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Snap judgments: Daniel Duane - How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession

Stett Holbrook | April 17, 2012 | Lifestyle Story Reviews Culture

Duane makes an appearance at Omnivore Books May 15 at 6 p.m., 3885A Cesar Chavez St., S.F., 415-282-4712,

As the title of his new work suggests, Daniel Duane is an obsessive guy. Following the San Francisco journalist's books about infatuations with rock climbing and surfing, How to Cook Like a Man takes a personal tack into new territory: the kitchen. Duane's latest compulsion begins when he becomes a father and decides to try making the meals while his wife, Elizabeth Weil, handles other domestic duties (and, it should be noted, publishes her own book, No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better.). First, he plunges into the canon of cooking literature, beginning with the works of his own preschool teacher, Alice Waters. Soon enough, he graduates from the bean burritos of his bachelor days to complex, all-day cooking blowouts. Readers get an entertaining crash cours in how to prepare everything from turnip-greens soup to roasted pigeon during the writer's never-cook-the-same-recipe-twice sprint. Part of what makes the book so funny is that Duane knows he's not an expert. He seems to want not only to sate his obsessive tendency but also to stave off a future midlife crisis: "I needed a recipe for middle age, a way to maintain a sense of self." Ultimately, the book is a coming-of-age story -- one that occurs during the author's first years as a husband and dad. The conclusion is a bit predictable: After cooking with star chef Thomas Keller, who tells him technique is more valuable than flash, Duane realizes that who's at the table is more important than what's on it. It's a too-tidy ending, but like much of the book, it also happens to ring true.



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