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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Dear Barry, you are such a good writer! What can I say about this little twist on your story? Things has just become even more interesting. Now we have the big question... Will the unwilling cook go further and try the real "Crème Brulee"? I can't wait to read about your next adventure... :) Best wishes from Brazil, Rosana


Barry: Congratulations on all of your accomplishments "faux" brulees and all. I think it's fantastic that you have this "delightful little dish" in your repetoire and you enjoy eating and making it. I believe to brulee means to burn so your caramalization of the sugar is a brulee (although you didn't bother to go through all of the trouble of making a traditional "creme") I congratulate you all the same. Welcome to the club.


Oh dear! What am I to do? It has been revealed to me that I am a FRAUD... a CHEAT... and a LIAR, no less! Albeit unintentionally, as I shall explain... There I was, proclaiming to all and sundry how well I was doing as a budding cook, swanking to you all about my newly-found skills, and stunning you all with tales of how I made my 'creme brulees'... except that I wasn't! It has been revealed to me that I did no such thing. Although I've always called them 'creme brulees', in reality what I made are just a 'poor man's version' - not 'creme brulees' at all! 'Creme brulee' (as you are probably very well aware) is a technique-ridden dish involving loads of egg yolks, cream, vanilla and hours of skill in the creating. I've only just discovered this! My version is made as follows, and you'll see that an arthritic, one-armed monkey could make it... Ingredients:- Sufficient Greek yoghurt to half fill the ramekin dishes you require. You could possibly use creme fraiche or similar? Ratafia biscuits (or similar almond biscuits). Fresh fruit (strawberries are best, raspberries or other small berries are very nice, but I suppose even tinned, drained tangerine/mandarin oranges would be nice). Brown sugar (I don't know if different varieties will make that much difference - I am a beginner you know!). Technique:- Coarsely crumble the biscuits into the bottom quarter of the ramekins. Slice the strawberries and lay on the biscuit base. (Lay any other fruit as appropriate). Cover the fruit with the Greek yoghurt. Chill in refrigerator. When ready to serve, remove the ramekins from the refrigerator; completely cover the yoghurt with the sugar to a depth of about 1/4", then caramelise the sugar with a kitchen blowtorch or by placing under a very hot grille. Be careful not to to carbonise the sugar!! Serve when the sugar has set hard (place in refrigerator for a short while??) So there we have it. I could no more make a real 'creme brulee' than fly in the air, and having read a recipe for it, I am full of admiration for the skill and patience of those who can. I can only apologise for having made a genuine error, and I hope I have made amends by providing the recipe for a delightful little dish, that's easy to make and utterly, utterly gorgeous. I give you (for want of a better name) the Unwilling Cook's "Faux brulee"! Perhaps some of you already know this dish and the proper name? I am now in sackcloth and ashes, and can well-understand Rose, Caroline, Fanny and Rosana being stunned at thinking I had 'creme brulee'd'. My sincerest apologies to one and all - I had no intention to mislead. Right... back to making another batch of my famous "Faux brulees".... :-) Best wishes, Barry

Barry the Unwilling Cook

Thank you all again for your kind comments. But especially a sincere "Thank you" to Heidi for being the catalyst for this journey of mine - her response to my initial, totally-off-the-cuff email was extremely kind and prompted everything that followed. I would love to reply to you all individually (I started to at the beginning) but it's an impossible task. Just know that it's great to be part of such a kind, generous 'community'. I'm a member of it now... because I cook!! xxx

Barry The Unwilling Cook

Barry - you are a man of many talents. You not only inspired many with your cooking skills but also on how to write the tale... Oh yea and I love all those French words you were throwing around.... Au Fait, Bene Noir! ~ Well done. As a man in my 50's I know that there is still hope. Where is the kitchen again? :)


Whouldn't it be even more injoyable to cook for two? For: Barry the unwilling cook


Barry, that corned beef hash sounds absolutely decadent, and I will be trying it soon. We(my husband and I) have brunch at Thanksgiving, and I have a feeling that I have just added something new to the buffet. May I suggest a cook book to get your feet wet? Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food" is a pared down, casual approach to food and the science thereof. He also approaches cooking with a sense of humor that you may find engaging. :)


Aww, bless you, With this attitude, you'd have a site like Heidi's...and be a fellow foodie in no time!


Barry, congratulations on your new found success! Your story is inspirational, and reminds us foodies not to take the giving of directions (on cooking) for granted. And did I mention your writing is marvellous? Love your take on things and your sense of humour! All the best!


When do we get the TV-series "The Unwilling Cook"!? Or the book? I'm just waiting to hear the next sequel in the story of the man who became the beloved of the media and cooking communities everywhere... Go get 'em, Barry :D


I have to second the Julia Child Nomination--Barry, you might find her a kindred spirit! She didn't start cooking until well into her life, and always had a wonderful, casual attitude about good food. Her book "The Way To Cook" is a great buy, and will give you a ton of basic dishes that will teach a full spread of cooking skills. Congratulations!


Congratulations Barry, Your story is such an inspiration. I love cooking as well as cookbooks, and there's one book I have to recommend: 'Cook's Companion' by Carole Clements. (ISBN 1-84309-268-9). The recipes are ok, but the best feature is that it gives you a photo illustrated step-by-step on how to handle and prepare each food category. Extremely helpful when you decide to venture into unknown territories. Best of luck to you. And Heidi, you're a dream.. Congratulations on your site and books.


Wow barry, at ur age its really commendable.... u have inspired me as well... n hey u like Indian food... maybe we can exchange recipes... will give u some amazing french recipes... neways cheers !! happy posting !!


BRAVO Barry! Not only do you have a new daily hobby, you seem to have enlarged your world with the sociability of sharing food together, whether it's in the preparation with tips from your dear friend to sharing one of your new found skills with your family and now with your virtual friends.


For Graeme from above who is seeking online cooking demos. Check out this blog: She has a few cooking demos that are really great. Best of luck


Well done, Barry! You can literally hear the ovations from this gallery. Like others, I have been wondering how you (Barry) have gotten on. I expected simple casseroles and stews, but creme brulee?? Awesome. Don't worry about the dreaded Cookbook. I've been a cookbook reader for years, but never really trying out anything and yes, they can be quite intimidating. But then something clicked inside my head and now, it's tough deciding what to cook. Heidi, doesn't it feel so great to know that you made a real impact?


Oh my, congratulations! You've taken quite a few big steps there, Barry. :) I hope everything continues to go well for you so that you may expand your culinary horizons by leaps and bounds!


Barry, it has been a true joy to read of your "journey" and your delightful sucess! Wow, Huzzah, and good on ya! Give some thought to KathyF's (and i believe Amy's) suggestion of turning this into a book. You absolutely have a very readable style and humor. As for using cookbooks, I used to feel the same until i just started reading them straight through like mystery novels or "travel guides" if you will! A lovely way to visit say.. France, or Asia, or Latin America. By the finish you have a general understanding of that cuisine and handy guides (recipes) to boot! I promise by the end of the first one you will have a clear understanding of all the basics. You are Amazing! Bon Appétit!


Well done. I'm firmly of the opinion that there's a market for recipe books with DVD's inside them of all the recipes. If I buy a recipe book from a cooking show it would be great to rewatch the techniques, and for regular cookboks it would be a great way to cook and learn. I've not come across too many of the online cooking videos but I just checked out above. Any other suggestions?


Congratulations Barry! That must be a great feeling to go from not cooking to preparing well received meals for friends in just a couple of months. Do you feel ready yet to start improvising a bit? Now that you have some basic skills, you can take time to reflect on each dish you make and think "would this be better a little spicier? what if I used tarragon instead of basil? did it need a splash of lemon or lime at the end to wake it up?". The beautiful thing about cooking is that you can make these kinds of adjustments and I guarantee you that you won't ruin anything. Pretty soon you might find yourself inventing recipes and improvising freely, and that is another experience of joy! Michael Natkin

Michael Natkin

Yay Barry, that is wonderful news!! Congrats and keep up the great work!!


Its so amazing to read about someone journeying into the food unknown. I often wonder if many people of a certain age, gender and generation are steered away from things they may have really enjoyed just because of the prevailing social customs of the times. After 15 years of marriage, my father took over as the head cook of the household, and both my parents couldn't be happier now that they've reached 25 years! Congratulations Barry and welcome to the world of wonderful food discoveries! B


To the Unwilling Cook - I think you should journal your food chronicles and then publish them! There are many willing and "unwilling cooks" that might appreciate your adventures. May I suggest Joy of Cooking as a must have cookbook. There are no fancy color pictures, just basic recipes with that I have yet to fail at. Glad to hear that you are falling in love with the kitchen! BON APPETIT!


YEAH!!! Barry! This was the first time I had ever posted anything in a blog. It was the first time I had something "usefull" to add and felt Like I might make a difference to a real person via the web. I have often wondered how things turned out for you. I had images of a bitter man suffering with his toasted cheese sandwhichs. Too thrilled for you. well on your way to "Chef Barry". Keep at it!!!! FOOD IS LIFE


Wonderful Barry! I've thought about you often and I'm so pleased to hear you are doing well. You are a shining example for anyone who is faced with a challenge: you faced your fear and conquered it. I hope we hear more from you! Thank you Heidi for sharing Barry's story. Ellen ps: I LOVE checking out 101cookbooks from my iPhone! Totally fab!

Ellen Tupman

whatever about the cooking, his writing is gorgeous! perhaps we have a budding food blogger in our midst? =)


how rad, iwas wondering about this bloke getting on the other day


The best way to learn how to cook, I think, is to visit the farmer's market every week and just bring home anything that looks nice. Certainly the farmer (and other shoppers) are always eager to give you their recipe, and for anything else, you can just visit food blogs and cookbooks. Cheers!

almost vegetarian

What a great story...and very well told, too. Thank you, Sir, for sharing an update. I was hoping to hear how your adventure was going. Do tell if you get your own cooking adventure blog. And thank you, Heidi, for sharing with us. Your site is always so beautiful and refreshing.


I am so happy you have found your place in the kitchen..I too have been lost. I have been a wife & mom, cooking for over 13 years and have hit a serious wall. I look at the butcher counter and have a "Duhh" look on my face. I went to a place by me and I go in, prepare main courses and then freeze them and then let them thaw and *poof* a resturant quality meal! It costs (for me) less as if I purchased these ingredients at the store! Burbon BBQ Chicken!! DELISH! I will be going back. What would I do with the rest of the burbon? I don't drink, so this is a great option for me. Great job Berry..It's nice to know there is hope!..even for me.. :0)


Congratulations Barry! What a wonderful attitude about cooking. Thank you for sharing Heidi.


Huzzah! If there's hope for Barry, there's hope for me. Well done!


Hooray for Barry! I was hoping we'd get a follow-up to his original letter. Please keep checking in!


Heidi - Great post. Years ago my wife, Cindy, had a co-worker who couldn't boil water, and her husband had no interest in cooking, so they always ate out. My wife put together some simple recipes for them to try out and voila! They got hooked on cooking and after some time invited us over for one of the best meals we ever had. And, Barry, you go get 'em.


It's great to know that the unwilling cook is now a person who enjoys cooking.


Wow! I am so impressed Barry! I only wish I could get my dad to do the same. Great attitude not to mention the impressive list of dishes. Well done. Niamh


How good is this? I am happy to hear about Barry's accomplishments because just the other day I was wondering how he was doing. Congratulations, Barry, we are all still rooting for you. Please continue to keep us posted on your kitchen exploits. And thanks, Heidi, for letting us all in on this great story.


Hey, Barry ... if ever you visit Brisbane, Australia, here's the deal: free accommodation and sightseeing in exchange for your wit and cooking accomplishments ... what say ye ???


Wow! Congratulations, Barry! Sounds like a moreish weekend... The corned beef hash sounds especially marvellous, and I'll have to try it. I second (third? fouth?) the "Barry needs a blog and/or a cookbook" idea, as well... :)


Hey Barry, why don't you start a food blog yourself? :) You write really well - I enjoyed reading your e-mail and comment, and lauged out loud at the first sentence of your recipe (read back, people!)! I know this may sound like a crazy idea, but it's not that hard at all, and you don't need to post every day or sth! It's like having a notebook/file in which you jot your experiments down. I tend to write a note on how the recipe went, and i find it helps for when i cook it next time, or if i'll cook it next time. blogging is a bit like that, but it's great that you share your notes with everyone. i've learnt lots from other people's comments and experiences with various recipes. in any case, happy cooking!

Maninas: Food Matters

Isn't is great when a non-cook takes the bit between their teeth and gives it a go - and discovers it can be fun, creative, satisfying. Good on you, Barry. Move over Gordon Ramsay...

Pat Churchill

Go Barry! Is it the cooking that isn't "fun" yet, or is it the washing up? (I still don't like that part!)

Krista Jo

I can see a cookbook outta this. Barry's definitely got the writing skill to carry it off!


Bravo! I didn't leave a message on that first post b/c I came to it late. Am glad that all is working out so well. Enjoy the adventure!


Wow! There is no joy greater than seeing inspiration, Hats off to Barry for letting inspiration happen and wow to Heidi for sharing with Barry and with all of us.


Congrats Barry. You'll never be the odd one out at cooking the Christmas luncheon!

Jesse-Lee Stringer

What a great story! I felt the same way when I left home and started cooking for myself. Congrats Barry. Best wishes from Seoul. :-)


I've thought of Barry from time to time, and I'm chuffed to hear that he took everyone's advice to heart. What a great story :D


That's awesome Barry!!! I know from my experience that patient, knowledgeable friends who love to cook, are a total encouragement to my cooking endeavors. It's fun cooking for people who totally look forward to it.


what a marvellous story. if barry has a fear of cookbooks, i recommend nigel slater's "appetite" and "the kitchen diaries" which really demystify cooking -- and also promote cooking -- and eating -- as a simple and effortless but vey rewardign activity. nice to meet you barry, and keep us informed!


It makes me proud to be part of the cooking community when I see how positive, helpful, and non-judgmental fellow foodies, chefs, and home cooks can be. Food taste best seasoned with generosity!


Yayyyyy! Way to go Barry!!! Congrats!


Congratulations Barry! What a nice piece of reading! I loved it! Sweet and inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. My advice: if you are not enjoying that much yet, don't you worry about that. The more you learn, the more fun you have. My confession: I've been cooking for years and I've never cooked a Crème Brulee!!!! :D Best wishes from Brazil, Rosana ps.: sorry about my poor English


I think he is on his way to "enjoying" it, as words like "beautiful, creamy" and "distinctive Rioja slipped down" escaped when describing the meal! Truly great story. Thank you, Barry, for bringing us "seasoned" cooks back to our memories of our own humble beginings, or at least, mine.


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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