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America's new culinary renaissance

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For one of the couples, Peter and Trese Ainsworth of Needham, Mass., this is their first cooking class. Mr. Ainsworth, a lawyer, professes that he is a relatively new convert to the kitchen – but a passionate one. When a favorite Italian restaurant in his neighborhood, Sweet Basil, published a cookbook a few years ago, he felt as if he had been given the "keys to the universe." He taught himself to make stocks and sauces. Now he prepares a big family meal every Sunday.

It doesn't end there. He built a raised-bed garden in order to grow his own tomatoes, herbs, and carrots, and regularly watches the Food Network with his two teenage daughters. "I look forward to cooking. It relaxes me," he says.

His rationale for taking up a chef's knife after wrestling with legal briefs all day explains why many people are spending more time in the kitchen: It's something that virtually anyone can do – and it's satisfying. It is a form of self-expression and status, entertainment and education.

In an age of a service economy and pervasive cubicle culture, many people who spend a lot of time glaring at com-puters find cooking a way to create something tangible. In that sense, the interest in cooking parallels the rise of other "hands on" movements that attempt to balance the virtual world with throwback skills, such as laying your own sheetrock and knitting.

Some people, too, are attracted to cooking as a sort of rebellion against the McDonaldization of America and what they see as the tasteless, processed products of an industrialized food system. "I live alone and can't stand prepared food, so I've learned to cook fairly elaborately for one," says Mr. Hand, whose repertoire includes Wiener schnitzel, polenta, and bouillabaisse. "It's an art."

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