Thursday, December 20, 2007

What a Cook Wants, 20

The Way To Cook
I spent a summer on Nantucket as a personal chef for a grumpy, demanding woman named Mrs. Bingham who had a marvelous house~ with an untouched tricked-out kitchen!~ tucked deep into the sand dunes with its own private beach. Our neighbor was the Kennedy compound (if only they'd dropped by!), and my housemates were two very spoiled but sweet Scottish terriers.
The only problem? I didn't really know how to cook. Sure, I'd worked as a short order cook at college, waitressed at a place where we made Caesar salad tableside (I still make the best, baby!), and I'd nearly perfected the microwave Egg McMuffin, but it turned out this lady was able to get tables at NY's most luscious restaurants and loved poached salmon and crème brûlée.

I had no idea what crème brûlée was.

I had never poached a salmon.

After we discussed the first menu I stood in the kitchen alone, my heart clanging against my ribs. I knew I was a good cook, knew I could channel my Pop-Pop's palette and read a recipe as well as anyone else, but I was beyond my skills. I was screwed. My throat began to tighten, but then I noticed the shelf. There were books on it, and one of them was Julia Child's The Way to Cook. That title held promise, and Julia delivered. She was precisely what I needed, and as the summer continued I grew more ambitious with homemade tarragon mayonnaise (there's a reason the French call it a sauce!) and an apple crisp that made Mrs. Bingham the toast of the dinner party circuit.
Her style was so accessible and friendly, she was fearless as she dismantled raw ducks and shucked oysters; she wasn't intimidated by the thought of poaching a huge 4 pound salmon fillet. I borrowed her courage.
I suppose I borrowed it again when I started this blog. My title is an homage, even though no one gets it. I realized I could help people find the joy and fearless pleasure in eating, just like Julia did for me with cooking.
Which is all a very long-winded way of saying this cookbook would make a great gift. For anyone.
$26 for this 512-page tome. It changed my life. How many books do that?


M. C. Valada said...


I'm so glad you are back posting on a regular basis. Now I'll add that Julia Child intimidates me. French cooking intimidates me. Is this book really that accessible? If so, I'll have to add it to my shelf.

Tory Davis said...

Thanks for the comment!
It really is, there are lots of pictures of the steps involved, and she explains everything clearly and simply. And I don't even think of this book as necessarily "French," though there is a lot of French influence. To me it's really solid, basic cooking skills for just about anything you'd want to eat, with the option to go as fancy as you'd like.
It totally deserves a place on your shelf (especially since I know you're a good cook already!).