An Update from the Unwilling Cook

An update from Barry - The Unwilling Cook.

An Update from the Unwilling Cook

Many of you might remember Barry, our self-proclaimed "unwilling cook" from a few months back. Barry contacted me as a newly single, 60-year old British man who had never cooked a meal for himself. He had no interest in cooking, and it was out of sheer necessity that he wrote in. You all stepped in with hundreds(!) of suggestions (the most ever on this site). After that, some time passed, I didn't hear from the Unwilling Cook for a while, and to be honest I thought Barry might be a bit of a lost cause on the cooking front - but have a look at this letter, unbelievable...

From Barry, The Unwilling Cook 6/26/2007

"...As I said at the time of my initial letters to you, I was just stunned by the wonderful response from everyone to my pathetic bleating about "Not being able to cook, boo hoo!"

I took-on-board the comments and suggestions, and as a result... Tarrah! I have my own small repertoire of dishes that I can now confidently (ha!) prepare and cook. So boastful was I to my 30-year-old son (who really cannot believe that I even know where the kitchen is, let alone what I should do in it) that I was invited to his house in North Wales (UK) to demonstrate. And demonstrate I did.

Saturday's concoction was a mere unsophisticated corned beef hash, using beautifully creamy, golden Rooster potatoes, deli corned beef with butter, milk and lashings of black pepper. It was a real gut-buster of a meal with baked beans and tomato sauce, and they loved it. Well, they SAID they loved it, and that's good enough for me! Beer would have been the tipple of choice, perhaps, but a smooth, distinctive Rioja slipped down just as well.

Sunday's Stilton pancetta chicken with Italian salad and a very nice Valpolicella was absolutely stunning! Well, excuse the hyperbole but it was very nice... And followed by that simplest of dishes, creme brulee, using my son's new toy, a kitchen blowtorch, it was just perfect. Please bear in mind that two months ago I had never cooked anything. Not a thing. So now you understand why I'm elated over dishes that you aficionados gave up cooking when you were at High School!

My inspiration has come from various quarters. Firstly, sites like yours, Heidi - beautiful food, beautifully presented - who could fail to want to eat like that? Inspirational.

Then a dear friend has patiently talked me through many dishes (on the 'phone) and her mental perception of what I am actually doing is miraculous - she's saved me from many a disaster, just by being so au fait with cooking. She's a fantastic teacher - patient, kind, perceptive, intuitive. I owe her a lot.

The internet (naturally!) has been a fantastic source of knowledge, but particularly the video demonstrations. They have turned that blah blah jumble of words known as a 'recipe' into something that actually MEANS something to me. They have been very inspirational too.

Sadly, my huge bete noir is still "The Cookbook..." They just leave me cold, I'm afraid -at the moment that is. I hope that as my knowledge and skills (ha ha ha!) improve, they may actually come to mean something to me. And on that note, I have just purchased two fabulous books on Indian food (which I utterly ADORE) -The Curry Secret: Indian Restaurant Cookery at Home by Kris Dhillon, and The Curry Book by Laxmi Khurana. Both are very cheaply available from Amazon and are fantastic; a friend has them. I can't wait to try them out. Maybe this will be how I come to accept "The Cookbook"??

So there we have it... I AM cooking; cooking REAL meals; 'enjoying it' is maybe too extreme a term, but I'm not disliking it as much as I anticipated, so that's a good start.

The only message I have for those sad individuals who find themselves in my shoes is - try to use a knowledgeable friend/friends for help/inspiration/advice; watch the internet video demonstrations; take 'inspiration', not 'aspiration', from cooks like Heidi; don't be too ambitious to start with; and take heart that there are others out there just like you. And a sincere, heartfelt "Thank you" to everyone who took the time to encourage me. Because it worked!

Barry, The Unwillling Cook

Here's is Barry's original letter and the comments that followed.

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Hi Heidi, thanks for the update. This was a very enjoyable read. Barry - I wish you had a foodblog so I could read about your cooking experiences. I just love your writing and sense of humour. And wow a creme brulée! Now we're talking. Love - fanny


Bravo Barry!!!! This is such a great story, and I may say this is the perfect illustration that cooking with love and interest is something everyone can do!


Congrats Barry, I wish my grandpa would start cooking again - he used to cook all the time. Now that my grandma has passed away, he practically lives at mcdonalds except for when he comes over to our house for dinner. Also, I just had to commend on the pic of the peas - so clever to use the unthawed in the first post & the thawed in todays post :-)


Well done Barry. Now could you come over to NZ and teach my husband to cook.


Here's the 'Corned Beef Hash' recipe for Max, and for anyone else who needs a 'gutbuster' of a meal after a hard day's work in the garden... CORNED BEEF HASH (Serves 2) 4 medium sized red potatoes 1 ounce Butter Milk (a small amount) Salt and Pepper to taste (!) ½ lb Corned beef Firstly, thou shalt prepare thy mashed potatoes… Peel and cut potatoes into similar-sized chunks. Rinse well (to remove excess starch) then place in a saucepan of boiling, salted water for 20 minutes-ish (until cooked so that a pointed knife will slide into the potato easily). Drain well, then mash with butter and sufficient milk to make creamy. Add black pepper. Then… crumble-in chunks of corned beef, and gently mix-in with a wooden spoon. Turn into an oven-proof dish, and mark the top with a fork, creating ‘peaks and troughs’ in the surface. Place under hot grille until golden brown. I adore this served with lashings of tomato or brown sauce, but a beefy gravy can also be nice too. Baked beans make the perfect accompaniment to this unsophisticated, but utterly gorgeous, simple meal. Note: Corned beef can be substituted with cheese (a good strong Cheddar) to produce ‘Cheesy-mash’ – but sprinkle some more grated cheese and sliced tomato on top before placing under the grille. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

Barry, the 'Unwilling Cook'

Congrats to Barry!!!! How wonderful..the recipes sound fantastic!! I wish you lived closer, I'd let you cook for me...LOL!!


Where can I get the corned beef hash recipe!!?

Max Drown

Barry should go see Ratatouille too! :) Heidi, thanks for posting a happy ending!


David, you took the words from my mouth.... :-) I have an intuition that his next post will be with great news on a very personal level! Barry, congrats! I am definitely impressed and wish my 24 year old stepson could be "contaminated" by your attitude!


What a wonderful story! And good for Barry! It had to be a bit scary to start, and extremely satisfying, he can eat!


I'm impressed that you were tackling creme brulee at such an early stage! It is a lot easier than people make it out to be, but it uses specialized equipment and techniques that I could see as being scary to a new cook. At this rate you'll be making croquembouches in a couple months.


Oh Heidi, this is just such a great story. Thanks for the update. (And I can imagine the people who aren't cooks hearing this and saying, so he cooked something, what's the big deal?)


You sound like me when I first started cooking independently, i.e. moved to school from home. The joy of cooking simple things and seeing them convert from ingredients to satisfying meals is quite something!


Thanks for the update!


Congrats Barry. Try out these incredible recipes and step-by-step HD video demonstrations for information and techniques at Happy cooking!!!

Kimberley Slobodian

You are really brave Barry to take on Crème Brulee knowing that just a few months ago you were stranger to anything that has to do with cooking.


Sounds like Barry's not going to remain newly-single for very long!


What an enjoyable read! Not only has Barry grown leaps and bounds but he did it with such a great attitude. And he taught me a thing or two with his "au fait" and "bete noir". I'll be throwing those around soon enough.


As a new reader, I was previously unaware of the Saga of the Unwilling Cook. What a great story. I would suggest Julia Child, of course, for anyone who wants a cookbook with both recipes that work, and that one would want to make in the first place. I have yet to peruse "The French Chef," but I really recommend "The Way to Cook," as it shows one how to do the simple things well, as well as more challenging items that proficiency with the basics will embolden one to try.


Good for you, Barry! Now YOU are an inspiration too! Keep at it and I hope that with time cooking will become enjoyable for you, perhaps even a passion.


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