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Book Chronicles Men's Evolution from Bread-Winners to Bread-Bakers

  • Faiza Elmasry

Essay contributions from two dozen fathers who cook for their families

With many mothers working outside the home, more fathers - such as New Yorker editor and cartoonist John Donohue - are cooking for their families.

Donohue wanted to chronicle men’s role as bread-bakers, not just bread-winners. So he asked more than two dozen fathers, writers and chefs who take charge in the kitchen to contribute to his book, "Man With a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families."

Two dozen fathers, writers and chefs contribute to 'Man With a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families.' by John Donohue.

Two dozen fathers, writers and chefs contribute to 'Man With a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families.' by John Donohue.

When Donohue became a father for the first time, he discovered a new job for himself.

“I started cooking a lot for my wife and the baby," he says. "It was a lot of fun.”

Donohue was surprised to learn he's not alone.

For his book, "Man With a Pan," Donohue incorporated 34 essays by writers and chefs, including Mark Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times. Bittman took a circuitous path to his job at the Times.

“He was married, had a baby. He was driving a taxi. He was kind of working odd jobs," says Donohue. "So he started to cook. That led to his first book, which actually put him on the map as a writer."

Other fathers came to cooking reluctantly and out of necessity. Like novelist Steven King who also contributed an essay titled, "On Cooking."

“Steven King started cooking for his family in Maine after his wife lost her sense of taste and lost interest in doing any cooking," says Donohue. "He wanted better food for his family, so he went into the kitchen. He talks about using the microwave and other basic things about keeping things simple. That's his motto. He has great advice: 'Don’t set the kitchen on fire.'"

It came easier for Ghanaian-born novelist Mohammed Naseehu Ali, who was inspired by childhood memories of his mother’s kitchen.

“I grew up in a Hausa Muslim community," says Ali. "In our community, it’s highly frowned upon for men to be in the kitchen. But my mother allowed me to hang around while she cooked."

Ali believes cooking is creative.

“I've actually kind of compared cooking to writing. It's pretty much the same thing," he says. "In writing, you have a blank page for you to start with. In cooking, you have an empty pot to creatively start thinking of what you would like to put in the pot, to mix it togeter to create some food."

Travel writer Jack Hitt, who also contributed an essay, describes the creative process.

“One of the things you discover when you start to cook is that following a recipe wasn’t simply a matter of measuring out cups and tablespoons," says Hitt. "It's something much bigger, more metaphysical than that. It's a very minimalist sort of form that implies so much more than what is actually written. In some sense, it’s like gardening or driving. It becomes second nature. It becomes instinctive.”

Hitt's culinary skills have evolved over the last 16 years. In the process, he discovered a way to better bond with his family.

“All of a sudden I found that there was this little kid in the room who had been watching me doing this from a chair, confined, and suddenly was very interested in participating. So the next thing I know, I had an assistant," he says. "And a few years after that, I had another assistant. We’ve been sort of experimenting in the kitchen, the three of us and whenever my wife is around, which is increasingly more common, the four of us in the kitchen cooking and essentially raising a family.”

Mark Kurlansky - writer, cook and pastry chef - says anyone can cook.

“Cooking is like everything else. You just need to do it all the time to get good at it. In fact, I know people who just can’t cook and I don’t understand why," says Kurlansky. "It’s just like I encounter people who can’t write, no matter how hard they try. And I don’t understand why they can't do that. If you can talk, why can’t you write. And if you can eat, why can’t you cook?”

Kurlansky has advice for men who want to cook.

“Make it simple. If you buy good ingredients and you cook them very simply, you’ll always have a great meal.”

Donohue, the book’s editor, expects more fathers will take up cooking as the need grows and as society becomes more accepting of "A Man With a Pan."