Picture this: You’re standing in your kitchen and the medium onion you bought only yielded a cup of chopped yellow onion, not a cup and a half like the recipe you're making calls for. You’re doomed — or so writer Adam Roberts would assume you’d think. According to Roberts, one of the home cook’s biggest problems in the kitchen — whether they're a beginner or an expert — is confidence, or in this case, knowing that one cup of chopped yellow onions is pretty much the same thing as a cup and a half.
This was the inspiration behind Roberts' new cookbook Secrets of the Best Chefs, which chronicles his journey across the nation as he visited the kitchens of some of the country’s best chefs, cookbook authors, and television personalities. Roberts traveled to 11 cities and 50 different kitchens, and cooked with legends like Jonathan Waxman, Alice Waters, Melissa Clark, and Daniel Patterson (just to name a handful). His tour was propelled by his belief that most people are "nervous Nellies" in the kitchen, following recipes to the letter of the law and constantly harboring insecurity about how their food looks and tastes.
Roberts’ mission with this book, which just so happened to be our number one pick of the best cookbooks of the year, is to disarm that reputation of the home cook, and he does so through countless stories and more than 150 recipes. He begins with a list of equipment that you’ll need — the most advanced is a hand blender — and then he states the 10 essential rules for cooking, which may sound very familiar to those who went to culinary school. Pieces of advice like taste as you go, always have your ingredients on display, and clean with fluidity are a preview of what’s to come. The book then takes the reader to the cooking part, and weaves through Roberts’ journey. In the beginning, you're with Waxman in his New York City kitchen learning that if you shake a pan too early, you cause it to lose heat and lose caramelization. Next, you’re with famed Gary Danko in San Francisco learning about his meticulous methods like never serving hot soup in a cold bowl — and before you know it you’re whisked off to another kitchen.
The best part about the book is the recipes — they’re all crafted by the culinary legends, but they’re adapted by Roberts so that they’re more approachable for the home cook. Roberts translated each recipe so that they are easily recreated at home, but still have that luster of professionalism that could only have come from the geniuses he cooked with. Throughout the book, his witty and charming writing, which has gained him critical acclaim for his blog The Amateur Gourmet, is present, animating every experience so you feel as if you were a part of it as well.
It’s through the stories and recipes found in his book that Roberts hopes to instill a sense of confidence to any aspiring cook that turns its pages. A cook is only as good as they think they are, and to quote Roberts, "If it tastes good to you, it will taste good to everyone else."
"I don’t know about you, but when I cook mussels or clams at home, the flavor is never big enough and the sauce is never rich enough to justify the effort. This recipe is the solution. The secret is lots of garlic, a good drinkable wine..."
— Adam Roberts
"Chorizo is a magical ingredient, the kind of thing that makes your food taste way more accomplished without asking anything of you beyond just buying it. D’Artagnan sells a good-quality chorizo that is readily available; just make..."
— Adam Roberts
"When you make this recipe for the first time, you’re going to serve up these little pillows of fresh pasta dough filled with brown buttery butternut squash purée and everyone’s going to stare at you. They’re going to look from you..."
— Adam Roberts
Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce