Photo by Donna

Photo by Donna

When she said it to me, it rang in my head clear as a bell.  I’ve repeated it a hundred times.  I was talking with Carol Blymire last spring about Ratio, and how to promote it.  I was biting my knuckles over this, terrified no one would understand it or even care—it used weights, required a scale, looked like math might be involved, was incredibly presumptuous, etc.  Carol was behind me all the way and said, “No, you’re right.  The book is good.  Americans are being taught we’re too stupid to cook and it’s simply not true.”

That one sentence crystallized the issue for me, turned my frustration from a wall into a lens.  Americans are being taught that we’re too stupid to cook.  That cooking is so hard we need to let other people do it for us.  The messages are everywhere.  Boxed cake mix.  Why is it there?  Because a real cake is too hard!  You can’t bake a cake!  Takes too long, you can’t do it, you’re gonna fail!

Look at all those rotisserie chickens stacked in the warming bin at the grocery store.  Why?  Because roasting a chicken is too hard, takes FOREVER.  An hour.  I don’t have an hour to watch a chicken cook!

Companies that make microwaveable dinners have spent countless R&D dollars to transform dishes that used to take 7 minutes in the microwave into ones that take 3 minutes.  “Hey, Marge, that’s four minutes of extra TEEvee we can watch!”

In practically every single cookbook produced today, the message is, buy this book because we show you easy things to make fast.  Only takes a second.  Whether it’s Rachael’s 30-minute meals or the quick-and-easy columns in the food magazines.  That’s all we hear.  Real cooking is hard and difficult so here are the nifty shortcuts and tips to make all that hard stuff quickly and easily.

It’s the wrong message to broadcast (unless you’re a prepared foods exec, in which case you want people to go on believing cooking is difficult—they want your money!).  We’re not too stupid and lazy to cook.  Of the top five books on the NYTimes advice and how-to bestseller list, half are about cooking—not about losing weight, not about finding god, how to be as rich as your neighbor or how to find love in 30 minutes.  Book sales generally are stagnant but cookbooks keep selling.  People want to cook but they’re told at every click of the television remote, in every cookbook, in all the magazines, this is HARD people, so here are the shortcuts!

Next cookbook I’m going to write?  It’s going to be called, Recipes That Take a Really Long Time and Are Too Hard For People To Do. (The only problem would be coming up with enough recipes where that was actually true.)

I don’t cook every day.  Last night, we wanted wanted to squeeze in an extra game of pool, kids at home were getting hungry, the intended stir fry was going to take 45 minutes to get on the table.  Decision?  Chipotle, beef and chicken burritos, chips and guac.  Sometimes work goes on too long and we don’t even have 30 minutes to cook—fine, fry a burger and mic some frozen peas.  Order take out.

I’m not an idiot.  I know people are busy.  I don’t always feel like making dinner.  And I know a lot of people who simply don’t like to cook.  If I had to knit my own clothes I’d be really bummed.  But the notion that cooking is hard and that it takes a long time and we’re just too stupid to cook is wrong.  And I want people to recognize the truth from the bill of goods they’re being sold.

The World’s Most Difficult Roasted Chicken Recipe

Turn your oven on high (450 if you have ventilation, 425 if not).  Coat a 3- or 4-pound chicken with coarse kosher salt so that you have an appealing crust of salt (a tablespoon or so).  Put the chicken in a pan, stick a lemon or some onion or any fruit or vegetable you have on hand into the cavity.  Put the chicken in the oven.  Go away for an hour.  Watch some TV, play with the kids, read, have a cocktail, have sex.  When an hour has passed, take the chicken out of the oven and put it on the stove top or on a trivet for 15 more minutes.  Finito.

(But be careful, you might find this so boring that you’ll start thinking about making stock next.  Don’t. Too hard.  Takes too long.  You’ll have to clean the pot.  I’m telling you now.  Don’t risk it.  Consider yourself warned.  Don’t blame me if you wind up with something delicious on your hands.)


210 Wonderful responses to “America: Too Stupid To Cook”

  • Walker Lawrence

    Hilarious. The timing couldn’t be more poignant with “America’s Worst Chef” premiering on FN last night.

    I think if you could convince Americans they can cook and have sex at the same time you might be on to something Michael.

    Cookbook could be, Recipes That Take a Really Long Time and Are Too Hard For People To Do, But Allow You To Have Sex While Making Them!!!

    As for cooking taking too much time … blah blah blah. I think it’s an excuse. Most cooking is as easy as learning to use the latest technology gadget. Follow a few simple instructions, spend a little time being creative and at the end of it you get to enjoy your creation and satisfy one of life’s few absolute requirements, eating.

    Plus once you get hooked the possibilities are endless. Cooking creates ideal family time (it’s what my wife and I love to do together), brings friends over for a good meal, makes a party and is a HUGE budget saver. Most of all cooking brings people together, friends, family, neighbors and strangers alike. It is a common denominator that will always win. Join twitter and you’ll find out quickly.

  • susan

    Clearly the New Year has made you feisty! [And I admire this.]

    I think that “recipes that take a really long time and are too hard for people to do” has already been written. It is called the “French Laundry.”

    This dumbing down is really sad. Even serious food sites have numerous posters who tell people to try something “easy” first. But they didn’t ask for something easy. They want to make a baguette, or cassoulet, or something specific. Sometimes I feel that we are swimming against a very strong tide.

    Happy New Year!

  • Jill

    I’m not sure it’s that Americans are too stupid, but instead it’s more of the no time/too lazy stuff. I think there are a significant number of Americans who know how to cook a good meal, but like you said they’ve convinced themselves it takes too much effort. Stupidity isn’t the problem. It’s abject laziness, indifference to quality food/ingredients, acceptance of the banal and mediocre, and glorification of convenience foods that are the real problems.

    Plus, some people think they’re just too damned busy for anything but complaining and what’s to complain about when you’ve worked all day, popped a chicken in the oven to roast, spent an hour reading/playing with the kids/working out/having sex only to then sit down to a delicious meal at the end of it all?

    If it makes you feel any better, there is a growing segment of our population who is willing to go through a significant effort to make a great meal. I think that there are more and more people out there who would rather roast their own chicken instead of getting that shriveled up grocery store rotisserie thing. We’re still the minority, but our numbers are growing.

  • David Dadekian

    This is great and hysterical. It needs to be said, and often. I hope it gets read and shared a lot. I love to cook, especially with my little girl getting interested in what Dad’s doing. If a two-year-old can be interested and at least understand what’s going on, anyone can. But yes, being the only cook in the house some days I just don’t want to cook. Great post, thanks Mr. Ruhlman!

  • Margie

    Great post and very well said … I bought the “too complicated” thing for a long time, and then started teaching myself to cook a couple months ago. It’s easier than I thought, and my life-long self image as someone who “can’t cook” has been replaced with the complete shock of discovering I am really good at it. After writing about food law for years, it’s nice to put my money where my mouth is and actually cook … so happy I found your blog via Twitter, and can’t wait to read your books. Keep up the good work!

  • Matt Sloan

    What a coincidence! The Early Show on CBS just showed how to roast a chicken. They even said that if you can successfully roast a chicken, then you must be a good chef. I say, if you can roast a chicken, then you must be conscious!

  • Tony

    Is it no doubt that we have an obesity problem in America?! There are too many among us who blindly eat whatever crap is served up to them by corporate America. It is not rocket science to learn the basics of cooking. Take just a little bit of an effort to learn and prepare what you are putting into your body. Then you can make a more informed choice of what you want your body to process! Then when the doctor bills start to build up because your body is failing you will at least know why!

    Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. 😉

  • John Bailey

    Dear Michael

    Maybe the discouragement for so many is that when they go to fix a meal or bread or dessert they place the recipe on the work surface and scramble to find all the ingredients as they begin or are even well into the process. I all too often forget to organize and am running to the spice cabinet for the one thing I forgot to get out. Teaching mis en place might be a good post for you. Perhaps, recipes should be written with the first section mis en place and then the item to be cooked along with instructions on when to add the ingredients. Remind people wanting to cook anything to buy ramekins or use small saucers or cereal bowls for pre-measured and prepared items for the final recipe. Starting from calm, thinking out the process and keeping all organized can make for a bettter experience.

  • PJ Mullen

    When I first saw the title of this post I thought you had watched “Worst Cook in America” last night. I couldn’t agree with you more, cooking isn’t hard. Sure, there are some techniques that take time, practice and skill, but by and large the majority of things are easy to make, they may just take time. Whether it is lack of time or laziness that continues to make this so pervasive I’m not sure. I know that making a nice meal for friends and family is worth my time.

    And on a total tangent I got ‘Ratio’ the book and the iphone app for Christmas and am half way through the book. Taking your advice on the post about pate e choux I made the best, most tender meatballs I’ve ever made using it in my mix. Who knew a french pastry dough could make an italian dish so much better 🙂

  • Amber

    I do think a lot of people use boxed stuff because they think it takes less time. I know when I cook something new (like the goose I made last week) it takes about an extra 30 minutes to make sure it’s all done right.

    But I’ve found there is nothing more satisfying than making food from scratch. I know what’s in it and even though the food doesn’t last long I feel like I accomplished something.

  • carri

    Fuck the big corporations…It falls on parents to teach their kids the basic skills to feed themselves, we don’t all have to be ‘foodies’ (thanks to Walker, my new definition of that term is people who like food as much as sex, or is it sex as much as food?) we just need to realize that cooking is something that must be taught as a basic life skill, like telling time or tying your shoes. By 5 a kid should be able to cut up a snack…by 10 making his own cheese sandwiches, by 14, making soup. We have to stop blaming and take responsilblity, or we could just go off to Mexico, sounds like you could use a break,there, buddy, maybe you should go….

  • Jennifer, Playgroups are no place for children

    I’ve been absolutely guilty of thinking that I couldn’t cook. In the past several years, though, I’ve learned that it’s just not as hard as I thought. I finally became so tired of making tasteless, boring food, that I’ve really started to put effort into my dishes and have learned that it’s not hard. It’s not even a little bit hard.

    I think convincing others to make the effort is actually harder than most recipes.

    Wonderful article!

  • Jeff

    Lazy? You want to hear lazy? I have customers who tell me that they don’t have time to grind coffee before making a cup. It takes a grand total of 15 seconds… 15 SECONDS!

    What is wrong with us?

  • marlene

    I am teaching two friends to cook. One thinks it’s too complicated, the other thinks she’s no good at it. To the first, I asked, “do you have half an hour?” We made a fabulous beef stew and fresh biscuits together. To the other, I said “can you read? can you taste?” then you can cook.

    To both I said, part of the process is plan ahead if you can. There’s a lot of prep work that can be done the night before for example. Plan simple dinners for those nights of the week when you’re working late, the kids are at hockey, soccer, swimming etc and you have to go to a PTA meeting.

    That pot roast you had time to make on Sunday? It will make excellent beef dip sandwiches or served with it’s sauce over noodles, on Monday.

    Mise en place is certainly critical. You can’t make something if you realize halfway through you are out of it. Read your recipe if you’re using one. Know what you can make ahead or the day before when you have more time. French Onion soup? Carmelize those onion the day before or a couple of days ahead when you’ve a little extra time. Do them at night while you’re watching TV. The next day,the soup doesn’t take very long to put together.

    Stir fry. Can you chop those veggies, garlic and onions ahead of time? Why not? Cover them with plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to start cooking.

    There will be days when things go sideways and you really don’t have time or feel like cooking. Knowing the ratios as in Michael’s book, or knowing how ingredients taste together, goes a long way to making things easier in the kitchen, and there’s nothing wrong with take out now and then. Hey, I even like shake and bake chicken ocassionally. It reminds me of my childhood.

    What cooking requires is the ability to think. Think about what you want to cook. Think about when you want to cook it. Think about whether you have the ingredients on hand. Think about how long it will take and how much time you have. Doing it isn’t complicated.

  • Bradley

    My thoughts exactly; what is most annoying to me is my friends who claim to enjoy cooking but guffaw at me when I take on veal stock or demi glace. What I want to know about these Rachel Ray’s is if you say you like to cook why the hell are you trying to get out of the kitchen. Cooking is my life and I understand that most people don’t feel that way, but I have gotten to the point to where cleaning my kitchen is as enjoyable as cooking in my kitchen. Sometimes I just stand around gazing at my knives or stand mixer wishing I could whip something up (right after I’ve eaten). Glad to know there are others out there who share my plight.

  • devlyn

    Funny! I’m actually roasting a chicken and veggies for dinner tonight, myself. I fully believe that having a kitchen set up so that cooking is a pleasure instead of a pain is key. Too many people don’t know how to set up a kitchen properly (I don’t even want to go into how many I’ve been in where the cooking tools are nowhere near the places where one actually cooks), and, yes, parents need to lead by example. I cook because my mother cooked. I was brought up to be self-sufficient, so when I went off to college, I was one of the few students I knew who actually purchased ingredients at the store instead of pre-made freezer meals. I fully blame my mother for making me a kitchen addict, but now she sends me tons of canned goods, and I send her my beer and wine, as well as making her fantastic meals when she’s in town. Nom!

  • The Local Cook

    I totally agree! When I started cooking through Simply in Season (a cookbook that focuses on using simple, local ingredients), I was worried because I wasn’t much of a cook. But I’ve discovered that it’s way easier than I thought, and doesn’t take much time to do things from scratch.

  • Veron

    This is too funny. Reminds me of when I had a chat with a friend and she was appalled that I was making my own pie crust and she told me this brand that she uses and that is very good. Or when I want to roast my own chicken, I get that same “Why?” look. Most of America is desensitized to the taste of good food. A lot of times I go to restaurants that receive rave reviews and I wonder why since the food is at best mediocre… to the point that I question my own tastebuds.
    But I’ll tell you one reason why America is lazy to cook because I have this argument all the time with the hubby whenever I want to saute or fry something. The clean up. People need to learn how to work in the kitchen with minimum mess so that they would enjoy the cooking process more and minimize the chore of cleaning afterwards.

  • Bradley

    Also, I know you wrote the damn thing but the roast chicken recipes in the Bouchon book are pretty much the best thing I have ever eaten.

  • Michelle

    Roast Chicken is one of my favorite meals. And I love the title of your new book — it made me chuckle. In fairness I must play devil’s advocate and give you a reason or two why most of my family and friends won’t be roasting a chicken. Reason one: can’t find a decent chicken. The horrible grocery stores in our area sell only CAFO watery packed chicken. It doesn’t taste good, it’s a splattering mess to clean up, and often the date on the package says it is fresh when it is not. Reason two: Cleanup. After a long day at work, messing with the kids, laundry, etc., my family and friends want whatever’s easy. They refuse to wash a roasting pan (not that they own one) and unload and reload the dishwasher. Much easier to just wad up that piece of paper dinner was wrapped in, toss it in the trash and call it a day. My sister and I have had deep discussions on this subject, and we both agreed that the actual physical layout of our cities needs to change. Kentucky Fried is just too damn easy. But if there were a nice corner grocery selling fresh whole chickens wrapped in butcher paper that she could just take home and plop into the oven – she could do that. For both of us, the idea of driving 20 minutes to the nearest Super grocery store and making the half mile trek into the store, then bringing home a not so fresh, watery chicken, and cleaning up the mess that ensues, well, that’s just too much. It all goes back to deregulation, the corporations are in control now, and we are living in an Orwellian, Soylent Green world. Change does happen on a personal level, but it also needs to occur on a city and community wide level as well. I buy local when I can and vote for politicians who support what’s best for the community and not what’s best for corporations. Sorry about the rant. I get testy when I can’t find a good chicken!

  • Joy Manning

    My favorite example of this marketing is that McDonald’s commercial that urges viewer to “leave breakfast to the experts” or something and then depicts befuddled people flipping eggs onto the floor and burning toast.

    I get so frustrated with this issues as well, but an important thing for “food people” to keep in mind is that other people, even very smart people, often are at a loss as to what to do and where to start. I had a friend over this weekend because we were attending a (food lovers) pot luck and she was assigned dessert. Her plan was to slice pears and serve a jarred chocolate sauce. We we started working on the new plan: ginger pound cake with pear compote and ice cream, I quickly realized that she didn’t know how to use a nice. And her original idea basically stemmed from not knowing where to find a recipe. “Creaming butter” was an unfamiliar concept.

    And when you are that clueless about cooking (as many people are) everything takes three times as long. So, between the hectic schedules most people keep, the lack of basic cooking schools being passed down through the generations as they once were, the abundance of bad information about cooking, and this general “cooking is hard” climate you describe, it’s no wonder to me that a lot of people don’t cook.

    I try in my writing and in my interaction with non food types to demystify cooking, but it’s hard. Talking down to them never helps. I don’t really know what it takes for someone to turn their relationship with food and cooking around. But I couldn’t agree more that people are plenty smart enough to cook.

  • Timothy

    Very funny and oh, too true! Yesterday I seasoned a chicken, browned it in a dutch oven, threw in chopped onions and celery, bay leaf and rosemary, put on the cover and slow-roasted at 250 for 90 minutes. Let it sit for 20 minutes before carving and strained the pan juices for a sauce.

  • Vivian

    Smiling as I read this. A roast chicken is so delicious and one of the easiest things a person can prepare. Just a small amount of time and a few essential ingredients are all that is required. Rest it on a bed of veggies while roasting and you have a complete meal. Nothing even remotely complicated about that.

    I watched Julie and Julia again last night and cringed through her intereview with Houghton-Mifflin. I can’t imagine where home cooks would be in this country if everyone thought as they did.

  • codfish

    Very funny! I’ve been trying to get my sisters to start roasting chickens for years. It’s always that it’s too complicated. It’s crazy! Too complicated?! This coming from a sister who got into MIT on a full scholarship and can design a web page in 30 minutes? Pull my hair out.

  • Jim Colwell

    Please tell me Que Tal is still there. It’s been awhile since I was in the heights, but I sure remember those burritos.

  • SteveLarochelle

    Great entry. I think what took me off the “this is too hard” track is learning from watching Alton Brown and Jamie Oliver’s earliest cooking series. The combination of precise technique and a just-wing-it attitude showed thing can be delicious from scratch, not too difficult, and not too time consuming. Jacques Pepin’s current PBS series is great too. Quicker meals, but no prepackaged stuff.

  • jeff

    organization & sourcing – the other two big hurdles for dumbed down cooking.
    one would have to purchase things (fresh is best unless one can incorporate defrosting time into scheduling) and then ingredients before they go bad. and that’s even before telling people they need things like a pan or knife.

    I bought my sister the slow & difficult soup book two years ago & my mom bought her a 30 meals in 30 minutes or less…

    very much agree on the post’s premise.

  • Dawn

    You, my friend, hit the nail on the head! Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be rocket science, and doesn’t have to take all day long.

    I love your cookbook title idea – LOL!


  • Bob

    When I grew up (back in the prehistoric days, c. 1960), Mom worked but nonetheless had time to cook a well-balanced meal for us most nights out of the week. We didn’t even do things like Manwich for sloppy joes. TV Dinners were rarely served – usually only on nights where she had a PTA meeting (she was a teacher), and early fried chicken franchises like Chicken Delight were avoided (even with one just a block away).

    In the 1970’s, partly because Mom had been in a car accident and was sporting a broken wrist (not her fault), my older sister and I began helping out a little more, preparing simple dishes like fried rice, spaghetti, meat loaf, or veal cutlets.

    Michael’s book, Ratio, has helped ‘improve my game’ as far as moving even further away from prepackaged ingredients. Homemade biscuits? Sure, it’s not as EASY as whacking a can of refrigerated dough, but the taste is unquestionably superior. I’m seeing things on FN and understanding the basics, the building blocks coming together as to how to make it.

    It’s not that America is too stupid, it’s that they’ve never been taught, because it’s easier to use convenience foods.

  • Bob

    Oops. Let me rephrase that last sentence:

    It’s that it APPEARS to be easier to use convenience foods, when it really doesn’t save you much time, and certainly doesn’t provide better nutrition.

  • David A. Goldfarb

    My wife, before we were married, wanted to learn how to cook and after we’d been cooking together for some time said she wanted to try making dinner on her own one night, so I gave her a copy of Beard’s _Theory and Practice_ and suggested that she try roasting a chicken. She didn’t tie it, but otherwise followed the recipe precisely, and it came out fine, but I had to say, “well, even if James Beard recommends it, one chicken doesn’t really *need* a half pound of butter.”

  • Kelley

    I’d totally buy that book. I’d buy it and relish it.

    Also, I made chicken feet stock over night, and it was delish. I’ve also made veal stock and that went well too. And I’m allergic to wheat so I can’t get anything out of a box anyway.

  • Dragana

    I’m with you Michael! I have friends who are amazed that I can make cakes from scratch and have never used a cake mix! I made cream puffs for a New Year’s gathering and used your recipe – easy as ever and delicious!

  • Tony Fitts

    The “too stupid” idea rears its ugly head in the most surprising of places. Imagine my pique after finding that Ad Hoc at Home lists only cups for flour measurements in its baking recipes. Especially after Keller writes that they weigh most ingredients in the Ad Hoc kitchen. Why not list volume _and_ weight in the recipes?

  • Pat

    Thought this was a valuable post to share with others, with one exception: I would hesitate before placing a banana or an avocado inside the chicken’s cavity before roasting! That aside, I agree with your thinking…My 12-year-old grandson was disappointed with a pumpkin pie he was served at a Thanksgiving dinner and decided to make one himself. Since then he has baked a quiche, made a potato-and-onion pizza from scratch, and has turned out a cheesecake and a three-layer “blackout cake”, since nobody told him he couldn’t possibly bake things like that. More of his gumption and curiosity is needed in this world.

  • Becky

    Loved the article. It is so true. I would love to “demystify” baking for a lot of my younger friends. It is so sad how many of them have never made a pie, never made a cake, and it’s because they think it is too hard. Somehow we’ve lost passing on basic cooking skills, and the taste for good food. I think I am going to add to my resolutions for the year to help someone else discover the wonders of cooking and baking, and the taste of good food.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    I like to think I’m as good a cook as the next guy, but aren’t you forgetting the principle of economic specialization? If I can walk 100 yards down the street and buy a delicious, freshly roasted chicken for $13 — and I can! — shouldn’t I do that? Is it worth my time to get a chicken, keep it in the fridge but minding to use it before it spoils, cleaning, seasoning, and roasting the chicken? Although sometimes I do roast it myself out of boredom, normally the answer is “no”, it is much more efficient to let the roasted chicken specialists do it for me.

  • CW123

    Our local organic co-op grocery chain sells PERFECTLY roasted and seasoned organic chickens for less that it costs to buy a raw bird. These are rotisserie cooked, so the skin is crispy and brown, and the flavor is great.

    While I still roast the occasional chicken, it is more expensive for me to do it myself than it is to buy one from the co-op. I buy one, use half of it one night, use the other half for salad or lunches, and make a really good stock from the seasoned carcass.

    I agree with the basic premise of the article. But would emphasize the point that Ruhlman makes about some nights just doing take out, or microwave or whatever.

    There is an understandable tendency on blogs like this for a certain degree of food snobbery – that’s why people like us buy Ruhlman’s books. We appreciate what it means to cook a great meal for family and friends, and know that it isn’t that difficult.

    Although I cook nearly every night for a family of four (we all sit down at the dinner table, talk about our day, no TV, everyone eats the same thing…) and try to use good quality ingredients, make many things from scratch, etc., I don’t see anything wrong with a boxed cake mix once in a while, or canned chicken broth, or frozen burritos.

    Sometimes it is a matter of clean-up time – as Michelle points out in her reply above. And I know there are single, working parents who are better off spending time with their kids than cleaning a kitchen.

    Other times, I just like the convenience or taste of something. Our local Trader Joe’s has a lot of great tasting prepared foods that would be a total hassle for me to make – and cost twice as much.

    And occasionally, I just want something that tastes like I remember as a kid. My mom used to make us grilled cheese sandwiches with Velveeta. Sure I could bake my own bread, buy a gourmet cheese, and grill it on a fire made with sustainably harvested hardwood. But a Velveeta sandwich with some sweet pickle chips just tastes right, because that’s how I remember it as a kid.

    Cooking a good, quality meal isn’t tough – and we’d be better off as a society if more people realized that, developed the skills and did it more often.

    But life is a bundle of trade-offs. And sometimes spending an extra hour reading to the kids, or having a taste bring back a memory isn’t so bad.

  • Beth

    Well said and I completely agree. I think there is a “foodie” movement that is producing food critics who cannot produce any food themselves. It is all a part of our consumer complex in America. I think the basis for any review/critique should be your own abilities. Obviously we cannot make everything…and some things should be left to the professionals…but unless you can roast a chicken please do not pull the food snob bullshit out on me. Thanks for being a professional chef with a mission to help us unprofessional cooks produce. I love Ratio…and just got the iPhone

  • Kevin

    Of course, I absolutely agree. But as hilarious as I found this posting, what about the last part? Did you really have to oversimplify the process of roasting a chicken? You know as well as anyone that the conversion of collagen to gelatin in the legs of a chicken needs to be balanced with the relatively lean meat (and subsequent disparity in cooking) of the breast meat. You even mentioned the chicken breast as being the most easily overcooked while dining with Bourdain at the Vegas Bouchon.

    Come on, Ruhlman.
    Being one of your biggest fans, I’m sure you know better.

    And while you were taking the time to describe stuffing the bird with those various examples, maybe you could have gone that long extra mile to mention something that would further ensure consistent results while preventing the aromatics from falling out? Come on, Ruhlman! Even that absolutely gorgeous picture of a roasted chicken you’ve included with this posting has been trussed!

    I hope, in this written format, my words haven’t belied my sincere intent of joking with you.

    I just think that if someone decided to step outside of the norm and roast a chicken, stumbled upon your words, and followed them literally…well, they might very well go back to “all those rotisserie chickens stacked in the warming bin at the grocery store” with increased dedication. That, and of course, their money and time- and more sadly, a chickens life- might be wasted. It sort of defeats the purpose and energy invested in everthing you’d written previous to it, doesn’t it?

  • Chris

    I think it goes a bit beyond cooking … we’re being told non-stop that we’re too busy to do ANYTHING. We just have no time, so everything in life must be made convenient and quick. Unfortunately cooking is one of those things. And in a way, “they” are right, because a lot of us do feel rushed … but the thing is, are we really being rushed, or do we just feel it?

    I’m with you … I prefer cooking when I can, though I will say that as the father of a 7-month old girl, sometimes my wife and I don’t have a lot of time to make a great meal when we get home from work and are playing with her, so sometimes we cheat a bit and get takeout or make up some sort of bland convenience food. But when we can cook, we do … and it’s no big deal. New Year’s Day? Homemade cabbage and noodles, using some egg noodles we made a month ago with leftover pierogi dough. Took no time at all to shred the cabbage, and then cook it up with some locally-bought kielbasa, and then tossing in the noodles. The day after? Even though I was sick with a massive head cold, I was still able to follow your evil stock recipe … geez, it was so difficult tossing a chicken carcass (frozen leftover from a simple roasted chicken we did a few weeks ago) in a stock pot, covering it with water, and then putting it into the oven at 180 degrees for 7 hours (I was impatient, that’s why I didn’t leave it in longer), and ended up making absolutely stunning chicken noodle soup. And yesterday? A simplified cassoulet, which did take about 20 minutes of prep time. But the end result will feed us for several days. It took so little time …

  • Whineaux (Dawn)

    Loved seeing this! In my top 10 food predictions for 2010 I said that I think that cooking skills will continue to suffer. I take it as my mission to teach someone to cook simple basic foods.

    I’m stunned at the grocery store how often the check out clerk asks me what my produce is (and I’m not talking about a mangosteen, I mean leeks, Napa Cabbage — basic stuff)

    I got a laugh at myself recently. When I read “The Making of a Chef” my mouth watered at the chicken veloute and I wished I could make it. But if they did it at the Culinary …. It must be too hard. I recently looked into how to make it and learned I’ve been making it since I was 11, I just call it Chicken Gravy! LOL Point is if I could make a veloute at 11 — ANYONE can cook! Let’s teach them.

  • Dave Weinstein

    So, for some of this, we should remember that many people don’t like to cook.

    The difference is that now, the people who don’t like to cook go buy something, rather than having to cook anyway.

    I try to keep this in mind, because I’ll happily put on some program that can be mostly listened to (_The Wire_ works well), and set to work cooking something. And I’ll cheerfully think to myself, “no muss, no fuss, no problem”, and then realize I had spent over an hour cheerfully cooking.

    If you enjoy it (as I suspect just about everyone reading this does), then that was time well spent. If you don’t, then it was an obligation.

  • Mary-Heather

    I do cook every day – often three meals a day. Now I’m certainly not saying they are gourmet, complicated meals, but they’re usually quite tasty, they’re made from scratch from wholesome ingredients, and I’m proud that I have the skills to do it. I love it and it makes me sad that this isn’t the norm. I knit and sew many of my own clothes, too – and it’s not a bummer! 😉 I actually consider knitting/sewing to be the same type of basic life skill that cooking is, or knowing how to grow and preserve food. Being able to do for oneself – clothe your self and your family, feed them – is so important and these skills are being lost and lost quickly. I live in a city, I’m not off in the boonies somewhere, but I grow some of my own food, I cook the vast majority of it, and I make some of my own clothes. I think these simple things are important as well as enjoyable, and I’ve been happy to see a resurgence of both traditional fiber arts as well as a return to cooking (and growing) real, wholesome food over the past few years. I hope the trends continue.

  • Robin Cohen

    A little while ago I had a friend over who was complaining about how much trouble it was too cook (she lives on take-out) and how her crazy 9 yr old daughter wanted to make cookies from scratch but even the scoop and bake kind were so hard for her and took way too much time.

    As we chatted, my hands were busy crumbling butter into flour for blueberry scones. In the time it took her to complete her rant, the scones were done and we sat down to eat them with homemade jam and a cup of tea. I did not point out the irony of the situation, I just promised to give her little one a baking lesson.

  • Hélène

    Yes home cook meals takes time. I am 45 yrs old and have been cooking since I am 7 yrs old. I was raised on a farm and there was no take-out for us, my dad never drove us to a fast-food restaurant and my mom never bought a rôtisserie chicken. Every Sunday we would have a Turkey Dinner. What a feast. I still can smell it. What I remember the most from my childhood is all the great meals my mom cooked. Coming back from school and the house was filled with freshly baked cookies.

    You have to make choice in life. I made the choice of eating healthy and homemade meals. Last night we had roasted vegetables that took more than an hour to prepare and cook but they were delicious. Two of my kids are gone to university now and they had learn to cook their own meals. I think every parent should teach their kids how to cook.

    BTW there is nothing like coming into a house and smelling a rôtisserie chicken. It’s well worth that hour.

    Happy New Year to you and your family. I enjoy reading every post.

  • durhamfoodie

    Great! Why is it so many people are afraid of the kitchen. SInce when did a roasted chicken or any restaurant meal taste better than what you can make at home. yes it’s nice to let someone else do it for you every now and again, but there is something so relaxing about creating your own meal

    If it’s a time issue than start with a crockpot or pressure cooker. I work several nights a week which means I am not home to cook dinner for the family. Answer: take chicken or pork and marinate, or put on a rub and let sit overnight. Morning: Place meat in crockpot with some stock, wine or beer, and voila, dinner is served 8-10 hours later.

    Easier than dealing with anything the night before? Take chicken, place in crockpot, add bottle of favorite bbq sauce, set on low and 6 hours later you have fall off the bone, tender, juicy, tasty dinner.

    Well written, this is a good note to all.


  • nithya at hungrydesi

    Great article! Just yesterday, I was thinking that all too often, really smart people, when cooking, have a tendency to over rely on a recipe or to substitute a recipe for their own common sense. As one of the commenters above wrote, if you can read and taste, you can cook.

  • JMW

    What you describe is a worldwide phenomenon. Even the Japanese routinely substitute instant dashi for their cuisine’s staple, despite ready availability of ingredients and how deadly simple it is to steep shaved bonito for a few minutes.

    The packaged food industry has convinced us all, across the globe, that we can sacrifice the quality of our cuisine and retain our cultural pride and integrity, despite how deeply ingrained food is in culture.

    Perhaps they’re right. People readily adapt themselves to the lowest common denominator afforded to them. But at what cost? I have several friends who are “adult picky eaters,” the pathological version of this cultural degeneracy. They will never know in their adult lives the pleasure of a raw vegetable, much less a well-prepared one. Their destiny lies at the take-out window. I hope ours takes a better course.

  • Sean

    There already is a “Recipes That Take a Really Long Time and Are Too Hard For People To Do” — it’s called Alinea.

  • Sandy

    I was grinning and laughing to myself until I reached the bottom of the page and read this:

    “But be careful, you might find this so boring that you’ll start thinking about making stock next. Don’t. Too hard. Takes too long. You’ll have to clean the pot. I’m telling you now. Don’t risk it. Consider yourself warned. Don’t blame me if you wind up with something delicious on your hands.”

    Guilty as charged!!!! Funniest thing I have read in a long time. Whoever you pissed off with this, keep it up. 😉

  • John Beaty

    Is it really so difficult to accept that other people have different desires, strengths and tastes, without calling them stupid? Or are you just picking a fight?

  • The FoodNinja

    There is a lot of truth in this rant (witness the huge reader reaction), but here’s a confession: I actually LIKE the fact that most people today are intimidated by what happens in the cookery room, and have no idea how to take a fridge full of raw and transform it into a table full of hot and delicious.

    Why? Because I reap the rewards and admiration when I present my guests with plate after plate of tasty food. If they’re going to tremble in anxiety at the thought of navigating a simple recipe, as though they were dragging themselves through broken glass and thumbtacks, I become the hero when I brave the wilds and return with dinner in hand. And God forbid they should cook freestyle, with no guiding text; that’s just madness.

    Now, to be clear, I don’t play this up at all. I shrug off their praise with (genuine) modesty, and I tell my guests that what I did wasn’t THAT difficult. But here’s the thing — I don’t work TOO hard to combat their misconceptions.

    Okay, I will readily admit, I may not exactly be proud of my part in maintaining this unfortunate untruth. Not only could I certainly do more to break down my diners’ fears, I probably should. It’s true, just because I didn’t create this situation, that doesn’t make it okay for me to exploit it.

    But, dammit, if these people insist on imagining themselves as hopeless slugs in their Buy-N-Large hoverchairs, I’m happy to be Prince Valiant for bringing them a meatloaf.

  • Gwen


    I post the things I cook to my food blog ( and it astounds me how many friends say “that’s too hard!” Damn you, foodtv, for doing a better job of teaching people how to order and buy food than how to make it themselves.

  • Paul Michael Smith

    While I agree with everything you have said, I still maintain that all good food is labor intensive. For instance I think a dish that needs chicken stock is better prepared using home-made stock. Actually, I think making everything from scratch typically is better. You must too, since you’re making your bacon and sausage. That having been said, not of those things are difficult, just require what used to be called “love” before the food industry beat that word to death. Keep up the great work and the photos are wonderful, also.

  • Sara

    You must have seen the Purdue ad where they have an “intervention” with the mother because she is too scared to roast a chicken, but now there’s this special Purdue chicken that is roaster friendly and they all cry as this terrible crisis has been solved. I watched this ad thinking “are people really afraid of roating a chicken?”

    Faster weeknight recipes are useful to know, and as you acknowledge not everyone even likes cooking. But I think if people knew the basics of cooking, learned growing up for example, it would be easy to cook recipes that are naturally faster to prepare (not becasue they cut corners, just because some things take less time than others). But I think not having the “base” knowledge makes it hard when it’s 5:30 and you don’t know what to make for dinner–easy to reach for the take-out menu or pop in a frozen pizza…

  • Vivian

    Just wanted to add, there is nothing wrong with Chipotle. I am all for staying with local restaurants but I have found that Chipotle’s standards exceed many restaurants when it comes to serving food that is grown locally as well as sustainably. For those who question this feel free to check out their website. There is a map on one of their pages, click on your state and it will tell exactly what is sourced locally. What they can’t get locally is generally sourced from reliable places such as Polyface Farms.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    I guess it all boils down (sorry for the pun) to what you do with your time. This past Sunday I wanted a quiet day to do my things and especially watch some critical NFL matches. So, my day went like this:

    7-8 AM … feed the dog and cats, do a sudoku with the morning cuppa tea and get some acorn squash muffins ready to pop into the oven (squash already baked and in the fridge).
    8-9 AM … bake muffins, run out for paper, make a pot of tea. Get wife up and eat muffins hot from the oven.
    9-10 AM Read paper mostly but grind spices (1 minute) and dry rub some venison I was given.
    10-11 AM … walk with wife and dog in forest.
    11-Noon … make candied lemon peel (cut and soaked yesterday)
    Noon – 1 PM Eat lunch … Nuked some soup I made earlier in the week.
    1-4 PM … watched Steelers game while I smoked the venison outside in the Weber.
    4-7. Watched several other football games, surfed some web and slow roasted the venison in a dutch oven.
    7-8. Ate dinner (no, not the venison but rather a steak and kidney pie my wife had made with celeriac done julienned with vinegar, sugar water dressing.
    8-10, watched some more football.

    Great couch potato weekend and some good and easy cooking done.

  • Bob

    John Beaty wrote:

    “Is it really so difficult to accept that other people have different desires, strengths and tastes, without calling them stupid? Or are you just picking a fight?”

    If you read the entry, it’s clear that Michael is speaking about an attitude and a marketing strategy, not calling out those of us who aren’t home cooks/foodies as ‘stupid’ and unworthy.

    But if this be treason … you’ll want to also hassle Mark Bittman, who holds a similar view, that modern ‘convenience’ foods (like macaroni & cheese) don’t really save you any time, that you can make a tastier, healthier dish just as easily on your own.

  • Carey

    I do, however, get tired of hearing Rachel Ray being mocked. I think that she has played a truly important role in the foodie era. So many of us grew up in the midst of the feminist movement, where we were discouraged to do anything in the kitchen at all. Then we all felt that somehow the ability to actually be productive in the kitchen was too scary, messy, or time consuming. We are the generation who caters to our children in ways our forefathers never would have…soccer, ballet, band, carpool…carpool…carpool…No time to cook! Suddenly there is this woman showing us that in one half hour or less, it IS possible to nurish your family with your own hands…and we found it was fun! easy! transforming! Soon those same people started reading food blogs, buying organic, educating ourselves on cruelty free options…and a movement was born. To laugh at a woman who’s only message is, “get in there and do this…DON’T order out” is so short sighted and snobby. And…wrong.

  • a midwest cook

    I don’t know if, “too stupid” to cook conveys the right message.

    I work in academia. All these newly minted PhD’s are coming out of grad school not knowing how to boil water. They followed the path we laid for them. Society promoted the idea that they follow their education to its fullest extent. They did that. We cannot now hold them accountable for not pursuing things that our society put no importance on. It’s not fair.

    You can look at the cookbook authors of the 40’s and 50’s (Jessie Marie DeBooth or Lily Haxworth Wallace come to mind) who worked hard to re-position cooking in scientific terms. Their goal was to elevate cooking from a position of little worth to something this required quantative skills. In many ways they succeeded.

    I think the last 4 decades have been a different version of that work. Food preparation became a vehicle to display your knowledge of the outside world, rather than an affirmation of nurturing your household. Which would you rather spend time with? Running a division or learning the details of the perfect chicken? Which sounds better? Perfecting the “Perfect Sunday chicken” or “Mastering the art of French Cooking? Society has spoken very loudly in this regard. So now, you have to run the division AND make perfect coq au vin. I see the “Short-Cut Chefs” of the food networks not as indifferent cooks, but as tacit acknowledgement of the difficulty of doing both well.

    As a young woman, I worked hard to master techniques that were unfamiliar to me as a way of saying that, “I would not be bound by the past”. As I mature, I find myself craving the satisfaction that preparing food for my family provides. I’m not sure that the power of that message is one that has been promoted enough in the last 20-30 years.

    Before, I enjoyed learning how chickpeas were cooked halfway across the world in order to better understand that world, now I work on the same techniques in order to provide healthy nutritious, flavorful, cost effective meals for those I love.

  • elizabeth


    If I had the power, I would banish the phrase “super-super-simple” from all food-related media permanently. I tried going back to watching The Food Network on weekends, and seriously, I can’t take it–every fracking host is blathering on about simple this and simple that. Like you said–whatever happened to taking on a project and have something on the stove or in the oven all day? The hosts remind me of Lisa Simpson’s talking Stacy doll, only instead of saying “Math is hard!” they all say “Cooking is hard!”

    I realize that I’m lucky–my husband has an easy commute and can get home with plenty of time to cook (allowing me the pleasure of coming home to a near-complete dinner most nights), but seriously–even when I lived alone I was able to whip up something on my own.

  • barbara

    The same mindset is happening here in Australia also. There are a series of books and a tv series, by two women, based on every recipe using just 4 ingredients. They have made millions of dollars out of the books. Just another example of dumbing down society. Sad to see.

  • Kevin

    I can’t understand why there’s boxes such as “pancake mixture”. I got round to making my own from scratch and I think it’s quicker than ripping open the box of the pre-made mixture!

    Also cooking is not hard, look at a list of recipes I’ve cooked, all for the first time (they tasted great too):

  • Annie @ PhD in Parenting

    I can cook. I do cook. I love to cook.

    But I do buy Rotisserie Chicken on those days when I don’t expect to be home before 6:30 and need dinner on the table 15 minutes after I get home – not an hour or more. Add a quick salad and some multi-grain bread and dinner is ready.

  • Alexa

    Great post. I’ve been trolling my favourite food whore websites today in search of a roast chicken recipe for tonight. I’m vacillating now between your super challenging roast chicken, or the coq au vin I had thought to make. This is a nice problem to have…I’m lucky.

  • james

    I would totally buy the cookbook. But only if it was true to its title- containing ridiculously hard recipes that required loads of patience, tricky equipment and elusive, rare ingredients. Great post.

  • Dean Estes

    My best friend is the hardest-working person I know. Sixty-hours-plus work weeks are the norm for him, and he commutes about forty miles each way as well. Until recently, he’d convinced himself that he was too busy to cook for himself, an understandable complaint in context. However, inspired by my own enthusiasm for cooking during recent years, he finally convinced himself that with some proactive planning and wise use of free time on weekends, he can indeed cook for himself, and well, and healthily. It’s been a wonderful transformation to witness, and he’s clearly happier for it. While it’s absolutely true that the “food giants” and their advertisers train us to believe that there are all sorts of things we can’t do, we sometimes get ourselves into needless ruts by repeating the same bad messages to ourselves. Don’t even get me started on “I have a ‘bad back’ therefore I dare not do anything.” 🙂

    Although I’ve been using the high-temp method of roasting a brined chicken for years, I only recently tried roasting in a cast iron skillet and then immediately thereafter making a lovely sauce using the method suggested in “Ratio.” I’m sold! Religiously so. This is how I’ll be roasting from now on, and oh boy, the use of beurre manié to emulsify and flavor the sauce is like magic! (Translation: Thank you, Michael!)

    To my mind, “Ratio” is, like “The Flavor Bible,” a book that needs to be worked with over time to be absorbed and incorporated into one’s arsenal of methodology until it becomes wisdom and informs intuition. It’s a book to live with and return to, not to read once then forget, not to use as one would a conventional cookbook. It’s a gem, but must be worked with over time to be properly mined.

  • Rhonda

    Michael; great post.

    I have read the comments and understand the different angles we are coming from in approaching this subject.

    It is my great hope for 2010 that people stop looking at food, taking pictures of it and actually get into the kitchen. Going out to dinner is wonderful and a great form of entertainment. It keeps me employed.

    However, there is no greater satisfaction in this world than to nourish the ones you love with something created by your own hand (with the help of Nature). It can be simple or complicated. You are in command and decide.

    It can be a grilled cheese sandwich or a Heston Blumenthal creation but it is of your hand and no matter how it turns out, those who love you will appreciate your effort.

    Just get into the kitchen. Do not be afraid to fail, because you will. It is inevitable.

    But you will also have victory!

  • Ryan Detzel

    Okay…so I put the chicken in the oven and then have sex? Do I have to have sex for the entire hour? If so, I might need more than one chicken when it’s finished.

  • JMW

    Well, cooking is hard in some sense. There is no doubt about that. We take for granted as experienced cooks of any stripe certain intuitions. If a recipe specifies “medium high” heat, for example, it’s not describing a setting on a stovetop. It’s describing your intrinsic sense of how quickly food develops color, doneness, and aroma as it is sauteed, and so on.

    Inexperienced cooks often don’t understand this in the least. They rely on recipes as sure-fire, means-to-ends ways of accomplishing what is, on the surface, a purely mechanical task: cooking.

    Cooking isn’t mechanical. It never was; it never will be. Failure is inevitable, so in this sense I think Mr. Ruhlman is somewhat disingenuous (but perhaps deliberately so, for the sake of being encouraging).

    But failure is the route to success. Failing is how one develops life skills. To simply abdicate, to say that failure is not an option and all these skills should be outsourced to agents of packaged food development, is unacceptable.

    We accept this situation in the case of clothing ourselves because the product is inevitably the work of a division of skilled labor. Yet cooking — home cooking — requires no such division, nor much skill overall. Just time and practice and care. Many of the finest restaurants are tiny kitchens with little division of labor, just a high degree of individual skill, and a short supply line (if any) back to the farm.

    Unlike knitting, the economics of the kitchen haven’t changed much in the last century. Packaged food isn’t alchemy by which value is added; it’s a substitution of a poor product for an acceptable one. It’s a situation few should accept on economic grounds, much less cultural. But the fear of failure is a strong disincentive; it runs deep in our society, much to our detriment.

  • SimplyForties

    Recipes that are hard and take a really long time are just the sort I’m always looking for. That’s exactly what I like to cook and luckily, I have the luxury of time. There’s isn’t a new complaint. When Julia Child was trying to get “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” published in the late 60’s she came up against the same idea that Americans were too interested in opening cans and hurrying to ever buy the book that she was peddling. She persisted in her belief that there were plenty of Americans out there who wanted to cook real food and would love to take her cookbook out for a spin. Luckily she was right and is still right today. There are certainly lots of people out there who are too busy, too tired or too uninterested to really cook but there are plenty out there who like nothing better! Don’t discount us!

  • Mark

    I agree totally. At times my wife picks up a rotisserie chicken, they are awful! In the past I would convince my wife to bring home a whole chicken instead and I would cook it. I love the way the house smells when we bake a whole chicken in the oven. Thanks for reminding me that this is easy to do and it tastes so much better than those awful dried out rotisserie chickens.

  • The Italian Dish

    Brilliant post. When I was growing up, we ate real, whole foods. I grew up in an Italian family. It never crossed our minds to buy ready made foods. We bought local meat, grew our own vegetables, had a huge freezer. How in the hell did we manage? We didn’t know any different, that’s how. We made simple meals from real food. I thought your post was right on and I’m teaching my three sons to cook real food and not consider it a big deal to throw a chicken into the oven or bake a fish. They are teenagers and they know how to do these things. That is one of the biggest gifts you can give your children.

  • John Beaty


    Actually. I do hassle Bittman (because he emphasizes simplicity over technique, even when technique would give a better result for less work), but what I was talking about here is Mike calling people “stupid” because they have differing ideas about how to spend their time.

    I cook for all the same reasons that people here have mentioned. I just don’t feel superior because of my decisions. And having worked extensively with the sorts of people that are being called stupid here, I can only say, don’t knock ’til you have to try it. Maybe one day it’ll come to you having a choice of a second job/take care of aging parent while working/having 20 minutes to think instead of shopping, cooking and cleaning up on the one hand or a cooked chicken on the other.

  • Rebecca

    My overanalytical 2 cents worth:
    While “laziness” and apparent lack of time are part of the American fear and loathing of cooking, I think there are some historical/cultural factors that have shaped American attitudes toward cooking and eating that must be taken into consideration. Let’s not forget that the Puritanism that helped form American culture frowned on (to put it lightly) any physical pleasure. Cooking and eating, like sex and wearing clothes, were to be acts of survival, not joy. Fast forward a few generations and we start to see American nutritional science in its earliest forms; eating again was depicted as a matter of mere survival rather than a pleasurable daily activity. We see this now in the “nutraceutical” industry that purports to produce food-as-medicine, again for survival rather than pleasure.

    The second factor is that of “woman’s work.” The relationship between women’s roles as sustainers of their families, women’s desires to have broader lives, and the rise of experts in medicine, manufacturing, and nutrition have combined in problematic ways. Women are told that it is their duty to feed their families properly; that they cannot do this without the assistance of experts; that they are retrograde if they spend too much time on this; and that they are bad women if they don’t devote enough of themselves to this endeavor. Is it any wonder that this no-win combination of messages leads many women to throw up their hands and just nuke something, or alternatively to romanticize a “return” to the home? Oh, for a happy medium…

  • Gayle

    We ate Chipolte last night also … some things can’t be improved on.

  • ed

    ha. i made the catalan stew recipe from ad hoc this weekend. day one: make beef stock and sofrito. day two, braise short ribs and let sit. day three: blanch veggies and assemble. hard? not really. time consuming? check. worth it? hell yeah.

  • lisadelrio

    Some of my friends who profess the inability to cook own the crappiest, dullest knives in the universe. I couldn’t cook either if I had to chop an onion with the equivalent of a butter knife. But they won’t buy a good knife because they “can’t cook.”

  • Kris

    Until a certain age, honest to god, I thought only chefs made soup and cakes from scratch. Many of us never learned to cook because A) we were never taught, B) we didn’t realize it was a useful skill, especially compared to more marketable ones that were emphasized growing up, and C) the necessity wasn’t there, what with all the convenience foods. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, either, though it’ll take a cultural shift in thinking to alleviate the problem. Having a food activist in the White House is definitely a good start.

    @ Carey: I’m jumping on your bandwagon to defend Rachael, who generally uses fresh foods and simple cooking techniques to produce her meals. She’s not the problem; if anything, she’s brought more people into the kitchen. Sandra Lee would have been the better target here.

    @Joy: that McDonald’s breakfast commercial drives me up the freaking wall.

  • resa

    yes yes, I agree, you’re right. seriously! there’s nothing wrong with a storebought rotisserie chicken or a takeout burrito or even a frozen meal now and again. ( I love love love to cook, and I still do all those things) the thing that makes me scratch my head is when we are so obviously being sold excess as convenience. there’s a commercial for steam and mash potatoes out there. and as far as I can tell the only thing they’ve done is peel the potatoes and cut them and provide a bag to nuke them in. they don’t put them in the microwave for you, they don’t add the butter and the cream- for crying out loud you still have to mash the things, which is the hardest part! (waah!) so there’s no real convenience. and it will cost you 5 times as much as regular potatoes, you will probably have to buy two pagkages to feed your family of 4, and you still have to do most of the work. will people turn more yowards the simicity of cooking if thy realize they’ve been duped?

  • Bob

    @ John Beaty:

    Actually, I started learning the basics of cooking when my Mom had a broken wrist. I am a bit surprised that my older sister hasn’t really ‘grown’ much in terms of her repetoire, and my younger sister ‘doesn’t cook’. I still didn’t come away from today’s entry feeling as if Michael were describing them.

    So I have ‘been there’ to some extent. But since I love to cook, even if it’s really simple basic fare, it never quite feels like a chore or burden.

  • Georgia Pellegrini

    I now have a ritual where I make a roasted chicken every Sunday evening. It is the best ritual of my life. Something I count on and look forward to. A delicious, delicious ritual.

  • Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro

    Join the movement… pay it forward. I think that’s all any of us can do.

    Luckily, Alice is doing just that with her Chez Panisse Foundation. May my children not have to eat the corn dogs and sloppy joes my grade school fed me. [K]

  • Jason

    Oof. Wish I knew I was too stupid before I began this sourdough starter… It’s far too complicated letting natural yeast just work. 😉

  • Kathy A.

    The really sad thing is that rotisserie chicken sitting in the supermarket is $2 cheaper than buying an uncooked chicken. I love to cook, but it irritates me all to pieces when real food is overpriced.

    At least I can thumb my nose at the market as I make stock from the carcass. 🙂

  • Peter Kaizer

    and if you really want to make that chicken difficult slip a few garlic cloves between the skin and breast meat… 🙂

    Great post Michael!

  • Julia

    I grew up on fish sticks, boxed mac & cheese and iceberg lettuce, and doubt I ever would’ve started cooking every single day if it weren’t for the short recipes and timeframes offered by RR’s cookbooks. Sure, MFK FIsher said a lot of the same things about ease and simplicity, tossing a fried egg on some frisee and calling it dinner. But, I couldn’t easily translate my love for foodie lit and great food into any sort of ability to make it myself. RR takes a lot of undeserved heat on this front – I believe she gets people into the kitchen, where the food can then lure us into better presentations, better books. Worked for me that way, anyway. I have Ratio on order at the library. Need to make sure I can read it without crying – math fear – before I buy. I like the idea, and feel ready to tackle it 😉

  • Mikuto

    I think that a lot of people are just intimidated by food. It might not be hard, but it sure is intimidating to look at a cut of meat and try to figure out how to cook it, much less cook it right.

    When I was a kid my mom was convinced that if she let me in the kitchen I’d make a mess of the place. So she never taught me to cook. My dad, thankfully, taught me how to bake, and to this day I make the most delicious baked goods you’ve ever wrapped your lips around.

    However, there’s a difference between cooking and baking. A good friend of mine used to say that “baking is a science, but cooking is an art.” I always add “and I was never good at art.”

    I have good knives, good pans, and a basic understanding of what tastes good, but I’m still intimidated by cooking, especially without a recipe. I still cook, and I cook well enough to feed my roommates enjoyable food, but I still don’t feel like I CAN cook. It’s just not something that comes natural to me. And I’m still intimidated to look at a piece of raw meat, much less a whole chicken.

  • Rhonda

    I kind of agree on the RR front. She is a nice woman and never has professed to know very much about cooking. Her personality has at least beckoned the attention of housewives who have an hour to kill in the middle of the day (when they could be roasting a chicken or braising veal shanks).

    Tony has his fruit basket. “She” is on the Food Network and some of us (no names mentioned) are banned for life.

    Let’s move on.

  • Elaine

    Micheal, this is all too true. I never understood why some people are put off cooking thinking it’s the most disastrous thing they can possibly do in their home. Pfft….what’s more disastrous than eating heavily salted, msg laden, stodgy pre-made meals everyday??

  • Michael T.

    Great post Michael. Agree with many of the comments.
    I would add that I am amazed and quite frankly annoyed when friends and family call me a “gourmet” cook or “foodie”. Those that have made a choice not to cook some meals from scratch have elevated those that do to some mystic level.

    I like to use the rock musician analogy. If you’re a kid growing up wanting to play guitar like Eric Clapton or Jimmie Hendrix, you start with basic techniques, learn some of their songs, practice, practice and repeat. Soon you are riffing, changing up notes, making it your own. That’s how I learned to cook; following the recipes to a “T”, failing, practicing, perfecting techniques and then after learning the skills making it my own. To me a book like Ratio is the music theory. I’m not a chef nor pretend to be one; I’m a cover band cook. Unlike playing guitar, I can cook (practice) every day.

    As a side note, I was determined to share with my kids the Christmas Eve Southern Italian tradition of feast of the seven fishes this year. Being a single Dad, I decided to minimize the cooking on Christmas Eve night and prepped Baccala au gratin the day before along with smoked Trout Rillettes (from Charcuterie). I saved the sautéed Spanish style shrimp and fish pasta (cioppino esque) for Christmas Eve. The kids helped me gut the crab, stir the broth and cook the fish. My friends and family again were amazed that my kids actually ate anything/everything. In the end, we shared a wonderful dinner and learned along the way.


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