Monday, August 14, 2023

Review: The Kitchen Whisperers by Dorothy Kalins

My mother doesn't like to cook. My grandmothers didn't love it either. They did though, because we all have to eat. But none of them really seemed to get any joy out of the doing (and my mother has happily ceded kitchen duties to me whenever I'm around). Despite the long family history of having no love of cooking, I thoroughly enjoy it and am often in the kitchen making messes. I attempt things far above my skill level. I read and collect all the cookbooks. I eat my mistakes as well as my successes. And sometimes I learn things that help me with future meals. Not being surrounded by a community of enthusiastic cooks, I was completely intrigued by the idea of Dorothy Kalins' tales of the people who have helped her learn throughout her long career in food and food writing as told in The Kitchen Whisperers.

Kalins is the founding editor of Saveur magazine, and as such has many friends and colleagues whose names are immediately recognizable in the food world. She has indeed had the opportunity to cook with and learn from the very best of the best. She recounts her experiences cooking with the greats and the things that she learned from them. Some of lessons she learned, like the fact that shortcuts are often fine, are valuable to the home cook who might otherwise feel as if they are cheating by not making each and every thing by hand. Other lessons, like the one about photographing food, might only be of use to cooks striving to be influencers but not of particular use otherwise. This does show the breadth of the people from whom she has learned over the years though and the chapter is worth inclusion in that way. Kalins details the amazing meals she's been a part of, both as an eater and as a participant but even when she is just a guest luxuriating in good food, her experience comes across as so far above the regular person's that it is impossible to relate to it. Somehow she misses conveying the homey, community feel of cooking together, and not just because her own "Kitchen Whisperers" are mostly renowned professionals. The book was less a sharing of wisdom than a recounting of her own impressive connections and experiences, which was not the way it was presented up front, and not the book I thought I would be reading. Still, Kalins is a good writer and dedicated home cooks who have a knowledge of or interest in the people she has learned from over the years might enjoy the book despite its more formal feel. I just wish I was coming away from it having learned some kitchen wisdom myself.

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