Virgin to Veteran – how to get cooking with confidence:
What do you do if you reach the grand old age of 21, have five cookery books to your name but still haven’t finished university? Well, write another cookery book of course. In Sam Stern’s case Virgin to Veteran- how to get cooking with confidence.
The challenge for Sam Stern is that having dominated the teen and pre-teen market with great books that reach the parts no other books can…and then gone on to produce a couple of student cookery books, he’s now at the stage where he either goes mass market and competes against Jamie, Delia and Heston or carries on writing for an audience that he is fast outgrowing, despite still being a student and (presumably) living at home with his parents during the holidays. Now, for me that shows in this particular book and misses what I *think* is meant to be the target audience for this book (someone setting up home for the first time).
Sam Stern’s Student Cookbook: Survive in Style on a Budget has a list of ‘essentials’ for the student kitchen (from memory, about 12 items), supplemented with a ‘nice to have’ list. By comparison Virgin to Veteran- how to get cooking with confidence lists out the equipment you need to include a micro-plane, a potato ricer, 9 different pans, the same number of kitchen knives, a deep fat fryer and an ice-cream machine. If I really was a virgin cook, I’d be running to hills at this point. I quizzed a few younger friends and while they are all gadget mad, their budget is limited and space even more so. So for me it’s a shame that section is SO gadget heavy, because once you’ve robbed a bank to buy the kitchen equipment recommended, he does include a lot of useful advice on setting up ‘The Virgin Kitchen’ and on managing your food. And, the book layout is fun and there are useful ‘extras’ scattered through the book.
Moving on to the recipes, they are beautifully photographed and I love the idea of ‘change it up’. I guess that’s because for me, it’s what I do anyway…and I’m genuinely pleased to see what I see as ‘creativity’ in the kitchen being encouraged. I like the the sections on ‘friends’ and the buyers guides too for their simplicity and sensible advice. But, in terms of recipes there’s not a great deal that is new here and very little on what makes Sam’s version of (say) fish pie or roast chicken a master-class rather than Delia’s version or Jamie’s. I don’t have a set of Sam Stern’s books, but I’ve browsed through the Student Cookbook and I have spotted a few duplicates in this book and a few ‘developments’ of the same dish.
Overall I like the book but am unconvinced about the ‘master-class’ positioning. In trying to take the prodigy out of University before he’s graduated, for me it misses something and makes a talented and passionate guy look like a lesser Jamie Oliver. I hope it’s simply that I’m not the target market myself because the concept of a book that encourages kitchen virgins to cook, to experiment and to be creative is one I really believe in…just as much as Sam’s earlier works to encourage kids and students off the sofa and into the kitchen.
I’m planning to lend the book to some younger friends and see whether the Sam Stern magic works on a younger ‘closer to virginal’ audience as opposed to this old kitchen veteran – and reporting back ASAP.
I was sent a complimentary copy of ‘Virgin to Veteran’ by Quadrille Publishing for review purposes.