The qualities of an exceptional cook are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker; an abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb, and an impeccable sense of balance.
Missy Robbins has figured out a fundamental kitchen truth. Cooking is pretty simple–conceiving a menu, shopping for all the ingredients– that’s the hard part. That’s what takes time and thought.
As a chef, she had everything at her fingertips, a full pantry and a squad of dishwashers. When she took a sabbatical from restaurant kitchens, she discovered the challenges of eating well at home.
And she shares what she learned in this book with recipes and an approach that allows you to enter into a kind of thoughtless cooking–which is a good thing. You’ll learn to cook by responding to season and instinct, and making something out of what appear to be cabinet nothings.
I appreciate her chapter called “Oh Shit, What Have I Done.” Stepping away from the familiar routine, what we think we should be doing, is challenging and can be disorienting. When Robbins decided she needed a break from the routine of restaurant cooking her first challenge was convincing people she didn’t have a “secret project” in the works. Finally she told a reporter that she planned to travel and write a book–just to have an answer. Initially she explored her New York neighborhood and then ventured to Italy, Vietnam, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Obviously the book eventually did materialize.
Robbins is similarly honest in all her chapters–about actually cooking in a small (really small) West Village kitchen, about preferring cheese, pasta, and ice cream to vegetables; about gaining and losing weight; about the difficulty of focusing on a career goal. Robbins is introspective, open, and interesting. When thinking about how she became Italian (after growing up “culturally Jewish”), she writes about making pasta, “It’s mind-blowing how three simple ingredients can be so transporting.”
It’s a description that can apply to most of her book’s recipes; good ingredients combined with attention into mind-blowing flavors. Almond, orange, and celery salad; fettuccine, zucchini, garlicscapes, and lemon; pork chops, nectarines, mustard vinaigrette; tuna, parsley, and chive salsa verde; olive oil cake, candied citrus, whipped cream.
Robbins is a friendly kitchen companion–no judgement and great ideas. Following her lead, with a pesto here, a salsa verde there, and some attention to the endless variations of red sauce your meals can become instinctual and delicious.