Many dads today rarely just bring home the bacon, they often prepare and serve it as well (try placing a cooked piece on top of the batter before you close your waffle iron--you can thank me later). As a new dad who gladly handles almost all of the kitchen duties, I have entered a new era where my time isn't my own anymore and long elaborate meals are fading into memory. I am finding it hard to be organized enough to even keep the fridge stocked, much less do something inventive with what is in there. Of course, I am not alone with this transition and it is a good feeling knowing others have been through something before you have. When those others happen to be dads themselves, and those dads happen to be chefs and writers sharing their stories and favorite recipes in a series of essays and articles, the result is John Donohue's thoroughly enjoyable new book Man with a Pan.
Man with a Pan is a collection of essays, edited by John Donohue, chronicling how a cross-section of mostly writers, some who write about food and others who do not, came to be comfortable in the kitchen. The stories, while all vastly different, usually share a few common threads: cooking from necessity, cooking with or around children, and the satisfaction that comes from feeding your family a good meal. The contributors range from obvious choices like Mark Bittman and Mario Battali to random ones like Stephen King and Jim Harrison. There are also short pieces by 'everyday' guys - a firefighter, a software engineer, etc., which I found myself skimming over to get to the big guns, because their pieces are that good.
The writing in this collection is so polished and effortless it is entirely possible I will be re-telling some of the stories any day now, attributing them to some dude, I cannot remember who, that I met somewhere, not sure where, but who was hilarious. The situations depicted are familiar to anyone who has cooked, either for sustenance or to impress: dishes gone horribly awry, eating out and thinking you could do better, and the inevitable planning of meals so elaborate a staff of four would have a hard time pulling them off.
Besides the essays themselves, each contributor shares a favorite recipe or two. Manuel Gonzales' Mexican Chocolate Pie and Sean Wisley's Pistachio Pesto are two that have shot to the top of my crowded list of recipes waiting in the wings. Each contributor also gives us a peek onto their cookbook shelf, which is illuminating in a different way. Like discovering a new genre of music by listening to your favorite musician's influences, seeing where Bittman gets inspired is inspiring in its own right. And by cross-referencing each author's list, I have discovered that I need to get my hands on a copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, pronto!
Man with a Pan is not a book aimed at foodies or gourmands. Anyone, especially a dad, who cooks for a family will find much to like in this collection. The rewards that come from cooking for and with a family are the best lessons imparted and are obviously the main ingredient in each author's happy kitchen.
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