My first contact with John Thorne was a review of "Serious Pig" that appeared in the Washington Post. I quickly bought the book, and Thorne's two other books, "Simple Cooking" and "Outlaw Cook," and devoured them all. I have bought many copies of each (especially "Outlaw Cook") to share with friends who are serious cooks.Unlike an ordinary cookbook writers, John Thorne doesn't just share recipes (although there are plenty of them); he inspires good cooks to be better. His style is less about fancy food for dinner parties than about stunningly good food to share with close friends, or to enjoy in contemplative solitude.In "Outlaw Cook," John shares his memories of his first kitchen, in a cold-water flat on the lower east side of Manhattan, and the important lessons he learned there. He goes on to talk about the properties of garlic as a seducer that possesses body and soul(10 pages on garlic soup!), and about food that is loaded with it. He writes a chapter on "The Perfect Pecan Pie," not to tell you how to make it, but to help you find your own perfect pecan pie. He spends forty pages on sourdough bread, and I felt when I finished that I understood the process (although it took some practice before I really had it just right). There is a pear-ginger cake that is a revelation, although I added a warm caramel sauce to John's recipe for a Christmas dinner treat that has become a tradition. John Thorne writes about food with keen knowledge, imagination, emotion, wit, and heart I've never found before. He's been compared to M.F.K. Fisher, but he's earthier. His writing has a visceral quality that evokes our most hidden emotions about the food we eat.John Thorne's books are not for the novice.Read more ›
Serendipity put this book into my hands, and I am most grateful. To declare that OUTLAW COOK is a skillful, fascinating collection of essays, recipes, and reviews is accurate, but fails to acknowledge the truest contributions of this unique volume. John Thorne writes with a warmth and self-effacing humor that welcomes even the most callow non-foodie to the kitchen. Thorne, in delicious morsels served throughout the book, offers his readers a sort of cook's autobiography. He's wonderfully transparent about the whys and wherefores of learning to cook, inviting us to give ourselves permission - as he has done for himself - to play in the kitchen, honor our appetites, and be imperfect. The measures of mastery, it would seem, are an idiosyncratic cuisine and a perpetual sense of curiosity. Most of all, though, Thorne gives voice to the myriad celebrations, comforts, and connections inherent in the preparation and sharing of food.
Many of the essays in OUTLAW COOK are striking in their anthropological or historical depth. Thorne is adept at placing food into contexts; time, place, and culture (high and low) are all important here, but so are individual memory and experience. I was moved repeatedly, reading the book, as Thorne's descriptions triggered my own memories of particular foods in particular places. I was also deeply touched by the relationships Thorne draws among food and cooking, preparation and consumption, solitary and social pleasures. I found as I read that my own sense of myself as a cook and as an eater became more clear, balanced, and healthy. By the end of reading OUTLAW COOK, I had begun the transition from observer - wanting only to watch John and Matt Lewis Thorne work their magic - to participant - trying to cast a spell or two of my own. A marvelous gift from a remarkable book!
John Thorne is one of the most thoughtful, provocative and downright talented writers going, and the book he and his wife, Matt Lewis Thorne, have produced is ample evidence of this. In addition to providing some excellent recipes, "Outlaw Cook" is just plain old good reading. I was first introduced to Thorne's writing years ago when a colleague gave me a copy of his first book, "Simple Cooking." "Simple Cooking" is a compilation of essays and recipes from his newsletter (by the same name), and it charmed me. From the best essay I have ever read on cheesecake to the recounting of a long-ago romantic evening highlighted by the appearance of homemade Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, Thorne covered a wealth of disparate material and covered it all with an unstuffy and contagious isn't-this-fascinating spirit. "Outlaw Cook" serves up more of the same delicious dish.One of the most exhilarating things in "Outlaw Cook" is the chapter called "On Not Being a Good Cook." For a man who makes his living writing about food and cooking, this baldly titled essay is a brazen thing to include in a book that bears the imprimatur of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (it was a winner of one of the Julia Child Cookbook Awards). Throwing down the gauntlet to the rarefied world of foodies (as food writers are commonly called), he begins the essay by asserting, "I'm not a good cook." He goes on:" . . . if our criterion for goodness is whether I possess anything like a genuinely well-rounded repertoire of dishes I consistently prepare well, then my credentials are nothing much to boast about. Quite honestly, this has never bothered me much at all . . . It's my experience that truly good cooks are born.Read more ›