BOOK REVIEW – At the Kitchen Table:The Craft of Cooking at Home by Greg Atkinson

I have read a lot of books and like many of you, I go through phases of reading certain kinds of books. I had a US President phase where I read all sorts of biographies of our Presidents, on both sides of the aisle, and in various points in our history. I went through an 18 month or so period where I read nothing but books on World War II. Self help, spiritual, business, history, and even a little fiction.

When I got my iPad, I was trying to “convert” to electronic books. I got my Apple iBook app, the Kindle app, etc. and even bought a couple of books and was shocked at how much less money it cost! Fast forward a year or more and I ended up being depressed. You see, every December I take time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the next year, and one of the areas I like to look at is what books I want to read. When I realized I had read so few books because the last thing I wanted to do at night when I was going to bed was put my eyes in front of the dim light of a screen! Especially because I read so much on my computer during the day already. It was pathetic. So, I have decided to ditch this “its better for nature” baloney and get back to real, bound books, written on paper, and that stack nicely on my nightstand.

So guess what? I have devoured several books just in the past month of which I want to share a couple with you over the next month or so.

I have been buying cookbooks, and other books about food since Christmas and have been having an absolute blast. Fat of the Land, Mission Street Food, Heat, Eating in Britaly, In Defense of Food, Omnivore’s Dilemma have all showed up at my door or are now gracing my book shelf. One in particular though, comes from a local author/chef/writer, named Greg Atkinson, At the Kitchen Table: The Craft of Cooking at Home. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Atkinson at a food writer’s talk at the Seattle Public Library earlier in December and found him to be an entertaining, intelligent, witty, and very passionate speaker. I hadn’t heard of him until that night (shocker I am finding) and as I did a little digging, found out that Mr. Atkinson has quite a resume. Contributing food writer for the Seattle Times, chef at Seattle’s beloved Canlis, and a couple other restaurants around the world, opening a new restaurant, Restaurant Marche Bainbridge in mid March, and most importantly, home cook.

At the Kitchen Table: the Craft of Cooking at Home is quite simply, a perfect book. Part collection of short stories and nostalgia, part pontification, and part cookbook, Mr. Atkinson, through each chapter, takes us on the overused culinary journey. Like Ms. said in the forward, I too found myself dog-earing (even though my mom told me never to do so), a couple dozen pages of recipes I want to try and quotes I want to meditate on.

I love the Pacific Northwest and will always be proud that I live in this part of the country. I also love people who go out of their way to support the local food economies by cooking more local, eating more local, and yet still have an appreciation for those items and culinary traditions that are not necessarily a part of our regions cuisines. I think we should cook and eat as locally as possible but ditch the dogma. For example, I use San Marzano tomatoes. They come from a LONG way away (Mt. Vesuvius, Italy) and will not use any others if I can help it, especially when making Italian food. There simply isn’t a better tomato on the planet. The rich volcanic soil, and strict growing standards, ensure the most delicious, lightly sweet tomatoes all year round. Sometimes it makes sense to have olive oil from California or Greece or Italy on hand (as well as those tomatoes) and other non-regional ingredients, and that is why I appreciated Mr. Atkinson’s book so much. He is fiercely devoted to shucking local oysters, using seasonal, organic produce, and cooking things at home that are loaded with simplicity and goodness and yet in a few of his chapters he shares a story about a family member, or a trip somewhere where that region’s cuisines influenced his restaurant and home cooking. I love that. To me, that is absolutely the way to cook, and more importantly, to live.

So, if you would like to have a little insight into a well-respected local chef, a family man, and self-described amateur cook, and on top of that, have a couple of recipes that serve as a nice ribbon, wrapping up each unique story, then I STRONGLY recommend you buying this book, read it, and enjoy it. I have personally already tried several of the recipes and they are just perfect. Nothing too pretentious, but a nice “push” for the home cook. Enjoy and hopefully we will all be eating more “at the kitchen table.”

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