Too Many Cooks: Who Has Changed the Way You Cook?

You’ll be hearing from the staff at FOOD52 every week in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

Today: Was it a never-ending vegetable harvest, an extremely well-written cookbook, a food blogger, or your parents? We want to know what made you a more confident cook. 

Here at Food52, we live for Genius Recipes—but cooking smarter doesn’t just happen overnight. Often there is an influencer, a moment, or a recipe that forever changed your kitchen outlook. It might have been your mom (no, this is not corny) or a prolific blogger (yes, of course you knew about them before they were cool), or it might not have been a person at all: Maybe it was your garden’s never-ending supply of zucchini that finally got you to start thinking outside of the box. Or maybe, just maybe, it was a cookbook that opened your eyes to all the possibilities of the dinner plate—Genius Recipes, we are looking at you. 

Whatever, or whoever, it is or was, chances are good that you vividly remember the moment the stovetop became inviting instead of scary. And if there’s anything we have learned here at Food52, it’s that you should never be embarrassed about what got you into the kitchen, and that’s precisely why we asked our staff: 

Who forever changed the way you cook?

Did you dad make award-winning dinners? Did you meet your favorite cookbook author at age five? Did you take a surprising course at college that not only changed your major but also your dinner plans, forever? Tell us who has made you a better, smarter cook in the comments below. 

Jane P: My parents are Eastern European Jews who met in Italy when they were coming to America. Based on how I cook, however, you’d think I grew up summering in Sicily. My mom never cooked (she’d kill me for announcing that), but my father fell in love with all things Italian and only ever cooks that cuisine. I think a combination of him and old-school Martha Stewart on the Food Network (watermelon ice cream bomb, anyone?) changed my cooking.  

Derek: Wisconsin Public Television!

Erin: My mama taught me how bake fresh bread, how to grow a garden, and how to can. Life changing. My grandma taught me how to make crazy good fried chicken and to eat as much pie as you can feasibly fit into your diet. Also life changing. Derek taught me to at least try to clean up after myself. Maybe not as delicious of a lesson as the fried chicken, but it’s served me nearly as well. 

Jeremy: My wife made me a better cook—before we even started dating we would hang out and watch food TV (she got me watching Top Chef, I got her to watch Good Eats). We continually challenge and inspire each other and, as long as we decide beforehand who is “chef” and who is “sous chef,” we work great together in the kitchen. Our love of cooking together has been, and still is, a great foundation for our relationship.


Micki: It was my best friend. We were both food fiends long before we met, but a few years ago we were both living and working together and the more time we shared, the more elaborate our food geek-outs became. She taught me how to throw together a recipe from fridge remnants, how to perfect a quiche, how to cook for a group, and so many other things. I think about food, cooking, and sharing food totally differently now. Not to mention, some of my best memories are of sharing an elaborate home-cooked meal with her, sitting on the floor of our kitchen—because what better place to eat lobster tails, or brisket and challah, than leaning up against the dishwasher.

Tim: When I was in eighth grade, my woodshop teacher got laid off two weeks into the school year, so I ended up taking Home Ec. instead. I don’t remember my teacher’s name, but that was when I started and fell in love with cooking.

Lauren L: We had a different au pair living with us each year growing up, which was an awesome introduction to different cultures, traditions, and cuisines. But it also meant entire years were punctuated by very good (the French years of mussels, quiche, and Buche de Noël) or very bad cooks (the German food didn’t translate as well). Luckily, my family in Canada are amazing cooks—my aunt and uncle own an amazing B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake and my cousin runs a catering company in Toronto. All Lockes love to eat, but it was my Canadian relatives who deepened my love of food by making me lobster and trifle for the first time, always having a cheese course, and introducing me to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc way before it was mainstream. 

Laura: As corny and cliché as this sounds, Giada De Laurentiis is completely responsible for my fascination with home cooking. In college, I would watch her on Food Network for hours. I bought all her DVDs. I just thought she was so beautiful and perfect, so my naïve little mind decided that it would be cool to cook just like Giada. I don’t really watch her show with such fervor anymore, nor do I cook anything like her, but she is the reason I love being in the kitchen.

Rachel: The Pioneer Woman. I saw her blog in 2007 via StumbleUpon and it was the first time in my life that cooking didn’t feel like something I needed my own decked-out kitchen to do. I still make her cinnamon rolls and I’m yet to find a stir-fry sauce that holds a candle to hers.

Kristen: Aside from all the geniuses and Food52 members, who I feel very, very lucky to have learned from via recipe testing over the years, Anita Shepherd from Anita’s Yogurt is my food hero—every time I cook with her I learn something new. She adds hot sauce not just for heat but for acid, makes ceviche out of hominy, and threw together vegan pancakes without a recipe using the leftover beer at my 30th birthday weekend.

Kenzi: I owe everything and more to the owners of the restaurant where I first worked: They taught be what food could be, hauled me to New York to show me what it could really be (or what it was in a tux), and then let me cook in their restaurant kitchen.

From them I learned the importance of fat and salt, and the genius of Thomas Keller. Then I credit Molly—I used to read her blog, Orangette, like a novel, and then make the simple lentil salads and set out the wedges of cheese I imagined would be on her table. Early cooking is all about imitation.

Now I credit our crazy talented group of editors—and former editors Brette, Marian, and Nozlee—who teach me something new every time I walk into a kitchen with them. Yesterday Ali taught me to eat more beets raw. Today Sarah taught me to fry my poached eggs. I’m excited for tomorrow. 

Christina: I credit my mom and grandma for influencing my love of cooking, but after reading An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler changed the way I cook. You will often find drippings from my roast chicken in the fridge, waiting to become a stellar salad dressing. 

Leandra: The corny but true route: my mom. She knows that people are hungry before they do and knows just what to make them. I’ve almost never seen her use a recipe yet can count the number of her cooking “fails” one hand. Her signature move is to take a bite out of everything she makes—right before she serves it to you. She literally made my lunch every day all the way through senior year of highschool…no shame.

Haley: My mom! But I will out her and celebrate her at the same time. The world should know that when she and my dad met, she would eat a Mars bar and drink a Dr. Pepper every single morning for breakfast. She most definitely couldn’t cook—just ask my dad about “the pink chicken incident.” Cut to now: Not only does she casually make three entrées instead of one for every holiday meal, but she’s opened up her kitchen to teach me, my friends, and her god-daughters everything she knows. I can taste her bolognese from here.

Mei: My mother taught me how to cook, for sure, but the person who changed how I cook was Hillary Sterling—now the chef at Vic’s. She was the first chef that I worked for out of culinary school, and, even though I didn’t work the savory line (I worked pastry), she was the one who both encouraged me and watched me like a hawk. She believed in me and my abilities. She taught me how to taste, how to not waste anything, and that if you’re going to cook at all, not half-ass it—as that is disrespectful to your ingredients as well as the people you’re cooking for, and with. She also taught me how to make the best pasta, hands-down. (She is kind of my idol.) 

Jackie: Food52! And no, I’m not saying that because I work here. I was always a baker (I learned from my mama) but wasn’t really into cooking. But, after a short while working at Food52 I discovered so many new ideas just from being around food in our test kitchen all day. I found myself feeling more confident because I was more educated on cooking and around such inspirational people, food, and images.

Leslie: Get ready for a Food52 love fest… My mom initiated my love of food and cooking, but I have to agree with Jackie: The editors at Food52 have been huge influences in the way I cook! I used to rotate through tried and true recipes, but they’ve encouraged me to branch out and develop my own recipes and try new things—they’ve walked me through salad assemblies, how to roast the perfect chicken (Barbara Kafka’s from Genius, of course!), and calmed me down when I had to bake a cake from scratch. Since starting here, I’ve cooked something different almost every night!

Who has changed the way you cook? For better or worse? Share with us in the comments below!

This article was written by Hannah Petertil from Food52 and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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