With early copies of The Ancestral Table making their way into the hands of media and reviewers this week and next, I’ve been getting a little reflective lately. More than once during some recent marathon email sessions, I’ve had to remind myself of why I wrote this book in the first place (hint: it wasn’t to get more emails). After sitting down to think about it more than a few times, I thought you might be interested to hear why I wrote my cookbook.
2010 vs. 2011
1. To help you on your journey to better health.
My own path to healthy eating was quite the adventure, filled with nasty stuff like strokes, autoimmune diseases, and open-heart surgeries (full story here). I hope that people who have traveled a similar medical path will find relief by cooking through my book. At the same time, I hope that perfectly healthy folks will be able to prevent adverse health events through my recipes!
The simple fact is that while it didn’t totally cure me, changing the way I ate had an immediate, profound impact on my life and I feel that mine is a story worth sharing.
Moreover, it appears that obesity and health issues related to diet aren’t going away any time soon. I hope to contribute to a growing movement where we take control of our health in the cheapest, most satisfying way possible – through our stomachs.
Chili Con Carne, Pesce al Sale
2. To show you that Paleo is more about what you can eat than what you can’t.
It appears that the more attention that Paleo gets, the more quickly people dismiss the diet, for various reasons. One of the main reasons is that the diet is “too restrictive.” I disagree, and this cookbook was written with variety in mind. I chose a balance of classic favorites and new tastes to showcases the rich, delicious variety of foods you can eat within the Paleo template. Yes, even without bread.
As I’ve mentioned before, The Ancestral Table pushes the boundaries of typical Paleo books by offering some “gray-area foods” like white rice, potatoes, and some forms of dairy. I provide an in-depth reasoning for why I included these items in the book, but here’s a quick gist:
– Despite common Paleo biases against these foods (for example, white rice is often denounced for containing anti-nutrients, but it actually has a lower anti-nutrient profile than common Paleo foods like coconuts and almonds), they can possibly add variety and depth of flavor to dishes with no adverse health effects.
– Every individual is different, and if these foods are well-tolerated, they can be a part of a balanced, sustainable approach to eating that never gets boring.
My belief is that if you’ve already tried a strict Paleo approach, or aren’t ready to jump into the movement head-first, these foods are excellent additions to your diet. The book also contains a handy guide for anyone looking to convert my recipes to a more conventional interpretation of Paleo.
Butter Chicken, Borscht
3. To bring traditional recipes to the forefront of your kitchen.
Regular readers of this blog know that I champion traditional recipes, those which have been passed down over the years to new generations. Humans have been cooking for thousands of years (some estimate as far back as 1.6 million years), and we’ve learned a lot along the way. Rather than come up with a bunch of brand new creations, I picked over 100 of my favorite traditional recipes and redeveloped them to fit an ancestral template.
Like for many of the recipes on this site, I researched each dish to find the most common traditional preparation and updated or simplified it to make it doable for any home chef. Each recipe is accompanied by a history of the dish.
Roasted Root Vegetables, Seafood Paella
4. To help you become a more confident home chef.
I started cooking nearly 20 years ago, and haven’t looked back since. Along the way, I’ve learned a few vital techniques that have enabled me to create meals that are consistently delicious. I hope to impart some of this knowledge to you through The Ancestral Table. While there are a ton of simple, quick recipes in this book (over half of them can be made in less than an hour), there are quite a few culinary challenges as well, with very few shortcuts. That isn’t meant to deter you from buying the book, but rather deliver on a promise that if you cook through this book, you’ll come out a better chef.
When writing the book, I felt it was more important to provide you with the reasoning behind making certain dishes, as well as variations, instead of making you feel tethered to one specific recipe. For example, you won’t find a dozen roasted vegetables recipes in the book; you’ll find one, with ideas for how to use this technique with different vegetables. This template-style approach to cooking is very important to me; instead of teaching you to cook fish, I teach you how to fish. Well, that’s a bad analogy, since I do actually teach you how to cook fish. But you get my point.
Additionally, many of the dishes are thematically linked. So instead of making just Southern Fried Chicken, you can make a whole meal that includes Meaty Collard Greens and Dirty Rice to accompany your chicken.
5. To have a physical reference for our own kitchen.
Okay, this reason is purely selfish. We really wanted to have a physical book to use as a reference when making my dishes (yes, I don’t have every little thing about each recipe memorized!). I figured if I wanted a physical copy for myself, there were other people out there that wanted one, too.