Gather: A Dirty Apron Cookbook
There is something so honest about Gather: A Dirty Apron Cookbook by David Robertson. It starts with the aesthetics. It’s a book that feels heavy, solid. Photos show humble elements arranged unassumingly, the page background a very light gray to make the viewing easier, the fonts, a good size made for cooking-from-recipe eyes, with lots of white space around each character.
The content is also arranged simply, without gimmicky titles. You know, just Brunch, Salads, Soups, Vegetarian, Seafood, Poultry and Meats, Breads, Desserts, like in a menu.
“Basics,” here, refers to a few quick things you can make in order to help every other thing you make taste better.
There is also, of course, a metric conversion chart and an interesting (very short) chapter titled “Mise en Place,” the French phrase for everything in its place, a kind of pep talk that sets the tone for successful cooking, with planning and basics at hand, and a few techniques (the importance of brining, how to make stock, how to roll your own pasta) you’ll pick up along the book’s way. Again, simple.
The 80 recipes also follow the simplicity principles of The Dirty Apron Cooking School in the title. They are meant to be understood and adapted to make each dish your own—staples like Huevos Rancheros and Brussel Sprouts Salad and more complex dishes like Salt-Crusted Sea Bream with Almond Caper Brown Butter Sauce and the Seafood and Chorizo Paella.
There is a good mix of international dishes and home cooking entrees, and all are laid out using the fewest words possible. Here is the recipe for garlic confit, as an example:
(makes 2 cups)
1 cup garlic cloves
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350° F
In a small baking dish, combine garlic and oil and toss well.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until garlic is tender.
Uncover and bake for another 10 minutes, until garlic is very tender.
Set aside to cool.
And that’s it. Though not all recipes have such few ingredients, the instructions on pretty much all of them are clear and straightforward, one thing at a time, again and again, simplicity the key to every section of the book.
But perhaps the best thing about Gather can be found in the foreword and introduction, and it is the philosophy at the core of all that lack of fuss:
That food is life, and cooking the most important skill you can learn.
That keeping things simple allows you to cook good food and also have time to enjoy it with your friends.
That practice will make it perfect and trying the same recipe again and again until you are comfortable with it before declaring yourself the worst cook in the world will make all the difference.
As will starting with ingredients that you shopped for and chose for their freshness and quality.
It’s clear that to chef Robertson, cooking is about the experience, the feeding of others, the discovery—and he argues for this mindset with a passion. Why not a more human-centered (stress-free) way to think about food and the process of preparing it for nourishment, both physical and spiritual?
“Remember, food sustains us in more ways than we might now. It’s my sincere wish that this book makes for some of your happiest memories around your dining table, picnic table and campfire. After all, at the center of this type of merriment is good, honest, food.”