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Customer Review

on May 25, 2002
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. I was not born to be one, and I don't like being trained, especially if the result is going to be mere competency. I've generally found life a lot more interesting learning to use my limitations than struggling to overcome them."
Take that, all you Cordon Bleu-trained snobs! After all, most of us haven't been trained in cooking--except perhaps at a parent's knee, if we are lucky--so his comments, while surprising coming from a food writer, do apply to the majority of the general population. The essay serves the dual purpose of endearing Thorne to his readers and emboldening them to share his defiance of the conventions of cookery.
There are other goodies as well. Thorne writes convincingly (if somewhat obsessively) about the need to bake bread in a wood-fired, outdoor oven. He takes deadly aim at food writer Paula Wolfert and wickedly skewers Martha Stewart. And as if the polished prose weren't enough, there are many worthwhile recipes; his takes on lemon ice cream, Texas toast, Swedish pea soup and pecan pie all leap to the fore.
Matt Lewis Thorne and John Thorne have, with "Outlaw Cook" produced a quiet classic of food writing that deserves to be on any thoughtful cook's bookshelf--or on the bedside table. It's that good.
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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