Friday, April 25, 2008

30 Minute Meals?

Since I have been thinking a lot about “fast” food recently, I was very interested in an article by Laura Shapiro published in Slate earlier in the week.

The Myth of the 30-Minute Meal focuses on Gordon Ramsay's new cookbook Gordon Ramsay’s Fast Food (also referenced in my Fast, Easy, and Simple post below). For the first half of the article, Shapiro makes the ridiculously easy case that Ramsay's American publishers don't expect most people who buy the book to actually cook out of it. Now, that's frequently the case for restaurant-driven, haute cuisine cookbooks like Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook. But, what does it say about us as a cooking nation that we won’t even cook out of a book promising easy weeknight dinners? Do the publishers think that we moved past the point where even whipping together a 30-minute meal is too much?

Shapiro suggests that the publishers are probably on to something. For people who don’t know how to cook, she says, the “stopwatch cuisine” cookbooks are nearly as unrealistic as the books like Keller’s. If you don’t know how to cook, fresh, beautiful, healthy dishes like Ramsay’s are likely to be enjoyed only vicariously through the book’s full-color photos.

So what of it? Since I haven’t used this book, it’s hard to comment directly, but I think Shapiro’s point is very made. Learning to cook is the best shortcut, the easiest way to really prepare good food fast. If I didn’t know how to make a pan sauce off the top of my head about a third of our weeknight meals would be pretty darn bland. If I didn’t know how to roast vegetables or make a vinaigrette, and had to fumble around for recipes, stopping every few minutes to reference something, dinner would rarely be ready in under a half hour.

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