In “Ratatouille,” Chef Gusteau writes a cookbook that proclaims that anyone can cook, even Remy, the rat.
No Thyme To Cook owner Gwyn Novak has done the same in real life after she recently released her cookbook titled “How to Cook for Beginners.”
“It’s really cool, and it’s been a bucket list dream of mine to be an author,” Novak said. “I’d always kicked myself for not doing that [sooner].”
The 171-page book – which the subhead says is “an easy cookbook for learning the basics” — contains 49 of Novak’s own recipes.
“We get a lot of people who are comfortable with cooking,” Novak said, referring to her Solomons Island-based cooking studio. “But we also get a lot of people who are intimidated by it or are embarrassed to say I don’t know or are embarrassed to ask, so I think this is a great resource to read at home.”
Novak also has chapters such as Welcome to Your Kitchen, Measuring + Mixing, and Knife Skills.
In a news release, John Shields, the author of “Chesapeake Bay Cooking” and host of the PBS series by the same name, says, “this book would make Julia Child smile.”
Michelin-starred chef and owner-chef of 10 restaurants Robert Wiedmaier says that “for anyone who wants to make entertaining at home less stressful and more fun, or just get something delicious on the table more easily on those crazy busy midweek nights, she’s the companion you need.”
But it’s not just famous chefs and television stars who are high on the book.
“It is attainable for the new cook and it’s understandable,” said Carolyn Hart, who has known Novak for four years and who owns Patuxent Wine and Spirits in Lusby with her husband, Commissioner Mike Hart. “I really can’t cook, so I think this book was made for me.”
Novak patiently teaches the basics and then concludes each session with a “Now You Try It” recipe, which gives the reader a chance to try what they just learned.
“I can understand by reading or hearing, but I learn by doing,” Novak explained. “That’s when it clicks for me, and I think a lot of people are like that.”
Novak lists recipes for breakfast (orange-spiced French toast), snacks and small bites (sweet and spicy popcorn), salads and veggies (roasted sweet potato fries), main dishes (maple-roasted pork tenderloin and apples) and desserts (chocolate-chipotle brownies). Each also comes with a list of utensils needed, tips and tricks (cook bacon in a cold pan, so it doesn’t curl) and range from simple (smoothies) to complex (oven-roasted chicken.)
“It’s for the everyday cook,” said Hart, who has made four of the recipes so far. “I don’t have five hours to make a dish, so I just love the fact you can do this at the last minute and it doesn’t look like [it’s last minute.]”
Novak said the biggest mistake people make when cooking is not using the correct seasonings.
“People are afraid to add too much,” she said. “I’ll tell people to salt something, and they grab this minuscule amount, and I’ll say, ‘OK, now times that by eight.’ And there’s so many herbs and spices it’s overwhelming.”
While working part-time, she started watching cooking shows with chefs Julia Child and Jacques Pépin, which she said “was a stress relief for me.” That triggered a career change, so after majoring in culinary arts at Baltimore International College (now Stratford University), she took a job as a line cook at the Penwick House in Owings, which “taught me how to think three steps ahead.”
Ironically, Novak was 2/3 of the way through her book when she was contacted in March by a publishing company.
“I thought [the email] was a joke, so I almost deleted it,” she said. “But they seek out authors, and they were looking for someone to write a cookbook for beginners.”
The company also wanted the book in six weeks.
“I thought, ‘Let’s just rip the Band-Aid off and do this,’” said Novak, who wrote for four hours each day. “I thought it was too crazy to pass up, and it was the kick in the pants I needed.”
“How to Cook for Beginners” is available at amazon.com, Target and at No Thyme to Cook in Solomons.