Books for Dads Who Love to Cook (Or Want to Learn)

Our 21st century culture is encouraging men to dispense with old gender roles and crack out the pots and pans

Image courtesy of Algonquin books
Image courtesy of Algonquin books

Family meal planning stereotypically falls on the shoulders of women; however an increasing number of men are working in the kitchen. In 1965, dad helmed the stove only about 5 percent of the time. By 2005, at least according to statistics presented in the book Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, that figure had grown substantially: the paternal unit was responsible for a third of a family’s time spent cooking. (Some sources point to the increasing number of women in the out-of-home workforce, others see that having cooking know-how is a means of making a man more attractive to a potential romantic interest.) And with websites such as Man Tested Recipes and television programming like “Top Chefthat put a highly competitive spin on cooking, our 21st century culture is encouraging men to dispense with old gender roles and crack out the pots and pans. If the father figure in your life is already master of the kitchen—or if you’re trying to encourage one to expand his cooking abilities beyond the occasional bit of grilling—here are a few Father’s Day book ideas that we hope will get his creative gears turning.

Man With a Pan: New Yorker editor John Donahoe offers this collection of essays—and yes, a few recipes—in which notable personalities from author Stephen King to chef Mario Batali open up about their foibles and triumphs in the kitchen. If nothing else, it reinforces the idea that learning how to make meals for loved ones is a wonderful way to provide for one’s family. Donahoe caught the cooking bug after he and his wife had their first child and he realized that, if he was going to have satisfying dining experiences, he was better off making meals at home than dining out. “Night after night,” Donohue says in his introduction, “when I whipped up something delicious that pleased Sarah and fed Aurora and Isis, I felt like I was doing something so right that I couldn’t possibly go wrong.” For those of you looking to go beyond the book, Donahoe tracks his culinary escapades by way of his blog.

Hunt, Gather, Cook: Journalist, former restaurant cook and author Hank Shaw takes a very “back to basics” approach to securing food. “Most have forgotten the feast that lives all around us,” he says. “Our hunting and gathering is now largely restricted to picking through the produce aisle for the best ear of corn or keeping an eagle’s eye out for so-called bargains. But our instincts are strong. We’ve been hunters and gatherers eons longer than we’ve been farmers.” And with that said, he teaches you how to forage, fish and hunt—and how to use your wild ingredients. Acorns are no longer the bane of leaf raking, with Shaw proving them suitable for soups and bread making. Learn to make wines from dandelion and elderberry and how to spot foodstuffs you might not have thought to be useful in the kitchen, such as day lilies, nettles and amaranth.

Eat Like a Man: The Only Cookbook a Man Will Ever Need: OK, so the title is marinating in machismo. But the book is by Esquire food editor Ryan D’Agostino, so I wouldn’t expect anything less than this manner of tongue-in-cheek humor. This one is for the beginner chef, with a section telling you what tools you need in your toolbox, er, cupboards and no-frills pointers on how to entertain like a mature, civilized adult. Which is important because, as D’Agostino notes: “The dinner party is one of the last places in American culture where we have ritual.” The cookbook also ranks dishes by difficulty level, so for those who are just starting to test the culinary waters, it’s hard to make that all-too-common mistake of trying to make a recipe that seems easy enough on paper but ultimately makes for a hellacious time in the kitchen.

Essential Pépin: This book isn’t due out until mid-October, so it won’t work as a gift idea for this Father’s Day. However, I’ve really enjoyed flipping through my review copy and Pépin is most definitely worth mentioning here because he’s a proud father and grandfather who featured his daughter Claudine in the television series Cooking with Claudine. And let’s face it, having spent six decades in the kitchen, the guy is at the top of his game. This new volume collects over 700 favorite Pépin recipes that have been revised and updated for the man (or woman) who enjoys entertaining with style. And I think there are enough low-fuss recipes in here that a home chef with some experience and skills won’t feel daunted. In the meantime, you can check out his memoir The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen or his extensive trove of cookbooks. Sadly, the pair of cookbooks centered around him and his daughter are out of print, so a used bookstore would be your only hope.

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