8.14.2012

Book Review: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

Today's book review is 

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School:
How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed
Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks

by Kathleen Flinn


Part anecdotal, part cookbook, this is a hard one to categorize...
After a chance encounter with a stranger whose diet consisted primarily of highly processed foods, Flinn, a writer and graduate of the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, decided to gather a group of less-than-confident cooks for a crash course in the fundamentals of cooking. She found 9 women - all with different backgrounds - who had one thing in common: they were intimidated by cooking "real" food.

First, Flinn visited each participant in her home, went through her cabinets and refrigerator, discussed why she bought and ate what she did, and sampled a typical meal made by the participant. After analyzing the interviews, Flinn came up with a lesson plan to cover basic areas of cooking, such as chopping, braising, bread making, and making a simple vinaigrette. She rented a commercial kitchen, and, with the help of several other professional chefs, held a series of weekly classes for the volunteers. As the volunteers progressed through the fundamentals of cooking, their skills in the kitchen grew, along with their self-confidence.
 
 
Overall, I enjoyed the book, although there weren't a ton of "revelation" moments in it for me. I've been blessed to grow up around a number of excellent cooks, so I didn't relate much to the volunteers who had never spent much time with someone who knows her way around a kitchen. I've also never been intimidated by trying out new recipes or experimenting with creating my own dishes, so I didn't relate to their fears in those areas much either.

I did appreciate Flinn's advocacy of the "whole foods" principal of eating and shopping. That's generally the way I try to shop and cook, and I think it's one of the easiest ways to stay healthy and avoid packing on extra pounds. Fresh, whole foods also just taste better than the highly processed and unpronounceable ingredients you find in a box.
 
 
One thing that I did take away from the book, however, was that I could stand to do a little more planning ahead in order to eliminate food waste. I often find myself throwing out produce that I failed to use before it spoiled or leftovers that I fail to creatively incorporate into other meals. Flinn suggests buying fewer groceries more frequently, so that you'll be sure to use them while they're fresh. I'm always trying to "save time" by shopping for at least a week's worth of meals at once, but Flinn's arguments made me realize that that "saved time" often translates into "wasted money" instead.
 
 
I also enjoyed the recipes she gave at the end of each chapter, as well as the "flavor profiles" section in the appendix. Although I'm not sure I want to go so far as making my own chicken stock or "cream of ____" soups at this point in my life, it's nice to know how to do it. 
 
 
The only parts I didn't particularly enjoy were a couple of off-colour references (for instance, they host a community dinner and bring in a glorified stripper as the entertainment), and how she occasionally fetish-ized certain foods (I enjoy a good meal as much as anybody, but hearing it described ad nauseum is a pet peeve of mine... it might not bother you, though.)
 
 
In short, it's an interesting read, and both novice and experienced cooks can probably glean some useful information from it.

What are you reading?

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