Home on the (Stove) Range: The Faster Times Interview with John Donohue, editor of Man with a Pan
No matter how skilled some of us may be at eating while driving while Bluetoothing and babysitting, there’s no cheating this fact: we all face 1440 minutes in a day. Any time invested in one activity demands a decrease of time in another. For researchers, time offers a lens for exploring many aspects of modern life, including changing gender roles and parenting, the relationship between maternal employment and male contributions to non-market labor, between fathers’ work patterns and their time with children, etc.
Fathers are spending more time cooking–as in “cooking-cooking”, not just flipping burgers for a holiday weekend. Data from the 2006-2008 Eating and Health module of the American Time Use Survey show that 15% of non-single fathers with kids under 13 report being the primary household meal maker.
As a newbie time use researcher, I find this stuff fascinating. So does John Donohue, except he takes the opposite, and infinitely more readable, approach to addressing these themes. Rather than taking data, stripping it of identifying characteristics, and analyzing it in aggregate, Donohue has collected individual stories in a new, best-selling, anthology.
Donohue, a “Goings on About Town” editor at the New Yorker, blogger, cartoonist, husband, father, and avid cook, has collected (mis) adventures and recipes from home-cooking men of varied professions. Contributors include culinary stalwarts Mario Batali and Mark Bittman, writers Steven King and Sean Wilsey, a carpenter, a debt trader, and a guidance counselor/football coach/caterer. The end product, Man With A Pan, exudes the nuance and unique voice that narratives (as opposed to surveys) provide so well.
The diversity of experiences lends the anthology a confessional, at times conspiratorial, tone—imagine the Freemasons hosting a book club. Wesley Stace discovers patience and Yes while cooking his way through 50 Great Curries of India. Jesse Sheidlower basks in the social acceptance that cooking can afford us introverts. Stephen King bakes chocolatish cake. (For days I carried the image of King spoon feeding Kathy Bates in a Misery role reversal). For the kitchen fearing, Daniel Moulthrop’s approach should become a mantra,
“I was like, I’ve never done this before, but I’ll try it. It’s not rocket science, it’s not brain surgery; it’s just food.”
When I had the pleasure of speaking with John it was clear that a major driver behind the anthology was encouraging dads to get cooking. Highlights from the interview follow after the jump. For more, check out his blog stayatstovedad.
TFT: One thing that’s striking about this anthology is the diversity of the voices and perspectives. How did you go about selecting and finding contributors?
JD: I work in publishing, so I started out by reaching out to friends and friends of friends. The book’s genesis is when I first became a parent six years ago and the joys, panic, new responsibilities, and emotional turmoil that came with it. My reaction was to start cooking a lot. I wanted to see how other men, other dads, were doing it. I’d ask friends of mine who were new dads—How were they handling it? Then I just looked at different writers whose work I really admired. I’d find out if they had a family, really cooked, and I’d go from there.
TFT: What about the other guys in the book—the economists, the carpenter, the fireman?
JD: … I wanted to choose a cross-section of workers from blue-collar jobs, white-collar jobs, different ethnic groups. One of the goals was to inspire other men to start cooking. It’s one thing to read about writer who watches a pot boil while composing a poem—actually there are no poets in the book—it’s another thing to be a fireman, a bond-trader, to hold down a job and do cooking around the house. I wanted to ground it in the real world—not that writing isn’t the real world. You know what I mean.
TFT: Reading the entries, I was interested in the motivations guys had for picking up the pan. Some enjoy cooking to relax or de-stress. Others have found careers in the kitchen. But a lot of the men in the book started cooking to win over a woman or to win points with a spouse and the family. So for households where a pattern is already in place, do you have any tips for how to get a man into the kitchen?
JD: Tough call. It depends on the man. Some men are just never going to do it…If someone has a little bit of interest and they see benefits—health, social, relationship benefits they might start.
I like to say to people who are thinking about cooking and haven’t done it before, ‘Remember when learned to ride a bike? It was scary to balance. You thought you could never could do it. Then riding a bike becomes second nature and you bike all over the place.’ It seems a little scarier than to actually do it…
TFT: There’s this sense of joy and pride that comes through really clearly—and has been commented on in many of the book reviews. But there’s also this great honesty about things getting tedious. Manny Howard talks about the challenges of transitioning from stunt cooking to feeding a family. For guys that might be on the fence, or drawn to the more macho cooking, do you have any advice for making it through the day-to day?
JD: That was other motivation for the book. I was finding I was getting into a grind and wanted to see what other guys were doing. The book has about fifty recipes.
TFT: Have you tried any of them out yet?
JD: I’m still caught up with daily grind. I’m working two full time jobs between being editor and the book, the book blog. I don’t really experiment as much as I’d like. I hope to get to a point where I’m experimenting more…
TFT: Many of the fathers mention having picky eaters. I’ve team taught a nutrition/cooking skills class to parents of preschoolers. For a lot of the mothers in the class, having picky eaters escalated into power dynamics, stress, and feeling rejected/frustrated when kids won’t eat. I didn’t pick up that tone [of anxiety, frustration] in reading these entries. Do you think the guys are being tough or, from the interviews you’ve done, do you feel fathers experience picky eating differently?
JD: Depends on the dad. I’ve come to believe picky eating is all about the power dynamic and being listened to. If they [kids] say no, they can really stop the conversation and make it into a way to get their way—in a way they usually can’t. They suddenly have the power. It’s tricky you know. My older daughter doesn’t eat any fruit. She won’t eat candied fruit, or jam, the cherry in bottom of a Shirley temple… It’s become part of her self-image—Someone Who Just Can’t Eat Fruit. I’m a little concerned and disappointed that she might not be getting the vitamins she can get in fruit.
…Maybe guys can let things slide better. You can’t make generalizations.
TFT: Yeah of course. From a nutrition point of view, what you’re saying is pretty much spot on. The experts in the field say it’s a power dynamic and to try not to pay attention to it. Just put food on the table and not make a big deal about it…you know, not say “eat it”.
JD: Yeah. That’s the common wisdom. But it doesn’t always work like that…
TFT: I don’t have kids, so in the class I helped teach, I’d have to preface everything with “SO, the experts say….How would that work for you?” and they’d just look at me like, ‘uh huh. You don’t know my kid.’…
Have you learned anything about yourself through the process of cooking more?
JD: Yeah, I learned it’s a treat to be able to cook for everybody. There’s a visceral sensation of bringing joy to people and providing to people in a way I wouldn’t expect. I used to just cook for myself because I was hungry. Now I’m cooking for family.
TFT: What are their favorites?
JD: It kind of changes. The girls like Bolognese, my black beans. My elder daughter loves linguine with clam sauce. I just made pesto with youngest… she really loved the pesto. But I mean, they also love Koala Krisp Cereal. It’s hard to compete with the food companies.
TFT: I saw on your blog that you roasted a pig in a box. It kind of loses the Man! Pig! Flame! factor but also looks like a magic trick in the box.
JD: That’s an astute observation…Was there a question?
TFT: Yeah. How did it turn out? I’ve never seen a pig in a box before.
JD: It was a high wire act for me. I was doing it to raise money; doing it in public; doing it with people from the book. One of them was the inspiration for it. Manny Howard roasted a pig with his girlfriend on the beach and then she becomes his wife…He fell off a ladder and cracked his pelvis. I had to take charge…
It is like a magic trick. When it’s well crafted it just can’t fail.
That’s the other lesson about cooking. You don’t have to worry about a fancy recipe. You just need good ingredients.
We had a Greenmarket pig and just put salt on it. People were gnawing on hooves, picked over the brain. We had a 50 pound pig, 40 people, and it was gone in 10 minutes. People would come up and be like “Where’s the pig?” They’d go over to the bones and pick over the already picked over bones…
TFT: Would you do it again?
JD: I would under the right circumstances. In a backyard. It takes four hours. It would be nice to be able to go in and use the Internet. You really don’t do anything for four hours. You just have to keep someone from wandering into it. We burned it…. We just kept it in the box for the whole four hours. All we did was flip it over. No one knows what it’s supposed to look like. We lost a little meat off the burned part but it had this crazy crispy skin.
TFT: …Maybe it’s the threat of disaster that makes it a true success.
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