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

2011 Texas Book Festival cookbook reviews

Chews Wisely

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

by Kathleen Flinn
Viking, 304 pp., $26.95

People cite dozens of reasons for why they don't cook: cost, time, picky eaters, feelings of inadequacy, being overwhelmed, or often some combination of those. In The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Le Cordon Bleu graduate Kathleen Flinn found nine women with such excuses and brought them together in the What Not To Wear of the kitchen set.

There's a lot to be said for Flinn's broad approach. She cites statistics on obesity, gives history lessons about the origins of cake mix, includes relevant recipes at the end of each chapter, introduces an impressive supporting cast of chefs, and keeps it personal with anecdotes from her life. Helpful resources are appended, including quick-reference flavor profiles and recommended reading. Juggling all this, Flinn combats the notion of cooking as a spectator sport and encourages her volunteers and readers alike to dive into their pantries and projects with abandon. At times it seems as if this book could use half a dozen other volumes to cover all the topics she tries to touch on, but her light, conversational tone makes every part flow quickly and easily, and the dialogue within the lessons makes the instructions accessible and clear – ideal for the easily intimidated.

After the project, her volunteers implemented changes in their home kitchens to wildly varying degrees, but Flinn emphasizes that anything is a triumph. If people become more confident and willing to ask questions – whether it's of the butcher's sources or of the nutritional value of a snack – we're collectively making progress. As the author's note states: "As long as an approach yields good, nourishing food, it isn't wrong." We can all raise a glass to that.

Kathleen Flinn will appear at 11am Sunday in Capitol Extension Room E2.026.

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