Priya Krishna on ‘Cooking at Home’ with David Chang

Several years ago, I embarked on a somewhat fanatic quest to find a satisfying version of what I called a “metacookbook,” a book that not only lists recipe instructions, but explains also the thought behind them.

Food journalist Priya Krishna and David Chang, the founder of the Momofuku family of restaurants, together wrote a charming new entry in this sub-genre, Cooking at home: or how I learned to stop worrying about recipes (and love my microwave). The “recipes-that-aren’t-really-recipes” in the book tend to forgo precise measurements of ingredients and time, and instead emphasize intuition, customization and l ‘experimentation. Krishna and Chang provide a set of adaptable cooking plans that readers can rehearse on – for example, a general formula for cooking a cheap piece of meat or making a vinegar condiment – and imagine a recipe not as “an instruction manual. stiff, but like a crazy Lib.

On a Dungeons & Dragons style alignment board, Cooking at home would be “chaotic though”. He is laid back, encouraging, eclectic, degressive and not at all concerned with the “right” way of cooking. The couple embrace microwaves and frozen vegetables, and Chang writes that when cooking for his family, his mission is to “create something as delicious as possible, in as little time as possible, while doing the right thing. less damage possible “.

I recently spoke with Krishna, food journalist for The New York Times and the author of Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics of a Modern American Family, about writing recipes that don’t come across as a series of commandments, as well as the gap between how home cooking is portrayed in the food media and how it actually takes place in people’s kitchens. . The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Joe Pinsker: Your book has a section on microwave glory. What makes them so great?

Priya Krishna: I grew up in a house where we had two microwaves and they were used very often, not just for reheating food, but for making potatoes, rice, dishes like pulao. My parents were both working and my mom was very busy, but she loved to cook so she would always look for those shortcuts and cook things in the microwave. My mom taught me that it’s okay to cut corners and take a break. And to this day I don’t like spending hours in the kitchen hoarding [dirty] dishes, I like efficiency. In Indian-ish, there are microwave instructions for things like rice and potatoes, because that’s how my family does it.

It really saves a lot of time and I absolutely hate cleaning rice stuck in a pot. Instead, you could just push [the rice] in the microwave and set it aside until the rest of your meal is ready. You can watch the potatoes boil on a stove for 25 minutes, or you can put them in the microwave for five minutes. I don’t know why someone wouldn’t do the latter.

Pinsker: Why do you think some home cooks underestimate – or even laugh at – microwaves, frozen vegetables, and other kitchen amenities?

Krishna: There is a real romance that people associate with buying fresh vegetables at a farmers market and lovingly preparing them on a stovetop. And that’s great, but to me it almost feels like it’s from another era. Some people despise anything that goes against a kitchen scratch mentality. I worked in food media, and in the places I worked, I didn’t see people using frozen vegetables or microwaves. So I also think institutions and publications don’t push these things, so maybe that’s why more cooks don’t use them.

Pinsker: There is a line in Cooking at home about how you can speed up a frozen pizza by starting it in the microwave and then finishing it in the oven, which made me think of the boundaries people draw around what is called ‘baking’. Like, do what you do to that pizza count as baking?

Krishna: I think you have to stop obsessing over what matters like cooking. If you put a meal that you have prepared on the table at home, it is cooking. It doesn’t matter if you’ve reheated something in the microwave or roasted a whole chicken, it’s cooking. In the age of Instagram, of the beauty of food, and of promoting an ambitious lifestyle, we’ve kind of given up on the value of practicality.

It was refreshing to work on a project where that was the guiding principle. We didn’t hire a food stylist for the photography, as we wanted to show the food as it would exist in real life, not a superlative version of it that can be really hard for a home cook to recreate.

Pinsker: What do you think of the contrast between the way home cooking is portrayed in food media and cookbooks and how it ends up playing out in reality?

Krishna: In the food media, there is an obsession with making food perfect, which you can do by styling and waxing cilantro on a platter. Indian-ish was culinary style because we really wanted the food to be dazzling and beautiful. But I think it comes at the expense of meeting people where they are, which is sometimes a kitchen that doesn’t have a beautiful light, with less than perfect products, with herbs that are about to come together. deteriorate. There is a real beauty in doing something delicious under these circumstances.

Pinsker: The recipes appear to be technology neutral, but you write about how they’re coded with a special way of thinking about cooking. How? ‘Or’ What?

Krishna: I had this really interesting conversation with my friend Yewande [Komolafe] on the limits of the traditional western way of writing recipes, with the ingredients and method listed systematically. For both of us, and for Dave [Chang] so, growing up, recipes weren’t written down – cooking was a tradition that was passed down orally. It was very intuitive. You watched your mom roll a roti and that’s how you knew how to roti. A written recipe as we know it traps you in this sort of white-coded frame. There are a lot of books and sites that offer recipes without a recipe – this is obviously nothing new – but for us it was about staying true to the way we were raised and the way we were. sincerely believe that people can become the best, the most empowered. enough cooks.

Pinsker: How is a less rigid approach to revenue helpful?

Krishna: I compare it to Google Maps. I’m horrible with directions, and I won’t improve because I have Google Maps. I will always use my phone rather than figuring out how to get around New York without a map. Recipes are a bit like Google Maps: we rely on them, so we don’t really get better in the kitchen. We just get better at following a recipe.

I think there is value in codifying and writing things down, as opposed to transmitting only through oral tradition. So the way we wanted to write our cookbook was like, We write these things, but we don’t write a recipe like it’s the last and last word on the subject. I don’t want to screw up the idea of ​​a recipe completely, but I think you shouldn’t be afraid to play around with the format and make it more dynamic.

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