Chow Bella Book Club Review and Online Discussion: Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
We hope you were able to read along with us the first Chow Bella Book Club selection for the month of October - Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. Today is the day for our first online book club "meeting" to discuss our thoughts and feelings on this book in particular. So, here goes:
Flinn begins her book with a quote from Julia Child (the mighty worshipped one) that says "For most people, the only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." In a world full of Top Chef TV foam food fights and farmers market foodniks discussing where to source the best ramps, you have a nation of folks hungry and tired and they are continuing to shop center aisles and boxes of "alfredo sauce" that should contain cream, butter and parm but are packed with giant lists of lab ingredients. Kathleen Flinn wanted to know why.
What seems like solely an interesting and well told narrative about 9 different strangers, all at different places on the confident cooking spectrum, the book is actually a clever and incredibly insightful science/social "experiment" that finally identifies the main challenges of the home cook and what prevents them from doing more for themselves and their families at home - not so surprisingly it's confidence or really the lack thereof. With such an emotional subject as food, so many individuals are not willing to tell their actual feelings and stories. That's why this book is so timely and important.
The book also morphs into a cooking resource (not quite a cookbook but recipes are spread throughout) that tells you step-by-step how to handle the handful of cooking skills that the author put together into classes for her subjects. These are the skills and techniques that dig them out of the culinary black hole that so many cooks live in -- and we're not talking 15 ingredient recipes, more like 3 or so (if you don't count salt and pepper).
The reader can jump in and learn (or remind themselves) of things like how to dismember a whole chicken, make a vinaigrette, making bread, actually tasting different varieties of the same foods to discover real favorites, food waste, the power of soup, and fish in a bag - all beginning with knife skills.
If you're already an accomplished and aware home cook - a lot of this stuff is old news. What makes it interesting to me as one of those people, is that I am able to safely get into the heads of people I know who aren't in the kitchen much and get some answers - without possibly hurting anyone's feelings or sounding like a snooty ass.
Flinn doesn't talk at her volunteers professing how easy something is or try to make them feel inferior. She is an excited and motivated teacher but she takes the time to see what's happening in their real lives, sometimes video taping them to study their current behavior and locating the gaps that are there preventing them from taking food into their own hands. That's where she steps in -- to educate and assist without judgment but with a focused eye to take her observations and put them into descriptive writing.
There were many "aha" moments for her students - these are a few that stuck out. Flinn brings up the common excuse of "time poverty" which not-surprisingly ended up not being a problem in the end. Her students tasted 9 different types of salt the result of which got them all to throw out their iodized salt. Her husband's realization that he can make a cake without a box was so telling about the impact that convenience food has made in our everyday lives.
Another major subject was food waste and how that really impacts our costs and feelings of guilt at not having a better hold of their food pantry. Whoever can't relate to this subject - is lying.
We also got to know a bit more about the author herself and her need to be useful but now wanting to own a restaurant - a question, she says, she gets a lot. With her hands and mind full of practice and culinary knowledge she put them to good use with some honest and willing participants. This "experiment" makes for a great conversation starter to discuss this epidemic of not cooking at home with "real" food. If more people cooked at home, it would help mitigate health and money issues, with your mouth happily tasting the shift in behavior.
Morgan Spurlock, Super Size Me says that "This could be the most important book you'll ever read." Was it? We really want to know your thoughts and reactions.
Also, as you think of any new comments, please feel free to continue to add them to the discussion in the thread below.
I've got me cup of tea right here - let the first Chow Bella Book Club meeting begin, and go!
If you missed any early posts on this - like the intro to this book and the book club or the interview with Flinn, go ahead and jump in wherever you are. If you need the book still, jump on over to the Changing Hands Bookstore/Chow Bella Book Club site for a link to a 20% off coupon.
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