Food52 Life

Too Many Cooks: Who Has Changed the Way You Cook?

April 17, 2015

You'll be hearing from the staff at FOOD52 every week in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

Today: Was it a never-ending vegetable harvest, an extremely well-written cookbook, a food blogger, or your parents? We want to know what made you a more confident cook. 

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Here at Food52, we live for Genius Recipes—but cooking smarter doesn’t just happen overnight. Often there is an influencer, a moment, or a recipe that forever changed your kitchen outlook. It might have been your mom (no, this is not corny) or a prolific blogger (yes, of course you knew about them before they were cool), or it might not have been a person at all: Maybe it was your garden’s never-ending supply of zucchini that finally got you to start thinking outside of the box. Or maybe, just maybe, it was a cookbook that opened your eyes to all the possibilities of the dinner plate—Genius Recipes, we are looking at you. 

Whatever, or whoever, it is or was, chances are good that you vividly remember the moment the stovetop became inviting instead of scary. And if there's anything we have learned here at Food52, it’s that you should never be embarrassed about what got you into the kitchen, and that's precisely why we asked our staff: 

Who forever changed the way you cook?

Did you dad make award-winning dinners? Did you meet your favorite cookbook author at age five? Did you take a surprising course at college that not only changed your major but also your dinner plans, forever? Tell us who has made you a better, smarter cook in the comments below. 

Jane P: My parents are Eastern European Jews who met in Italy when they were coming to America. Based on how I cook, however, you'd think I grew up summering in Sicily. My mom never cooked (she'd kill me for announcing that), but my father fell in love with all things Italian and only ever cooks that cuisine. I think a combination of him and old-school Martha Stewart on the Food Network (watermelon ice cream bomb, anyone?) changed my cooking.  

Derek: Wisconsin Public Television!

Erin: My mama taught me how bake fresh bread, how to grow a garden, and how to can. Life changing. My grandma taught me how to make crazy good fried chicken and to eat as much pie as you can feasibly fit into your diet. Also life changing. Derek taught me to at least try to clean up after myself. Maybe not as delicious of a lesson as the fried chicken, but it's served me nearly as well. 

Jeremy: My wife made me a better cook—before we even started dating we would hang out and watch food TV (she got me watching Top Chef, I got her to watch Good Eats). We continually challenge and inspire each other and, as long as we decide beforehand who is "chef" and who is "sous chef," we work great together in the kitchen. Our love of cooking together has been, and still is, a great foundation for our relationship.


Micki: It was my best friend. We were both food fiends long before we met, but a few years ago we were both living and working together and the more time we shared, the more elaborate our food geek-outs became. She taught me how to throw together a recipe from fridge remnants, how to perfect a quiche, how to cook for a group, and so many other things. I think about food, cooking, and sharing food totally differently now. Not to mention, some of my best memories are of sharing an elaborate home-cooked meal with her, sitting on the floor of our kitchen—because what better place to eat lobster tails, or brisket and challah, than leaning up against the dishwasher.

Tim: When I was in eighth grade, my woodshop teacher got laid off two weeks into the school year, so I ended up taking Home Ec. instead. I don’t remember my teacher's name, but that was when I started and fell in love with cooking.

Lauren L: We had a different au pair living with us each year growing up, which was an awesome introduction to different cultures, traditions, and cuisines. But it also meant entire years were punctuated by very good (the French years of mussels, quiche, and Buche de Noël) or very bad cooks (the German food didn't translate as well). Luckily, my family in Canada are amazing cooks—my aunt and uncle own an amazing B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake and my cousin runs a catering company in Toronto. All Lockes love to eat, but it was my Canadian relatives who deepened my love of food by making me lobster and trifle for the first time, always having a cheese course, and introducing me to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc way before it was mainstream. 

Laura: As corny and cliché as this sounds, Giada De Laurentiis is completely responsible for my fascination with home cooking. In college, I would watch her on Food Network for hours. I bought all her DVDs. I just thought she was so beautiful and perfect, so my naïve little mind decided that it would be cool to cook just like Giada. I don't really watch her show with such fervor anymore, nor do I cook anything like her, but she is the reason I love being in the kitchen.

Rachel: The Pioneer Woman. I saw her blog in 2007 via StumbleUpon and it was the first time in my life that cooking didn't feel like something I needed my own decked-out kitchen to do. I still make her cinnamon rolls and I'm yet to find a stir-fry sauce that holds a candle to hers.

Kristen: Aside from all the geniuses and Food52 members, who I feel very, very lucky to have learned from via recipe testing over the years, Anita Shepherd from Anita's Yogurt is my food hero—every time I cook with her I learn something new. She adds hot sauce not just for heat but for acid, makes ceviche out of hominy, and threw together vegan pancakes without a recipe using the leftover beer at my 30th birthday weekend.

Kenzi: I owe everything and more to the owners of the restaurant where I first worked: They taught be what food could be, hauled me to New York to show me what it could really be (or what it was in a tux), and then let me cook in their restaurant kitchen.

From them I learned the importance of fat and salt, and the genius of Thomas Keller. Then I credit Molly—I used to read her blog, Orangette, like a novel, and then make the simple lentil salads and set out the wedges of cheese I imagined would be on her table. Early cooking is all about imitation.

Now I credit our crazy talented group of editors—and former editors Brette, Marian, and Nozlee—who teach me something new every time I walk into a kitchen with them. Yesterday Ali taught me to eat more beets raw. Today Sarah taught me to fry my poached eggs. I'm excited for tomorrow. 

Christina: I credit my mom and grandma for influencing my love of cooking, but after reading An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler changed the way I cook. You will often find drippings from my roast chicken in the fridge, waiting to become a stellar salad dressing. 

Leandra: The corny but true route: my mom. She knows that people are hungry before they do and knows just what to make them. I've almost never seen her use a recipe yet can count the number of her cooking "fails" one hand. Her signature move is to take a bite out of everything she makes—right before she serves it to you. She literally made my lunch every day all the way through senior year of shame.

Haley: My mom! But I will out her and celebrate her at the same time. The world should know that when she and my dad met, she would eat a Mars bar and drink a Dr. Pepper every single morning for breakfast. She most definitely couldn't cook—just ask my dad about "the pink chicken incident." Cut to now: Not only does she casually make three entrées instead of one for every holiday meal, but she's opened up her kitchen to teach me, my friends, and her god-daughters everything she knows. I can taste her bolognese from here.

Mei: My mother taught me how to cook, for sure, but the person who changed how I cook was Hillary Sterling—now the chef at Vic's. She was the first chef that I worked for out of culinary school, and, even though I didn't work the savory line (I worked pastry), she was the one who both encouraged me and watched me like a hawk. She believed in me and my abilities. She taught me how to taste, how to not waste anything, and that if you're going to cook at all, not half-ass it—as that is disrespectful to your ingredients as well as the people you're cooking for, and with. She also taught me how to make the best pasta, hands-down. (She is kind of my idol.) 

Jackie: Food52! And no, I'm not saying that because I work here. I was always a baker (I learned from my mama) but wasn't really into cooking. But, after a short while working at Food52 I discovered so many new ideas just from being around food in our test kitchen all day. I found myself feeling more confident because I was more educated on cooking and around such inspirational people, food, and images.

Leslie: Get ready for a Food52 love fest... My mom initiated my love of food and cooking, but I have to agree with Jackie: The editors at Food52 have been huge influences in the way I cook! I used to rotate through tried and true recipes, but they've encouraged me to branch out and develop my own recipes and try new things—they've walked me through salad assemblies, how to roast the perfect chicken (Barbara Kafka's from Genius, of course!), and calmed me down when I had to bake a cake from scratch. Since starting here, I've cooked something different almost every night!

Who has changed the way you cook? For better or worse? Share with us in the comments below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Exbruxelles
  • AntoniaJames
  • JessicaHansen
  • Jenna Ballinger
    Jenna Ballinger
  • Lazyretirementgirl
Past Julia Child Fellow at Food52 || Believer in Brunch


Exbruxelles April 21, 2015
The Joy of Cooking, believe it or not, received as a wedding gift over thirty years ago. Many years of reading Gourmet Magazine and trying recipes. And, more recently, Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook--it's right next to Marcella in my pantheon.
AntoniaJames April 21, 2015
So many influences over the years - I started with a great foundation of basic skills, intuition and confidence, picked up from my mother while helping her as a child. Frances Moore Lappe has made me conscious of the environmental impact of food choices since I discovered "Diet for a Small Planet" in college in the 70s. Then, Marcella Hazan and Julie Sahni opened my world up to brilliant traditional foods with which I was not familiar. (I still make her brown rice cashew broccoli pilaf from the vegetarian classics book, which I discovered as a young bride.) James Beard plus a college boyfriend (still a good friend) and a post-college roommate (still a good friend) all expanded my horizons in bread making. I've been hooked since. More recently, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry have shown me another world of baking - yeasted doughs as well as cakes and pastry -- while Chad Robertson has significantly raised my game with respect to artisanal baking. Thomas Keller's helpful "Bouchon Bakery" has put baking of all kinds into a whole new perspective. Perhaps most importantly in recent years, several talented members of the Food52 community (non-editorial, for the most part) and two of the columns here: Genius Recipes has opened all kinds of doors, each to a wonderful surprise looked forward to every Wednesday, and Alice Medrich inspires while offering endless tips and techniques which, taken together, have had a huge impact on my baking and creation of sweet treats. ;o)
JessicaHansen April 20, 2015
My kids forever changed the way I cook. Before my husband and I had kids, we cooked often, but we generally made meals that were projects. We ate out a lot and had a lot of take out. Now that we have two little girls to feed, we are much more conscious of what we eat and how we prepare it. Cost and time are more of a factor than they ever were before. But the incentive to regularly make healthful, complete, and interesting meals is huge. And it has improved my adult food game tremendously as well! I plan better, I am more able to think through how groceries become dinner, and I am much more effcient in the kitchen. Also, now I have two little excuses whenever I feel the need to bake cookies!
Jenna B. April 20, 2015
I've always been interested in cooking but my mom was definitely a big influence. Her mom never really knew how to cook that well so she learned most of it on her own which meant a lot of weird mixtures of food while growing up. I appreciate that more now because I'm not so stifled in the kitchen. I'm a little more traditional then her but her influence can still be seen in my cooking.
Lazyretirementgirl April 19, 2015
Boy, does this make me feel old! My answer is Marcella Hazan. When I was in college, a friend invited me for dinner, and cooked the straw and hay pasta from Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian cooking. It was a revelation, and I went right out and bought the book. Reading Marcella's advice about ingredients -- Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil, San Marzano tomatoes, -- was all a newsflash to my 22 year old self. Back then, these were only available at specialty stores like the Oakville Grocery, but that served to cement my commitment to the hunt for lovely ingredients and the work and expense they can entail.
Pegeen April 19, 2015
I had the blessing of a mother, two grandmothers and sometimes my Dad to teach me to cook. My world of food opened up when I started reading the Food & Wine section in The New York Times. Reading the paper was a requirement in our household and I soon became addicted to F&W. Restaurant reviews, recipes, technique. And then I found Jacques Pépin on TV and a love affair with food was born.
Kevin G. April 19, 2015
Sara Moulton, Julia Child and Ina Garten taught me not to be afraid of Food. Martha Stewart was my biggest influence because I like her methods. Ina Garten changed it the most, however by teaching me that the cook wants to attend the party too.
ccsinclair April 19, 2015
My mom, who reads cookbooks like novels, and at 84 still scouts new recipes. She has cold pastry hands, and makes perfect pie crusts by feel. After her, Bernard Clayton Jr. and Laurie Colwin, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. They all gave me confidence to get in there and cook, taste, take chances and get messy.
sandy P. April 18, 2015
My father, without a doubt. He was fearless. His tastes were formed by his travels during WWII in the Navy. We had a wok and regional Chinese food when my friends had really dumbed down Chinese take out food. He experimented with many cuisines and had quite a few cookbooks including some by Helen Evans Brown, James Beard, Edda Servi Machlin and "The Complete Book of Pasta" by Jack Denton Scott. I had terrible insomnia in childhood and often read the cookbooks over and over again after everyone else in the whole wide world was asleep. He cooked only one or two nights monthly, if we were lucky. He had an excellent palate for seasoning, thank god, because our primary cook, my mom, was happy with ketchup on overcooked pasta. She thought I was a picky eater, ha! I still use my dad's cookbooks and I love to cook.
Ellie B. April 18, 2015
There are sooo many people who've influenced my cooking! Not to mention, I'm learning to venture out of my "only healthy food" comfort zone. I've gained a lot of ideas from restaurants in LA, but nowadays I am incredibly inspired by people like Lady and Pups and Mimi Thorrisson :D
Orangina April 18, 2015
Mark Bittman. How to Cook Everything really taught me to relax. Don't have an ingredient - leave it out, or sub it out. The variations presented with each recipe helped but also the narrative peppered throughout the chapters about how cooking at home is cooking like your grandma not your local chef.
ARTIST April 18, 2015
Not who but where....spending July and August in Italy, when everything was ripe and every town and village was having a fair, a celebration of a first pressing of olive oil, limoncello, truffles, a cheese, porchetta, calamari, pasta, artichokes on and on and on. Everything fresh, everything beautiful, everything in season and everything simple and real and slow. Those first months in Italy inspired my approach to food from then on....bellissima!
Lis April 18, 2015
Tamar Adler's The Everlasting Meal and the writings of M.F.K. Fischer made a huge impression on me. They both write about finding good ingredients, cooking them simply, and relishing their flavors. Learning to find pleasure in the basic flavors, colors, and textures nature has to offer. That's all it needs to be.
scruz April 18, 2015
i always loved to cook and watched food tv and before that public tv with julia, jacques and others. but the two biggest influences in the past decade of two have been firstly the produce available on the central california coast where i live and the food i've eaten in san francisco/bay area and secondly, watching youtube especially chef john and many of the chinese and japanese videos. my cooking has really taken a leap ahead and above what it was. it's also fun to have the sig. other do the shopping and then to figure out what to do with it when there is something in the bag not included on the list. my very own real life episode of iron chef at home!
ortolan April 18, 2015
I thought this was about who changed the way you cook, not who taught you to cook! Of course my mother taught me to cook. But for me, Ottolenghi's approach to celebrating vegetables and cross-cultural ingredient mixing changed my game considerably. It also allowed me to improvise in new and extraordinary ways with everything I keep on hand now--from sumac and za'atar to freekeh and preserved lemons.
Mary L. April 18, 2015
My mom taught me how to cook. Gourmet opened me up to a whole new world of foods. I grew up in a 2nd generation Italian household. Everyday food was a mixture of Italian and American foods. When I started reading Gourmet, I fell in love with French food. Dorie Greenspan is my new Julia.
Mary L. April 18, 2015
Gourmet Magazine in the 70's
Gia R. April 18, 2015
Absolutely my boyfriend, Chris, & the fabulous Julia Child. Both of them made me feel like I wasn't a complete moron for not knowing how to properly dice an onion or bake bread, but they damn sure taught me how.
Beez K. April 18, 2015
My mom and Grandma -and PBS - I spent countless satruday afternoons growing up watching all the cooking shows on PBS ( BEFORE the invention of the food network)
Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Sara Molton, Rose Levey Beranbaum, Eric Ripert, Jose Andres, Lida Bastianich -all of these shows. Even now I prefer PBS cooking shows over Food Network.
Janelle I. April 18, 2015
Sara Moulton, Cooking Live. She is amazing, that show was wonderful, I learned SO much watching her cook. And then came my first 10 inch chef knife, which I now can't imagine cooking without.
Ludolph W. April 18, 2015
The books of Matt Moran and Thomas Keller, followed by the three books by Michael Ruhlman about. Chef's life. Without a doubt