Review: ‘Man With a Pan’ by John Donohue
Back in February, we shoveled you over to a Time interview with John Donohue, the “Stay at Stove Dad.” Donohue’s back with a book out that’s a great read for kitchen-savvy fathers, called “Man With a Pan.” I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but if your dad’s into cooking, this would be a great Father’s Day gift.
John was nice enough to send a copy out to 8BitDad, and unfortunately, reading it took me longer than expected. I was planning on giving it a skim and letting you guys know it was a “wonderful jaunt through food and fatherhood.” But then I started reading it and, well hell, if this book isn’t one of the most easy-to-read, interesting fatherhood AND food books, I don’t know what is.
What Donohue did was assemble a rag-tag group of fathers – some you know and some you don’t – all who cook for their families. Each writer tells a story, then gives you a related recipe and a reading list. This formula is what’s great about “Man With a Pan”: you get to read a manageably-short story, then get a couple of that writer’s recipes, and if that’s not enough, you then get a couple book suggestions from that same writer. So if you want to know what cookbooks Mario Batali or Stephen King suggest reading, you’ve got titles that you can then go check out at your leisure.
And yes – I did say Mario Batali and Stephen King! Those are two of the book’s storytellers, along with other guys you might know, like film and television writer, Matt Greenberg, and author Michael Ruhlman. There’s also “normal,” everyday fathers in the book, who give you their stories from “the trenches,” as Donohue puts it, and come from varied backgrounds – normal occupations and normal families.
Some standouts – Michael Ruhlman declaring that what separates humans from animals is our ability to cook and have recreational sex, and Shankar Vedantam’s discussion about unconscious mental triggers dealing with food and gender.
Dudes, this is good stuff.
Plus, if all that wasn’t enough, there’s also New Yorker comics throughout the book, by Donohue himself and others.
But really, the great part about “Man With a Pan” is that the stories are short enough to read quickly. The audience for this book is you and I – fathers that are already working for a good portion of the day, and then cooking for their families. By the time they scratch together some “me-time,” it’s almost night-night time. So Donohue, whether he intended it to be this way or not, has given us fathers a great little Bible for our culinary religion. “Man With a Pan” is a collection of stories, recipes and reference books that we’ll enjoy because though all of the book’s accounts come from different voices, the song is the same: we love our families and we love to cook for them.
The recipes, because I know you’re worried, aren’t all complicated foie gras and duck breasts. Some of them can be completed with items you’ve already got in your cupboard. Most of them can be completed with easily-found grocery store items. Whenever I read a cookbook or specifically read food writers’ recipes, I’m always intimidated by the fact that I don’t want to be stuck with a mostly-full jar of capers for the rest of my life. Most of the recipes found in “Man With a Pan” are things that you can indeed easily make – and more importantly, things you can make for your family.
I don’t see your kids getting too much out of “Man With a Pan” – which explains my low kid-approval rating. They won’t be interested in the stories, and certainly aren’t getting into the comics. Don’t let that get you down though – this book is purely a father’s delight. If anything, your kids will get a couple awesome meals out of it, which they won’t appreciate until years later. Kids are dicks like that though.
You can read a couple pages of “Man With a Pan” over at the Algonquin Books site, if you’re still not sold on this book. The excerpt lets your read Donohue’s intro and see a couple of his recipes. As mentioned, the other writers’ sections are laid-out similarly, with a story, recipes and a reading list.
Also, check out Donohue’s Stay at Stove Dad site for more stories from the frontlines of kitchen-bound fatherhood.
“Man With a Pan” is out now. Go get it, stupid.