Andy Baraghani is, by his own admission, prone to changing his mind. The 32-year-old chef and food editor revised the title of his debut cookbook multiple times. Initially certain he wanted a sleek one- or two- word title, ultimately he found himself diverting course. When he finally jotted down the project’s much longer eventual title, it was personal and ambitious, and it would change again, slightly, one final time.
The Cook You Want to Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress was born from a good deal of self-reflection and culinary experience both traditional and atypical. At its core, it is a work that embraces a curious mind, as well as an inquisitive palette.
“I don’t want people to just make the recipes because they’re good,” says Baraghani of his book. “I want people to become better cooks and be more curious about a dish or the ingredients.” Baraghani’s route to writing this cookbook has been circuitous. He grew up in the Bay Area of San Francisco, the first-generation American son of Iranian-born parents.
As a child, he was enamoured of PBS chefs like Jacques Pépin, Julia Child, and Martin Yan. His home was filled with traditional Iranian food and his family did not often eat out. Yet he was aware from an early age that he was within the geographical orbit of Alice Waters’s renowned culinary institution Chez Panisse, and at 16, he walked in and talked his way into a kitchen job prepping onions. “It was a full sensory education and I don’t think we as people get to experience that a lot,” says Baraghani. “It was very unique. It wasn’t just ‘This is how you cut an onion,’ it was ‘This is why you cut an onion this way. This is the way things should smell. This is where it comes from.’ Little things like that, which I found very satisfying.”
Yet Baraghani’s time at Chez Panisse and other restaurants did not lead him to culinary school. Instead, he pursued a degree at New York University in cultural anthropology and food studies, during which time he got an internship in the test kitchen of Saveur, which led to further work at the magazine. Baraghani was crucial to the publication’s first post-revolution profile of Iranian cuisine—despite the fact that Baraghani, up to that point, hadn’t wanted to immerse himself professionally in the foods he grew up eating. However, restaurant kitchens lured him back once more, and he spent time at chef Ignacio Mattos’s Estela in New York—among other eateries—before again diverting to food media, eventually ending up as senior food editor at Bon Appétit. Here, too, he felt initially unsure and plagued by self-doubt, and he was ready to quit after the first year due to his anxiety, but he pressed forward into a steep learning curve.
“I am fuelled by a bit of fear, which I actually don’t think is a terrible thing,” says Baraghani. “It can take you to a place where you’re drowning with imposter syndrome—which has happened—but it also pushes you and gives you that extra jolt. And I think one of my greatest fears is to become stagnant in anything.” This discomfort was especially present when, while at Bon Appétit, he reluctantly put himself in the spotlight and wrote a seminal article about how food and food spaces were a refuge from intolerance for him, and were crucial in his journey to self-acceptance as a gay Iranian–American. The article proved to be the germinating seeds for the larger undertaking of his own cookbook.
The Cook You Want to Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress incorporates what Baraghani has learned from his various pivots between restaurants and food media, as well as his culinary travels. The book is thoughtfully designed and feels intimate, centring simple flavour-punching dishes that allow readers to try some new techniques and expand their ingredient vocabulary. It is both approachable and appetite-inducing. Crispy chickpea bowls with lemony yogurt and chili-stained fried eggs, anyone? Or perhaps some glossy barbecued eggplant with peanut salad?
The original title Baraghani jotted down for his book was The Cook I Want to Be, because it felt like such a personal compilation. “That change [in the title] from the ‘I’ to the ‘You’ was extending my hand,” he says. “It was an invitation to the reader. You’re starting to really just cook, and I’m right there with you.”