In April, Haven’s Kitchen founder, Alison Cayne, will publish her first cookbook, The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School, with Artisan / Workman. The book is written and designed to be a manual for home cooks using the Haven’s Kitchen philosophy of cooking: anyone can cook, they just need to build confidence through practice. The cookbook is written for cooks of all levels, but refuses to use words like “easy” and “simple.” The assumption is that everyone has the capacity to find their genius in cooking, and finding your genius sometimes means mastering “difficult dishes” like a 12-step recipe like beef bourguignon or frying up arancini.
Ali with Art Director Michelle Ishay and Photographer Con Poulos.
How did this project start? Did you envision there would be a cookbook when you opened Haven’s Kitchen?
Writing a cookbook to teach and inspire more people to cook was always in the back of my mind, but I had no idea that it would actually happen. Many of my favorite cookbooks are art directed by one of our regular guests, Michelle Ishay, who is the creative director at Artisan. She set up a meeting with the publisher, Lia Ronnen. Lia and I met a few more times to discuss what our goals were for the book, and what would set this one apart in the “how to cook” genre.
Excerpts from Ali’s inspiration board for the cookbook. The design and the concept of the cookbook as integral as the recipes.
What inspired the recipes in the cookbook?
Every recipe is meant to be a starting point for endless varieties and meals. They’re written to teach readers the skills, techniques, and fundamentals so that they can feel confident in the kitchen and start making the meals they want to eat. Of course, I’ve included some of my favorite go-to dishes like Pan-Roasted Chicken and Poached Pears, along with some favorites from our Haven’s Kitchen team and our guests, but they all teach the confidence of cooking.
How is this cookbook an extension of the cooking school?
My goal building Haven’s Kitchen was to create a cooking school for recreation: for home cooks and people who just wanted to make enjoyable food. Every decision we make comes back to the idea that the kitchen should be a safe, happy, creative place—a haven – not threatening or intimidating, not some far removed, sterile space of Instagrammable perfection. I think the cookbook takes our approach and philosophy and translates it into book form as best as we could.
Props for the photo shoot.
Who did you write this book for?
I think there are a lot of people out there who want to connect with cooking but have no idea where to start and need two basic things: clear, supportive instruction and attainable inspiration. They are willing to invest the time and energy into building up their skills because they know the reward is so amazing: nurturing meals, confidence, shared time with family and friends and a renewed connection with the environment and responsible agriculture.
What kinds of cooking techniques does the book focus on?
We included a vast array of flavor profiles from around the globe: There’s a nod to almost every regional cuisine you can think of. But no matter whether you’re cooking southern Indian or Argentinian food there are techniques that will help you make the process more efficient and delicious. Fundamentals like knife skills, composition, balance, building flavor and organization translate across cultures and cuisines and every good cook has internalized them.
Do you have a favorite recipe from the book?
That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. Even if I had one I wouldn’t say.
In the book, you often talk about “cooking with confidence,” what do you mean by that? How does someone “cook with confidence”?
I’ll give an example: Tonight I’m having ten people for dinner. I have two vegetarians and a few big meat eaters. It’s January so my vegetable choices are mostly root vegetables and winter greens. I’ve had a four of the guests before so I need to cook something new for them. That puzzle might sound overwhelming to some, but I am confident that I can prepare a few hearty vegetable and grain dishes, roast chickens, toss a gorgeous salad and prepare a sauce or two for drizzling that will work on any or all of it. That confidence, knowing that I have the skills and know-how to make those components of the meal without relying on recipes, and that I can get it done in two-three hours is what I hope our readers will eventually accomplish. That way, instead of being stressed about hosting a dinner, I am actually looking forward to the time I get to spend with my friends.
What are some things you learned while writing the cookbook?
I learned how much work goes into making one. There were a lot of people who put a lot of energy into making this book and it was amazing to be a part of such a collaborative, intense process.
Ali will be traveling throughout the U.S. starting in April. We hope to see you at one of our tour stops. Pre-order The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School.