There’s fun food shopping and then there’s functional food shopping. If you follow Bon Appetit Food Director Carla Lalli Music’s tips in her cookbook, “Where Cooking Begins: Uncomplicated Recipes to Make You A Great Cook,” you can master both.
The book is full of techniques and tips that serve as the foundation of good home cooking, from shopping in small batches and often, to explanations on steaming and pan-roasting. Lalli Music, who started her professional cooking career as a line cook, recalls how she learned by chopping, searing and cleaning over and over again, and all through the night.
“I really credit that with my reflexive ability to turn an ingredient from raw to cooked,” she says. Indeed, cooking is both a reflexive act and a creative one. And when you have the foundation to draw from, that’s when you can play around with ingredients and flavors. The “Spin it” section of each recipe in “Where Cooking Begins” sets you up to do just that, giving you alternatives that work with what you have, and not necessarily what you need.
This is the kind of cooking that Lalli Music wants her readers to do, a style that is fluid and enjoyable. Inspiration can come from anywhere, spark of fresh and seasonal ingredients at the farmer’s market or a night out. For Lalli Music, eating out and seeing what other chefs are cooking is a way to explore new flavors and how they are reinventing classic dishes. “I have fun enjoying other peoples’ food,” she says. “The more you see the more you can make your own.”
“Everything is an innovation on something you’ve seen before,” Lalli Music tells me, which is truly the essence of “spinning it.” Creating those innovations is how new recipes happen. When Lalli Music is developing recipes, for example, an idea might come from “an ingredient she wants to mess around with” or “seeing a dish out in the world.” While she was writing her book, she fell in love with the slow-roasting process, and built off of that. She’s making not constantly making new recipes, but helping them morph and evolve, while also creating simple dishes that are approachable and doable.
“Doability” is a theme Lalli Music is using in her second book, focusing on the kind of cooking you do Monday to Thursday versus the weekend. Though it’s about two years away, the idea is that there will be “more recipes that support the idea that cooking is fun” and “solves a problem — the ‘what am I going to eat’ problem.”
But until then, build your basics, stock your pantry with functional ingredients like spices and grains. Eat out for new ideas, and let your hunger guide what you cook. It’s the method Lalli Music lives by, and you can too.
To purchase “Where Cooking Begins” cookbook, click here