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Guy Gourmet: Cooking is a sport, full-flavored food the reward

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Updated: September 13, 2011 12:28AM

What you might not have realized yet, if you are a guy, is that you own the kitchen.

That utilitarian and yet sometimes mythic room in your home that you pass through on your way from hankering to satiation? It harbors so many of the things that you love — machines, tools, science, alchemy, danger and food — it’s hard to believe you have not figured this out for yourself yet. You own it.

For eons, the world’s greatest restaurant chefs have been mostly men, and the cooking duties at home have been handled mostly by women. That has changed. Men work the stove now as much for sport as a way to feed their families, or themselves.

Now is the time of guy food, friends.

“I think it’s not a made-up trend,” says Ryan D’Agostino, the articles and food editor of Esquire magazine. “I think it’s really happening. Guys cook now for pleasure and recreation, not just for hunger.”

Drawing from its award-winning food coverage, Esquire has just released its version of a guy cookbook, Esquire Eat Like a Man (Chronicle Books, $30), featuring more than 100 recipes from the country’s most renowned chefs, essays from the magazine’s cadre of writers and tips on wine and spirits, oysters, cheese, coffee, entertaining, grilling and a bunch of other stuff.

The book is peppered with wisdom from professional chefs and glossy four-color photography, because, as everyone knows, men are visual. Men also like to get to it.

“We approached the readers of this book not as men who are scared or feel the need to be addressed as dudes with a can opener,” says D’Agostino, the book’s editor. “Men like to have the confidence and knowledge it takes to fix a car or wire a lamp or lay a patio or chop wood. We like tangible results.

“When you cook and you have a meal, it’s like that same moment of satisfaction you get after you’ve chopped up a tree all afternoon. You have a pile of wood or, in this case, you have a pot of meat sauce.”

Healthy but flavorful

Alas, sometimes, when guys are in charge, nutritional concerns get ignored.

Fortunately, Men’s Health is in the guy food game, too. The magazine recently released a book that is as much a reference for healthy eating as it is a recipe book.

With recipes for “100 of the Healthiest Meals on the Planet” and a couple hundred other pages on nutrition — again, with color photographs — The Men’s Health Big Book of Food & Nutrition ($26.99, Rodale) offers at-a-glance information on calories, fat, carbs and other crucial stats for everything from artichokes to watercress.

In between is salami, steak, sour cream and all kinds of other ingredients to balance out the fruits, veggies and grains. The book is a treatise on how to make healthy choices and still enjoy chowing down.

In support of the book, and to celebrate the summer grilling season, Men’s Health is maintaining a food blog called “Guy Gourmet” in which a recipe from a renowned chef is posted every Friday for 10 weeks. Healthy is good, as long as there is flavor to back it up.

Chicagoan Russ Klettke was preaching the importance of healthy eating among men long before the era of guy food arrived. His book on the subject was released in 2004. In it, he talked about the importance of avoiding high-fructose corn syrup, among other simple ways to lose weight. It was a novel concept back then, but it is almost a given today.

Another of his weight-loss suggestions: Cook at home.

Non-cooking men, mostly single and on the younger side, have relied on processed foods through the years, and it shows. The fat, sugar and salt that keep those foods alive tends to bulge the waistline and the cheeks.

A Guy’s Gotta Eat: The Regular Guy’s Guide to Eating Smart by Klettke with Deanna Conte (Marlowe & Company, with a second printing by DeCapo, $15.95) offers fellas processed-food alternatives, and simple rules to follow. It has recipes, too, including roasted beer-can chicken.

“Nothing’s verboten,” says Klettke, a freelance writer and certified fitness trainer who grows lettuce, beans, Swiss chard, tomatoes and oregano in the backyard of his North Side home. “When my book came out, everyone was talking about the Atkins Diet, and low-carb, and cutting out certain categories. No one likes that and it doesn’t work. Don’t think of being on a diet. Just think about enjoying your food, but go about it with some skill.”

The recipes in Esquire Eat Like a Man are not “healthy” per se, but as Klettke sees it, as long as men are being encouraged to cook, it’s a step in the right direction.

“There’s a victory in that,” Klettke says. “If you make your food at home, chances are it’s going to be healthier than if you eat something outside of your house.”

Mastering the craft

That’s a nice little benefit to cooking at home, but what Esquire is trying to impart, and what so many guys are finally becoming consciously aware of, is that men eat differently than women. With guy food, flavor is paramount. In guy food cooking, it’s all about the process — the mastering.

The recipes in Esquire Eat Like a Man were chosen primarily for their deliciousness — more foodie than fitness — but they also were designed in accordance with the pursuit of the cooking craft.

You cook these recipes and you learn, you master, you thrive in that place that you own — that wonderful room that you have been spending more time in lately. The better we get, the more we want to do it. We like it when work is fun.

Cooking is supposed to be fun. When you are cooking in your kitchen, on your time and your terms, it should be nothing short of a party with iron and fire.

This is why Esquire Eat Like a Man lists “music player and speakers” between “grater” and “meat thermometer” in its purposely abbreviated list of “Some Tools You’ll Need.” Certain tools are essential, others are superfluous. Crank the tunes while you cook, and pour yourself a glass of wine (or beer if you are too much of a guy for wine).

With every recipe in the Esquire book, you’ll learn a skill that will help you pull off yet another recipe — each categorized as “Easy,” “Reasonable” or “Worth the Effort” (most fall under “Easy” on purpose).

“We’re saying ‘Here’s the basic techniques you need,’ ” says D’Agostino, who learned to cook from cookbooks. “We’re not tying anything up in cheesecloths. There are no food mills, no sous vide. Yet, we hope that men will push their boundaries a little bit.”

Say you flip open the Esquire book and tackle the classic French ham and cheese sandwich, croque monsieur. You’ll be doing more than just slapping some filling between two slices of bread. For one thing, you’ll bake the sandwich for five minutes, then slip it under a broiler for another three.

But before that, you’ll need to make a bechamel sauce. You’re a guy, you love the idea of a sauce — that’s not even debatable. Bechamel is a velvety milk-based potion, one of the four “mother sauces” and a foundation of French cooking, which is to say the best cooking the Western world knows. You learn the mother sauces, you can make every sauce known to man.

Knock out the croque monsieur (the recipe makes two, so invite a friend), and you’ll be afforded the pleasure of eating one of the best ham-and-cheese sandwiches of your life. You’ll also be able to check off one of the mother sauces.

One down, three to go. Boom — you’re on your way.

Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer.

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