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Kathleen Flinn – The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

January 9, 2015

97. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn (2011)

Length: 285 pages
Genre: Non-fiction

Started: 20 December 2014
Finished: 21 December 2014

Where did it come from? Bought from Amazon.
Why do I have it? One of my fellow book club members recommended it to me after hearing that I like books about food and cooking.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 22 November 2014.

Does your kitchen scare
you? Get this book then get your
butt in there and cook!

Summary: Kathleen Flinn had graduated from one of the most prestigious culinary schools in the world, but she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with herself, until the afternoon that she started spying on other people’s shopping carts, and found a woman who was filling her cart with boxed or processed frozen meals, while the ingredients needed to make identical meals were readily available, substantially healthier, and cost less per serving. And then Flinn realized that this woman was a representative of a much larger segment of the population: those who would like to cook for themselves and their families, but lack the know-how – and more importantly, the confidence – to do so. Or as one of her participants put it, “I’ve watched Gordon Ramsay while eating Tuna Helper.” So she organized a pilot program, where nine women would let her into their homes, into their kitchen, and learn that cooking doesn’t have to be something to be afraid of. She covers knife skills, tasting, pastas, chicken, meat, salads and eggs, leftovers, fish, soups, and cake, including lots of practical kitchen tips and recipes, all while trying to convince her participants – and her readers – that cooking real food, from real ingredients, is something that everyone can do, not just the people on TV.

Review: This book was great, right in my wheelhouse. It didn’t make as much of an impact on my life as it might have had I read it a few years ago – while recently I’ve been cooking from scratch with real ingredients much more than I ever have before (largely thanks to my Blue Apron subscription!), and I love it, I spent most of my time in grad school and eating pretty terribly – lots of frozen meals for lunch and frozen pizzas or pasta with jarred sauce for dinner. After grad school, I was still eating a fair amount of frozen meals, but I also started getting more adventurous in the kitchen, taking on things that scared me – eggplants, bread, whole chickens. (Facilitated by the fact that at that time I was living alone – if something went terribly wrong, as they did occasionally, no one but me would have to know. I think that’s actually a bigger factor than Flinn recognizes; many of the women in her study were responsible for feeding husbands and/or children, so if they were going to try cooking something, it had to work the first time.)

Now fast-forward to last year, when I read Cooked by Michael Pollan. It is very, very similar in its main ideas, although not necessarily in its approach, to The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: namely, that most Americans eat a crazy amount of processed food, that cooking has been deified to something that normal people can’t achieve, but that it’s healthy, cheaper, and ultimately more satisfying. That book pretty effectively lit a fire under my butt when it came to getting me into my own kitchen, so there were times that The Kitchen Counter Cooking School was treading familiar ground. But Flinn’s writing is really lively, and because her book features a variety of real people confronting real problems, it makes it more applicable and more accessible. (One of the biggest problems I had with Cooked is that occasionally Pollan didn’t seem to realize that not everyone works from home and has the time to do a five-hour braise on a weeknight.) Flinn’s more laid-back, with some straightforward recipes, lots of practical tips, suggestions for flavor combinations, and an attitude that doesn’t expect perfection – essentially, if you are thinking more about what you’re eating, and cooking more of it for yourself, it’s okay if you occasionally reach for a nostalgic Oreo every now and again.

So while this book wasn’t exactly a transformative experience for me, it did re-motivate me to cook more (and more things), and my bookmark is full of little scrawled reminders to myself like “what type of steel are my knives? Get sharpened!” and “start sourdough culture – who can I get some from?”. And on top of that, it was an engaging and quick read, and kept me entertained through a day of air travel – although it also made me hungry, so I am now totally guilty of eating terrible hyper-processed airplane snacks while reading about cooking classes. Ah well. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: More than anything, this book made me want to take cooking classes… but I think that if you’re interested in cooking, but find yourself not doing it particularly often (or particularly confidently or well), this book would be a great read.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Beth Fish Reads, Devourer of Books, Love Laughter and a Touch of Insanity, Sophisticated Dorkiness, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Normally, I do not stalk people in grocery stores.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2015 10:39 am

    Oh, I have a feeling I’d like this book too. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. January 10, 2015 11:01 pm

    This one has been languishing on my bookshelves since it was first published. Thanks for reminding me to pull it out, dust it off, and finally read it!

  3. M E Cheshier permalink
    January 11, 2015 11:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Book Reviews Current and commented:
    Great review! Fabulous book!


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