The best completely untrained home cooks I’ve ever met have loved a good meal. The late James Barber, who ended up starring in the popular cooking show “The Urban Peasant” used to lovingly caress his English peas before he tore open the pods with his bare hands and threw the “little beauties” onto a crisp bed of salad. Barber never trained as a chef but he loved eating and celebrating life. He would smack a large raw bird on it’s backside while telling his audience something like this, “Step one: pour yourself a glass of cold, white wine.” Without a whole lot of hoity toity training in the kitchen, he was free to play. And he was equipped with the two most important ingredients for success – an appreciation for good taste combinations and a “what-the-hell” attitude. His wonderful sense of humor didn’t hurt either. Barber took the fear out of cooking at home.
As the highly trained variety of celebrity chefs on the Food Network have gained in popularity in recent years, something strange has been happening in our homes. Michael Pollan, in his latest book Cooked, reports that Americans are spending more time watching cooking shows than ever before and less time cooking in our own homes. Instead of being inspired by the Iron Chefs of the world, could it be that we’ve become a bit intimidated by them? Barber (and the other “naked chefs” of his ilk) have tried to lead us, by example, back into our kitchens. Their imperfections have given us the confidence to try. Barber’s message was clear: combine ingredients that you love in ways that seem appealing and see what comes out. Even if it’s not perfect every time, it’ll almost certainly end up being healthier than a happy meal… and remember, laughter is a key ingredient. So, tonight, why not pop the cork on a cold bottle of wine (step one) and spend some time cooking and eating with someone you love.
Here’s to you, James! We miss you.