AUTHOR TO MEN: SAUTÉ WITH SWAGGER

Debra Picard, author of Tastosterone: The Best Cookbook for Men, says there’s nothing sexier than watching a guy cook. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

By JIM WILLIS

Rumson’s Debra Levy Picard thinks men and women cook differently.

“A woman might cook because she wants to prepare something to look beautiful and perfect and impressive,” she says. “A guy just wants to eat – he’s hungry, and is happy to eat out of the pot without a bouquet garni

A 52-year-old north Jersey native and lifetime foodie, Picarrd has traveled extensively in Europe, Israel, the United Kingdom – she’s lived in both England and Switzerland – and the United States, enriching her understanding off cooking and culture. She recently published a cookbook, Tastosterone: The Best Cookbook For Men, to help men “just get food from the grocery store to the plate.”

redbankgreen sat down with Picard to talk about why women are turned on by a man behind the stove, how come guys always seem to get stuck at the grill and learn what local celeb doesn’t know his way around a kitchen.

Where did Tastosterone come from?

I was always the chef in my house, and started cooking when I was 14 for my family. I was always cooking and entertaining. And my daughter actually came to me one day and said, “Mommy, I want you to write down all your recipes for me so I’ll have them when I’m older.”  So I started writing down recipes, and told a friend of mine [in the food industry in NY] that I was writing them down and thinking about putting together a cookbook. He said, ‘don’t write a cookbook for women, because [the market is] super-saturated,’ and suggested that I channel it towards men.

So we started developing recipes and doing research, and discovered a tremendous amount of need out there. I found that there was a niche in the market for men to be in the kitchen. I found that roles are changing. There are dual [earner] households where both the man and the woman are full-time employees and both work.

At each stage of a guy’s life, they’ll need to find cooking. And cooking is a skill that will take them through many different places in their life. Boys can start learning the basic skills at the age of five or six and cooking will be a valuable skill  when they’re single and then married.

You note you’ve found that roles are changing.  Why haven’t men had more of a presence in the kitchen? How is that changing?

I’d call it the Leave it to Beaver theory. When June Cleaver was in the kitchen, she showed us that it was the woman’s role to run the household while men went out to earn a living.  Later though, in the 1960‘s, we had women like Gloria [Steinem] help get women out into the workplace, where women discovered that they needed to do it all. They had to work. They had to do the household chores. They had to raise the children.

After that, we had what we call the “diaper effect.” Men started changing diapers. Men were getting up in the middle of the night to feed their children and sharing in some of the household [chores]. But men were still not involved in the kitchen. We were surprised to learn that there are more men changing diapers than cooking.

I don’t think in the U.S. men really ever had a place in the kitchen. But as we become more understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities, the newer generation is sharing these roles. What Tastosterone is trying to do is educate the older generation and help raise the younger generation to be independent in the kitchen and share responsibilities in the household.

You say that historically there hasn’t been a place in the kitchen for American men.  You’ve done some extensive traveling and lived overseas, did you observe mens’ roles in the kitchen changing from country to country?

It really depends on the culture. The men in Italy, for example, always shared the kitchen. They were always cooking. They were always in the kitchen; it’s cultural. It’s not something you see in all of Europe or all of Latin America. But [different countries] have a different kind of upbringing. It starts from the household, and is based on what their tradition is. If the parents bring the boys into the kitchen, they’ll develop the skills.

But it’s not just America where men don’t cook.  We’re not behind other countries.  But there are other cultures who have been cooking, like Greece and Italy and Latin American countries, where  they’ve found a sex appeal in the kitchen and they’ve been sharing  that for years and years and years, and  passing down recipes for years and years. Men sharing recipes with their mother or their spouse.

But in America, traditionally, the man has basically been stuck out at the grill.

Why do American men get stuck out at the grill?

I don’t know exactly but it could be a simple as the wife probably wants them out of the house. “Here, take some raw meet and go hang out with your friends and some beer and come back with some cooked food.”  I don’t know for certain.

So let’s say instead of throwing her man outside with a hunk of raw meat, a woman wants to get on board and help get her guy in the kitchen. What does she do?

I talk about that in the book. If you want your guy to cook, no matter what age – from a five-year-old to a 12-year-old to your boyfriend or your husband – you can’t coach from the sidelines.  You can’t fire out orders and sit there and say, “no, honey, I would have done it this way” or “that’s too much salt!” or stop your child from over mixing the batter. They will know by the results if they did it right or wrong. Women should let men learn from their own mistakes in the kitchen. If they’re going to sit there and criticize, then the guy is  going to throw up his hands wand walk out.

How are the recipes in Tastosterone geared towards men? How are men different in the kitchen than women?

We tried to not be overperfectionist. Things don’t need to be perfect.  I don’t think a guy cares how his recipe looks. A guy will finish the recipe and eat it right out of the pot.

They don’t care as much [as a woman about] how it looks. They’re happy to eat it out of the pot without a bouquet garni.

We’re just trying to get the food from the grocery  store to the plate.  A guy cooks because he wants to eat. He’s hungry. The reason a woman might want to cook may be because she’s  want to prepare something to look beautify and perfect and impressive. A guy just wants to eat. Most of my recipes you don’t even need to take out of the pot. Just go for it.

 You said you’d like to see five-year-olds in the kitchen. How does that happen?

I want five-year-old boys in the kitchen, and that comes from parenting. A five-year-old is not going to come and say, “Mommy, I want to cook.”  There are some.  But what happened in the past was the boy went outside to play with his trucks while the girl sat on the counter to help bake a cake with Mommy. What I want is for mom or dad to pop up the kid on the counter  and just give him a spoon when they’re making eggs. Homemade pizza is another good kid food. As long as you give a child a little tasting of what’s going on in the kitchen, they’re going to be interested.

First of all, they’re going to eat better food. They’re not going to be a mac-and-cheese, chicken finger and McDonald’s kind of kid because they’re going to be exposed to new things. And it’s proven that a child will eat what they cook because they want to try it. So I think it starts with the parenting.

[Parents can] start with scrambled eggs on Saturday morning.  Or bring them food shopping. And don’t for whatever reason in the supermarket say, “no, you can’t have that!”   If they want to buy mustard greens and you don’t know how to make it,  just buy it and try it. They’ll teach you things just the same way as you’ll teach them things. And don’t sideline coach. Encouragement, encouragement is the only way you’ll get them in the kitchen.

Tell me about cooking and sex appeal.

First of all, there’s nothing sexier than a girl watching a guy cook. I don’t care if he’s making scrambled eggs. What’s sexy about it is your sharing your roles. You’re taking on another role that normally is dominated by women.  The same way as men find it sexy, I think,  if a woman walks into a board room and she has control of the board room. A guy taking on the kitchen, he’s relieving someone else of that duty or showing another skills or dimension of his personality.

The whole hookup culture that the kids have today, they don’t go out. They just hook up.  We’re trying to get these kids – the 20 somethings – to have some kind of relationship, and get them talking with each other. When they’re in the kitchen, there are all these opportunities for conversation. It’s not just about food. It’s about sharing, [and] different kinds of personalities. Food is a labor of love, you’re giving love to other people. That’s the sex appeal. It’s not the cooking, it’s the giving. The food is just an added benefit.

Any tips for guys looking to bring more sex appeal to the kitchen?

Don’t impress. Be yourself.  Find out what her likes are. Don’t make a vegetarian a steak. Make it simple. You just cooking is sexy enough.

Whatever you make out of my cookbook is sexy enough and she’s just going to be impressed by your certain swagger in the kitchen, and by you putting up the effort in order to cook, not just one time.  Not for that one time. Not just once. It can’t be a onetime deal.

You’ve got a chapter called “Guess Which Celebrity Men Cook”  Any surprises on that list?

Hugh Jackman, would you think he cooks or doesn’t cook?

Jackman? He cooks.

Yes, he does. Elton John, would you say he cooks?

I don’t know. Yes, he cooks.

Elton John doesn’t cook. I was surprised by that.

Any local surprises on the list?

Jon Bon Jovi doesn’t cook. He’s got the restaurant [Soul Kitchen in Red Bank.] Doesn’t cook.

Last question. Who does the dishes?

I think the worst thing is someone who’s left alone to do the dishes by themselves. There’s a lot of opportunity for conversation when doing the dishes.

Debra Picard will be signing her cookbook and offering samples of her recipes at River Road Books in Fair Haven on Wednesday, May 22, from 7 to 9 p.m.. The event is a fundraiser for Move for Hunger. The book is also available locally at the Cheese Cave in Red Bank, and can be purchased on Amazon.