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Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook

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by Sohla El-Waylly
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This is an ambitious foundational cookbook that works equally well for a highly motivated beginner cook, as well as anyone who’s interested in refreshing their approach to cooking in the 21st century.

Classically trained as a professional cook, Sohla El-Waylly is a former restaurant chef and popular technique instructor featured by New York Times Cooking and other platforms. Grounding her approach in solid food science, she offers nearly 600 pages of recipes organized by technique, beginning with a chapter on tasting so that you’ll understand seasoning in everything else you learn from the book.

The recipes El-Waylly uses to illustrate her approach are plugged in to contemporary tastes. Instead of learning to prepare a salmon in aspic as great books of a generation ago might have offered, Start Here invites cooks to broil a whole fish and serve it with limey cabbage slaw. There’s a salad of collard greens and fresh corn with homemade ranch dressing, and a black sesame and nori pilaf. Preparation of everything is precisely described and often illustrated with step-by-step photos. El-Waylly’s technique is strong but her tastes are modern.

Baking occupies a large portion of the book, approached with the same informative thoroughness. El-Waylly touches on important classics, like shortbread, but more noticeable are her own creations, like fruity-doodle cooks which “have the soft, cakey texture of snickerdoodles but taste just like pie.” She invites you to use nearly any fruit you like, except bananas, which “contain a lot of starch and will result in a gummy and dense cookie.”

That’s the sort of informed encouragement which runs through Start Here. Combined with El-Waylly’s imagination, it’s an inducement to trust her and try out some of the more unusual recipes in the book. For instance:

  • Brothy black lentils with dandelion greens and tons of garlic
  • Blistered carrots with carrot top salsa verde
  • Seared scallops with pepperoni, sungold tomatoes, and corn
  • Bacon fat rolls with lettuce and tomato
  • Pumpernickel rough puff pastry

Full of ideas for cooks of many skill levels.

Hardcover. Color photographs throughout.

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