food for thought: the kitchen counter cooking school

I read a lot of books, period, and lately I read a lot of food books. So I don’t think I’m being too cavalier when I say that this is the BEST food book I’ve read all year. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (Kathleen Flinn) is a memoir cum cookbook that is just like taking cooking lessons without paying the exorbitant fees, and without being the awkward, food allergy-challenged person in the room.

I do not lie. First of all, Flinn is just really good at putting together a narrative, so the book is highly readable. That’s why it functions so well as a lesson, too–she’s a good teacher, well trained, who knows how to put together a lesson so that it’s engaging and understandable. The book follows her and her friend as they find nine women (not all female on purpose, but interesting sociologically nonetheless) and take it upon themselves to teach them to cook. And so they do, focusing each lesson on things that real people actually want to eat, are capable of cooking, and can afford to eat regularly, such as chicken and bread. Turning each lesson into a narrative chapter, Flinn offers you a lesson, too, not to mention teaches you things about the US food system, the economics of cooking and buying groceries, and tricks to understanding how to use spices and herbs. I now understand that “flavor profile” isn’t just a pretentious chef word but also something that will make my own cooking more interesting and more cohesive.

The book also delves into each of the students’ lives, which means the book also makes a lot of observations and uncoverings and statements about socioeconomics, gender issues, cultural issues, and age issues that surround food, food preparation, and nutrition. It’s hard to cook for one. It’s hard to cook for children. It’s hard to cook when you don’t have a healthy relationship with food, or with your mother, or with your spouse. It’s hard to cook when you have to work tons of part time jobs and still can only afford what SNAP lets you have. But it’s not hard to cook. That, Flinn teaches, is actually very easy, and only requires a couple tricks.

I’ve never been more inspired to change my life and my cooking and eating habits, and I already have pretty decent ones. I’ve never thought of some things as so simple and easy and endlessly versatile. And I don’t read self help books and hate any book that’s pegged as “inspirational.” I don’t think this one was, but it totally offers you just the tools you need to be a functional, healthy person without buying truffles or spending six hours a day in your kitchen. Finding a reference book within the same binding (or, in my case, the same Kindle file) as a good memoir is not something that happens every day. Add this book to the list of books I will be recommending to EVERYONE this winter.