance, became a two-layer confection. “As long as you love what you’re baking,” she says, “size doesn’t matter. And plenty of mistakes can be rescued; I give readers backup plans to tuck in their apron pocket.” Paull tested all the cookbook’s recipes in her own “terrible” home oven to make sure laypeople could get good results without professional appliances.
Sometimes success depends on making the most of the tools on hand. “In restaurants, stoves are on all the time and ovens are always at 500 degrees,” says Annemarie Ahearn, author of Modern Country Cooking (Roost, Apr.). “Home cooks are afraid to use high heat, and I’m always encouraging them to keep the ovens hotter and cook faster than the recipes call for.” She also advises against sacrificing flavor for virtue. “Home cooks never properly season food—they don’t use enough salt or butter. There’s a point at which food is most flavorful, which may not be the most healthful.” It’s the kind of advice she serves up in her book, which PW’s review called “a presentation of hearty, simple country cooking and entertaining,” and at Salt Water Farm, the cooking school she runs in Lincolnville, Maine.
For Perfectly Golden (Countryman, Apr.), Angela Garbacz, who lived in New York before opening Goldenrod Pastries in Lincoln, Nebr., scaled down her professional recipes for “apartment kitchens with tiny ovens,” says Ann Treistman, editorial director of Countryman Press. “Some of her recipes called for two separate stand mixer bowls—many home cooks don’t even have the stand mixer. So she made a lot of substitutions.”
Sustenance and sustainability
Garbacz has described her style as “inclusive baking.” Goldenrod Pastries caters to various dietary restrictions, and all the recipes in Perfectly Golden are gluten and dairy free; a “You Do You” checklist on every page guides readers in adding gluten or dairy back in if they prefer. Her interest in prioritizing allergy-conscious baking stems from her own dairy intolerance; a similar motivation lies behind the gluten-free recipes in Mee McCormick’s Pinewood Kitchen.
“I’ve been in restaurants where I tell them I’m gluten-free, and the waiter tells me, ‘You know, you should just have a cocktail,’ ” she says. “Every cook in Pinewood Kitchen knows how to adjust every dish for the customer’s needs, and I took the same approach with the book.” Safe substitutions are prominent in the book’s ingredient lists, and McCormick takes care to identify potential allergens.
Pinewood Kitchen is located on and uses ingredients from McCormick’s Tennessee farm, and that hyperlocal sourcing reduces the eatery’s carbon footprint. That’s of a piece with a growing environmental awareness among chefs and their customers, though for some, it’s nothing new.
“I grew up in a sustainable community—we ate what was around us, recycled what we could, made do with a small pantry,” says Melissa Martin, whose Mosquito Supper Club (Artisan, Apr.) is “a must-have for any Cajun connoisseur,” PW’s starred review said. The book takes its name from Martin’s New Orleans restaurant, which serves one menu in a single seating each evening, reducing food waste. It’s a lesson customers can take home with them. “Sustainability is about repurposing your leftovers,” Martin says. “Never throw them away.”
Using up leftover ingredients is second nature to professional chefs (see most brunch menus), says Suzannah Gerber, executive chef at Squeeze Juice Company and Pressed restaurants. “Home cooks should learn how to mix and match like restaurant chefs do: prep one ingredient, then add different sauces on different days to get totally different dishes.” In Plant-Based Gourmet (Apollo, July), Gerber showcases her style of vegan food: “modernist haute cuisine you can make with ingredients and tools you already have”—assuming the reader’s pantry staples include flax oil and chickpea flour.
Working with what’s on hand can also mean sticking to what’s available seasonally. In Nourish Me Home (Chronicle, June), Cortney Burns, former chef at Bar Tartine in San Francisco, displays a “unique mix of philosophy, creativity, and resourcefulness dedicated to local and seasonal cooking,” PW’s review said. Burns, who coauthored the James Beard Award–winning title Bar Tartine, is mindful of home cooking realities, says Sarah Billingsley, editorial director at Chronicle. Burns may make her own harissa when in a restaurant kitchen, for instance, but tells her readers to grab some from the store.
Flexibility is key to building a sustainable home kitchen, according to Lucia Watson, executive editor at Avery. “Every home cook should learn to substitute,” she says, echoing the lessons in Seizan Dreux Ellis’s Love Is Served (Apr.), which includes evocatively named dishes (“I Am Awakening”; “I Am Passionate”) from his Café Gratitude outposts in Southern California. The recipes “use mashed bananas in place of eggs and incorporate mushrooms to add the umami flavor that people associate with meat,” Watson says. These substitutions allow readers to dabble in plants-first cooking without swearing off burgers forever.
Readers striving to create delicious meals at home but lacking restaurant-grade equipment, access to specialty wholesalers, or their own Netflix special can take heart in the message from these author-chefs: knife skills are important, but so are confidence, curiosity, and a willingness to experiment. “Go to your local farmer’s market,” Annemarie Ahearn suggests, “and put some planters of herbs in the windowsill. Grow something. Understand what that feels like.”
Liz Scheier is a writer, editor, and product developer living in Washington, D.C.
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