Inspiring Others to Grasp Culinary Heritage
By RITA PAPAZIAN
Fairfield Citizen-News, January 23, 2008
John and Patrick Burrows have written a cookbook with the one ingredient a cook cannot buy in a store inspiration.
These middle-aged brothers, one living in Fairfield and the other in Portland, Ore., wrote their cookbook to inspire people to divorce themselves "from the constricting act of following recipes word-for-word, to embrace your own culinary heritage, and to create and personalize your own cuisine," according to a passage from the book.
"How I Taught My Brother To Cook: A Food Memoir and Guide to Simple Improvisational Cooking in the Tuscan, Provencal, and American Peasant Traditions" is a collection of recipes set against the backdrop of the brothers' growing up in upstate New York. The book is about becoming a better cook in your own way.
Their mother was the daughter of an Italian immigrant, Giovanni Napoleone, who was born in Ateleta in Abruzzi. Their father was English and traced his heritage back to 17th century Yankee dirt farmers.
In their book, John recalls growing up when dinners was "always something like" chicken and dumplings, pot roast, meatloaf or escalloped potatoes with port sausage or liver and onions with bacon, pork chops and apple sauce or baked ham and sweet potatoes.
However, it wasn't until the brothers, as adults, took cooking lessons from Giuliano Bugialli that they obtained a serious interest in cooking. John had bought Bugialli's The Fine Art of Italian Cooking and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which spurred his interest in signing up for cooking lessons. Having enjoyed the lessons so much, he gave a series of them to his brother, Patrick, as a gift.
"As far as knowledge goes, there is no one else with more knowledge than he," Patrick said of Bugialli. "He resurrects century-old recipes and brings them into the modern world.
Patrick spoke highly of the manner in which Bugialli, using a few basic techniques and ingredients could capture the flavors upon which he built his reputation.
The classes proved a motivator for the brothers. Patrick was living on his own at the time and began to cook for himself. He found himself comfortable and grounded in "honest down-home food." He describes himself as "the keeper of the flame of old school cooking."
Meanwhile, John, an executive in the apparel industry at the time, including his last stint as president of Ralph Lauren's children's clothing, traveled the world for business and became introduced to a variety of cuisines. To this day, John is the brother who enjoys tasting new cuisines in restaurants, whereas Patrick prefers cooking and eating at home.
"He enjoys going to restaurants; I say, 'Why spend the money?'" Patrick said.
The brothers wrote the cookbook to inspire people to embrace their own heritage of cooking and to get back into the kitchen and cook. Not only do they want to inspire people to cook, they want people to improvise with their cooking.
Patrick believes people have been "held hostage' by cookbooks. People will look at a recipe and question whether or not they have the ingredients and the time to cook. They will determine "it takes too long and they go out to eat." He wants people to take control and make cooking a priority in their lives.
John said their cookbook gives people "permission to make a mistake." He emphasizes the importance of improvisation in the cooking process. In fact, the brothers present the recipes hardly offering amounts. The word "some" is used frequently. Other phrases include "cook a little," "cook until ," "cook very briefly."
In the book, John suggests the "way to plan a menu is to go to the market, see what's fresh, local and consequently the most abundant and cheapest, and think about what you can cook with them. Or just buy them and go home and figure it out.
"There's a common sense to cooking. If you think about it, you will do the right thing," John says. The brothers offer a lot of leeway in presenting the recipes. They want their book to bring the fun back to cooking. They both agree there's something missing in cooking and eating today and John believes it is the improvisation factor.
"We all like to do our own things," John says. He recalls while growing up he would make his favorite concoctions. For example he would take a frozen snapping turtle soup and add different ingredients to it. Patrick liked making scramble eggs with Worcestershire sauce and bacon and cheese.
"It was awful looking," John said of his brother's own improvisation.
The brothers recall a childhood with everyone gathering around the kitchen cooking and eating together. Whereas today, he said, with time a factor people are eating processed foods and fast foods and they have become victims of merchandising.
Patrick said, "Home cooking is taking a backseat to corporate marketers. So you will see a lot of prepared foods and quick meals. The more you learn, the more you will see how simple things can be."
During a recent interview, Patrick noted that he had gotten up early to prepare the dough for the day's bread. He had checked in the freezer and noticed that he had some squash filling so he decided to make ravioli.
"We want people to come back to the kitchen and not be afraid of it." As the brothers mention in their book, kitchens have become showrooms, not workspaces.
"Every dish we make is based on peasant traditions: what is on hand and in season," said Patrick, who recalls the pot of polenta his grandfather would make and then pour sauce over it. In their cookbook, the brothers devote a whole page to polenta and how they cook and serve it.
"Everyone has an ethic heritage," Patrick said. He invites people to look to their own heritage for inspiration to create recipes. "Once it's gone; it's gone forever. Future generations will become so disconnected from their ethnic background, he said, if they don't harness their family recipes.
Living on the West Coast, John believes that the populace is more homogeneous than the East Coast. He said when people cross the Mississippi they seem to lose their ethnic identity, and therefore is envious of his brother living in the East where people are more connected to their ethnic cultures. Patrick bemoans the closing of the Stratfield Supermarket on Stratfield Road and he refuses to shop in the big stores. "I don't like the crowds or the selections. It's impersonal," said Patrick.
In their perspective households, both brothers are the main cooks. John said
he does all the cooking and loves to entertain. "I'm always using people as guinea pigs," said John, who enjoys experimenting with new recipes; whereas, Patrick is more the traditionalist. "Patrick is always trying to get me to cook more of the recipes we had as kids.
However, both brothers share the message to get people to recreate their family history and culture through cooking. John and Patrick see themselves as evangelists for simple, honest cooking.
Patrick states in the book, "In old Italy it is said, 'The secret ingredient is the hand of the cook for it is the hand of the cook that expresses the heart.'"
"How I Taught My Brother To Cook is available at Kitchen Corner, A&S Italian Fine Foods and Liana's Trattoria for $22.95 or through