Serious Reads: How to Cook Like a Man, by Daniel Duane

Home cooks—and professional cooks, for that matter—are often divided into two camps: those who use recipes and those who don't. Daniel Duane became acutely aware of this divide during his adventure cooking his way through several of Alice Waters' cookbooks, an experience he details in How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession. He cooked Alice Waters' recipes for friends, family, and eventually famous chefs as his culinary education took him around the country—and world—reporting on how to cook.

Duane immersed himself in the kitchen soon after becoming a new father. Unsure of how to find his place in a household that was suddenly so baby-oriented, he turned to cooking as an outlet. He first tackled Chez Panisse Vegetables, mastering the techniques and recipes—from simple steaming to complex sauces—contained in the seminal book. He then moved on to The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, and Chez Panisse Cooking. He rarely cooked the same recipe twice, and frequently hosted dinner parties and events to maintain a consistent audience for his experiments.

Duane's particular interest in Alice Waters came from a unique personal connection: she had been his preschool teacher. His love of her cooking technique led him to visit her in her quaint home in California, where she made him a simple lunch and affirmed his hopes that her cooking philosophy was as straightforward and ingredient-driven as her cookbooks implied.

He then went on to explore other chefs' techniques and had the opportunity to write about them for various publications. He dines and cooks with Thomas Keller and Fergus Henderson. From each chef he learns different techniques, tricks, and skills to bring home to his own kitchen and his growing family.

How to Cook Like a Man is well-written; Duane is an experienced writer and his narrative is beautiful and flowing. But it is also a bit confusing. I wasn't quite sure what the "like a man" part of the book's title meant; Duane does wrestle peripherally with negotiating his father's opinion on his newfound obsession with cooking, but the issue didn't seem to play a central role in the book. But How to Cook Like a Man does provide a fun recounting of an adventure through several cookbooks' worth of recipes, and the lessons that can be learned by straying from those rigid instructions.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.