In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart

Image of In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart: A Cookbook
Release Date: 
April 5, 2010
Clarkson Potter
Reviewed by: 

Most of us know someone who could use a little basic instruction in the kitchen: a college student or recent graduate living in his/her first apartment, a newly single adult, a neighbor, a friend or family member who always undercooks the rice or overcooks the fish/meat/vegetables. The problem is, most cookbooks don’t bother with basic technique, and because many of us have not had good instruction from our mothers or fathers before leaving the nest, cooking ends up as somewhat of a mystery, and is either done poorly or is something to be avoided altogether.

It really isn’t that cooking is hard, it’s that it is hard to convince people that cooking is easy. This is the challenge that Alice Waters has taken up in In the Green Kitchen, and she succeeds masterfully. Her philosophy is simple: “what all good cooks have in common [is] a set of basic techniques that are universal to all cuisines. Once learned by heart, these are the techniques that free cooks from an overdependence on recipes and a fear of improvisation.”

It is hard to imagine a chef with the stature of Alice Waters taking the time to write a cookbook dedicated to explaining the basic techniques of cooking to a complete novice. Yet since she opened her critically acclaimed restaurant, Chez Panisse, in 1971, her passion has always been to encourage us that we can all turn out beautifully prepared, simple meals using fresh, local ingredients. Who else but Alice Waters would take the time to teach us how to successfully hard boil an egg, cook rice to perfection, or dress a salad with vinaigrette?

None of us is born knowing how to cook well. What we all need at some point in our lives is someone who is willing to be patient with us and show us how it’s done. Alice Waters understands this and offers us simple, clear, thoughtful instruction that will go a long way to encourage people to bypass the fast food restaurants or the frozen food aisle and get busy in their kitchens.

In the Green Kitchen is the natural extension of the demonstration kitchen Ms. Waters set up at the 2008 Slow Food Nation gathering in San Francisco, where she invited many celebrated chefs to come to give short demonstrations in basic cooking techniques. The book, while written in Waters’ voice, features many of these chefs who provide the reader with instruction on cooking fundamentals followed by dead simple recipes that anyone could follow.

There is everything in this book to give the first-time cook the confidence to try a recipe and be successful without feeling overwhelmed. In a concise 139 pages she teaches us how to wash lettuce, poach an egg, boil pasta, cook rice, braise greens, roast or steam vegetables, roast chicken or meat, bake fruit and more. For those who need visual aid, demonstrations can be watched on her website (especially helpful if you don’t understand the instructions for how to tie a roast or chicken).

There is something for everyone in In the Green Kitchen, and a reason for everyone to own a copy. For the cookbook connoisseur, it is also a must have. Alice Waters is a sensualist and the book very much reflects this about her. The paper is thick and sumptuous, the photos are fresh and crisp, and the prose is soothing to read.

Experienced cooks will also delight in the introduction to some chefs whose food they are not yet familiar with as Ms. Waters graciously points the reader to further explorations through their cookbooks or restaurants.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all the proceeds from In the Green Kitchen go to support the Chez Panisse Foundation, established by Alice Waters in 1996 to provide edible education in the public schools. Over the last four decades, no one has done more to promote sustainable farming and healthful, simple cooking than Alice Waters, and In the Green Kitchen deserves our support.