Paul Kidwell chats with John Donohue about his project chronicling passionate men in the kitchen.
The first dish I learned to cook was scrambled eggs and toast with butter. I was around eight years old and my mother, who did most of the cooking for our family, taught me how to crack the eggs, mix in some milk, add a little salt and pepper, and combine with some vigorous whisking. I loved how the shimmering yellow eggs spun around in the mixing bowl and was particularly taken by the fact that I could not “drown” the pepper, whose black specs remained visible against the bright backdrop of the eggs. “The downer I push, the upper it comes,” I exclaimed to my mother.
With such an inauspicious beginning it’s no wonder that I turned out to be a committed stay- and cook-at-home dad and husband. I came to the conclusion early in college that there had to be a life beyond Ramen noodles and Kraft macaroni and cheese. Since then, the preparation and eating of my own cooking has become a way of life for me and my family. In my own inner circle of male friends and acquaintances, I was somewhat unique in my devotion to and passion for cooking.
When I was younger, it was mostly women who wielded the family spatula. However, as more men realized the absolute freedom and joy they could experience in the kitchen, the ranks swelled and modern-day guy talk now includes the sharing of recipes and cooking tips. Such facts and others are chronicled in The New York Times best-selling book, Man with a Pan, by New Yorker editor John Donohue. He also blogs about his home-cooking exploits at www.stayatstovedad.com.
Man with a Pan is a delightful pot-full of essays from men who cook for their families. Some names you’ll recognize, others you won’t. But what will come through in this nexus of family, food, fun and love—love of family and love of all things food and cooking—is the devotion each man has toward his domestic passion. I am man, and therefore I chiffonade.
John was kind enough to agree to a recent online conversation with me.
Who first taught you how to cook? I taught myself.
When I was in high school and college I worked in a retail fish market. Some of the guys there had gone to the Culinary Institute of America, and they taught me how to sauté and do a few other stovetop things (the oven didn’t work in that kitchen).
What made it exciting for you? What keeps you returning to the kitchen?
That’s easy. I’m always hungry.
What dish would/did you first teach your son or daughter to make?
My girls are four and six. Pesto pasta is a fun thing for them to make. They wash the basil and enjoy pushing the buttons on the blender, so they practically know how to make it already.
Should boys’ cooking classes be required reading in school?
Cooking classes should be required of everyone, boys and girls, school age and above.
When I recollect past food experiences—particularly those when I was growing up and before I learned to cook—it is usually my mother who is doing the cooking and not my father. Do you think when your children grow up, and kids of their generation, more food stories will have the father center stage in the kitchen and not the mother?
Yes, absolutely. My book, Man with a Pan, collects many stories of men who cook for their families, so those memories are being formed right now. I’m 43, and most of the men and fathers who are younger than me that I meet like to cook, so the trend is accelerating.
When I tell a woman that I do all the cooking at home, I sense that my personal stock has gone up, so to speak. Do you think a woman is more interested in a great cook or a great lover? Is there a difference?
Think of the sensual connection, the desire to please, and I’ll stop there.
Have you noticed a “mars and venus” difference in cooking styles between men and women? How is a man’s approach to cooking different than a woman’s?
I can’t quantify it. Everyone, man or woman, cooks a bit differently. I know that men and women bring different histories to the kitchen. Men aren’t carrying with them a collective memory of domestic servitude, whereas some women may be doing so.
What manly thing is in your dream kitchen?
Are you planning a sequel to your book? More Men With Pans? Men Who Whisk?
I’m enjoying corresponding with all the families who have been happily impacted by the book, and am planning my next project.
If you were to prepare and eat your last meal, what five men would you invite to help out in the kitchen and share your table? They need not be “men with pans.” Why them? What meal would you prepare?
If I had to pick a last meal, I probably wouldn’t cook it myself. I’d go for a steak, from someplace like Peter Luger’s, in Brooklyn, and I’d invite my five closest friends so we could laugh a lot and recall all the good times we had together. Now that sounds a bit like what I did before I got married, which to me is appropriate. That meal marked a transition to a most wonderful time of my life, and a last meal, I expect, would be doing the same thing.