I was very excited to be offered a review copy of Kathleen Flinn’s latest book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School recently. Not only did I love Flinn’s first book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, but I had the great pleasure to meet her (albeit briefly) last summer in Seattle at IFBC. She’s so down to earth and approachable and her writing style reflects this. I also spent a very pleasant 20 minutes on a line for food chatting with her husband Mike, who introduced himself as “I’m just somebody’s husband, not a blogger” then I found out at the end of the conversation that he was none other than Kathleen Flinn’s husband. “Somebody’s husband” indeed!
So what’s this “kitchen counter cooking school” of which her latest book speaks? Well, it all started when Flinn encountered a woman loading up on processed foods in her local supermarket. Being a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, Flinn was inspired by the subsequent exchange with this woman where she convinced her to swap the packaged, processed food for real food, to use her culinary training to help a group of nine women find their inner cook. The students invited Flinn into their kitchens where she started by taking an inventory of each person’s refrigerator, cabinets and eating habits. The kitchen “makeovers” were followed by a series of basic lessons where they learned knife skills, how to trust their taste and improve their food choices. In this new book, Flinn documents these women’s journeys, including practical, healthy tips to boost readers’ culinary confidence, strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar and simple recipes to get readers cooking. Take a look at the book trailer:
Flinn feels there’s a disconnect in her country (though it’s more widespread than just the US) when it comes to food and cooking. On the one hand, we find the culture of hero-like worship of celebrity chefs and cooking-as-a-spectator-sport television shows. On the other, marketers have worked for decades to convince people that cooking for themselves isn’t worth their time, and that even simple dishes are outside their grasp. All this explains why one woman in the book told Flinn, “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve eaten Tuna Helper while watching Gordon Ramsey.” Yes, we laugh, but I am sure there are so many people who can relate (and hey, even I am not immune!). The rise of convenience food and decline of home cooking have a direct relation to the surge of obesity and diabetes. If people are led to believe they can’t cook, they put themselves at the mercy of companies whose interests are primarily financial to feed them instead.
Flinn believes in the power of home cooking and it’s her mission to help people find their way off the couch and into the kitchen. And for those of us not lucky enough to attend Flinn’s school in person, she’s teamed up with Rouxbe.com to offer the new online series “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School lessons.” Check out the free “knife skills” lesson by visiting Rouxbe.com/KitchenCounter and redeem the code “KITCHENCOUNTER” to view the lesson.
For my part, I read this book with great interest. As many of you know, I teach a once a week cooking class to 9-11 year old boys (Les Petits Chefs) and though my students are pretty young and cannot be expected to know a lot about cooking (yet!), I found myself nodding in recognition as I read the book. Naming ingredients, tasting them, tasting food as you are cooking to check the effect of newly added ingredients – a lot of what Flinn found herself working on with her adult learners was so similar to what I am working on with the boys each week. Where Flinn talks about how Julia Child “imparted a more generalized sense of courage for cooks willing to navigate unfamiliar culinary terrain” (p. 167) I found myself nodding most vigorously. What continues to amaze me about my group of little chefs is their willingness to try new things and their (mostly) complete lack of fear about being in the kitchen (well, science lab, in our case!). Yesterday, for example, I had five little boys cutting up raw chicken (thighs, no less, so much messier than neat clean breast meat) and I watched them attack the task with great gusto. No fear (though a few “ewws”) and they just got on and did the job, trusting me that the icky meat would be turned into something delicious in about 30 minutes (it was!).
Flinn’s volunteers sadly don’t have that lack of fear (of both food and the task of preparing it) which is why they all find themselves intimidated by the thought of cooking real food. They all lack confidence in their skills in the kitchen and ultimately, in themselves. Flinn’s book is a fascinating look at how she takes the women through everything from knife skills to limiting food waste. Flinn’s pride in these women’s achievements is evident in her writing – it’s inspirational to watch these women grow and evolve as cooks over the course of the lessons. Indeed, Flinn revisits the kitchens of her students at the end of the classes and all of them have made changes (some more substantial than others) to the way they shop, cook and eat. I know how rewarding it can be to teach (both French and cooking!) so I can only imagine how absolutely stoked Flinn must have been by the success of this project.
The book includes basic recipes and techniques so it’s not just a great read – it’s a must-have kitchen resource. And honestly, the whole time I was reading it, I felt as though I were there in person, having a coffee, listening to Flinn herself. She has an easy, personable style and addresses sometimes uncomfortable truths in a matter of fact and not at all preachy manner. It’s an easy, yet at the same time thought-provoking read.
To celebrate the release of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, I am pleased to have one copy of the book and this awesome (and useful!) magnet to give away to one lucky US or Canadian reader (sorry international friends).
For a bonus entry, you can tweet the following:
I entered to win a copy of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School @eatlivtravwrite . You can too! http://bit.ly/nAOCWI
Then come back and leave me a comment telling me you did.
Contest closes Monday October 10th at 6pm EST and I will announce the winner on Tuesday October 11th. Good luck!