Steve Katz (far left in cap) attends a livestock exposition with his dad and sister in 1963.
Do you remember your dad’s special dish and the excitement you felt when he stepped into the kitchen? In my house, it was like magic. My dad put raisins in his lamb stew and custard in his cherry pie. He brought us pomegranates and kumquats. He made cinnamon toast in a pan with butter, dredged it with cinnamon and sugar, and then built little log cabins on our plates.
A friend tells this story about his father, who was a CPA by trade. Every Sunday after Mass, he would take off his suit jacket, roll up his sleeves, and go to work in the kitchen. The end result was the perfect pot roast, fall-apart tender and delicious, carefully surrounded by carrots and potatoes. Supposedly, this was to give their mother a break from cooking, but was something more involved?
Steve Katz, a lawyer and anthropologist turned food writer, thinks so. I met Steve at the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago last March. He was wearing a name tag that read “Man the Kitchen” and had sparked a conversation with a store owner from Texas, a pizza-stone manufacturer from Chicago, a pepper-grinder inventor, and a sales rep from New York. The Texan was summing up her newfound respect for her male customers: “They come in to buy, not browse, and they are buying for themselves—knives, tools, cookware, or equipment. . . . They are not just buying a skillet, they are buying the ability to succeed at making everything from French toast to fajitas.”
Steve, who is in the process of writing a book called Man the Kitchen, suggests that 20 years of food TV have altered our idea of the “traditional” American kitchen, which had been centered around the nurturing role of the mother. These days, men in the kitchen are as common as women in the boardroom. Food and cooking are familiar conversation topics among men and women of all ages. Steve says that it’s largely due to today’s seamless technology, making it possible for anyone to walk into the kitchen, click on a smartphone to find a recipe, and start cooking.
Research over the past decade suggests that roles in the kitchen have been shifting for some time. According to the American Time Use Survey published annually by the U.S. Department of Labor, a multigenerational kitchen brigade of men is cooking up a storm across America. Data collected from 2004 to 2014 show that men ages 15 to 55 are doing considerably more cooking. More specifically, men between the ages of 25 and 54 are doing upwards of 20 percent more cooking annually, while women in the same age range are prioritizing their free time away from the kitchen, only spending an increase of 1.2 percent on cooking.
Steve admits that he got a head start on the excitement of being in the kitchen. Raised in a family business of meat purveyors in Chicago, he followed his father into many restaurant and hotel kitchens and even got to miss school occasionally when his father took him to the Grand Champion Steer Auction at the International Livestock Exposition. Years later, in 1993, Steve kicked off 20 years of food writing and recipe development as a state semi-finalist for the National Beef Cook-Off. His recipe for Cowboy Steaks in a Skillet was featured in Bon Appetit’s Best Recipes of the Year collection.
Men are also doing more baking, Steve says. “The excitement over no-knead bread that started with Mark Bittman’s 2006 New York Times article led to so many guys making classic round artisan loaves at home that bread has become the new roast!”
The no-knead bread approach requires four dream steps for the home cook. First, mix a very wet, gloppy dough in a bowl, cover, and let it sit overnight on the counter. Second, place a cast iron pot in the oven and turn it up to a volcanic heat. Third, use welder’s gloves (and goggles if you like) to quickly remove the virtually molten pot from the oven, pour in the wet dough, cover, and return to the oven. Fourth, shortly before the bread is done, don the gloves to remove the cover in order to brown the loaf, and then face the ring of fire once again to remove the pot from the oven. A perfect introduction to breadmaking!
In addition to a growing number of men in the kitchen, guys are also spending more time buying groceries and equipment. The Food Shopping Report has found that since 2014, men are doing at least 43 percent of grocery shopping nationally.
As owner of the At Home Store in Fairfield, I’ve personally seen that many of the most dedicated cooks are men. Recently a male customer came in and noticed that we carry the De Buyer crepe pan. “I spent a long time searching for the best one, and this is it,” he said. “The one thing that I do well is crepes.” His final words were like a fortune cookie for men who cook: “The key to success in cooking is first, you have to have the right tools, and second, you have to have done it at least once before.” He learned this lesson from his cousin, a carpenter and plumber.
In my own family, my sons and nephews cook regularly. My son Miles told me, “I cook. I don’t know many men who don’t cook.” Last week, my nephew David sent me a photo of the brisket that he had prepared for family and friends on his birthday, and just recently, my son Skye’s wife Gyan texted me a photo: “First he built the kitchen, then he made the pizzas.”
Before this Father’s Day arrives, start talking with the men in your family about food and cooking. It just might be that the most fun gift you can give is an opportunity for sons and daughters to get together and cook with their dads, grandfathers, brothers, and uncles.
Rosie Witherspoon is the proprietor of the At Home Store in Fairfield, Iowa.