Treating yourself well in the kitchen

Judith Jones on cooking for one

Created date

November 22nd, 2009

When Judith Jones first pulled Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the manuscript pile in 1960, she held in her hands the key to a new world of cuisine for Americans. Printed throughout its pages were recipes like fish dumplings (quenelles de brochet) and chicken breast with paprika, onions, and cream (Supremes de Volaille Archiduc) dishes just as much about artistry as they are about technique, and what s more, all of them accessible to the average home cook. A junior editor at Alfred A. Knopf Publishing at the time, Jones had found a book that took the mystery out of French cooking for the post-war population, which had awakened its taste buds to foods with creative depths extending beyond meatloaf or tuna casserole. Readers were primed for books filled not with sterile, formulaic recipes, but instead with pages that carried a voice stressing the importance of nurturing a meal to fruition and appreciating every step of the way. Over the next 50 years, Jones worked on dozens of books by Child and other chefs, including James Beard, that did just that. Now 85 and a senior editor and vice president at Knopf, she is continuing this tradition with her own book The Pleasures of Cooking for One (2009).

Cooking for one

After the loss of her husband, Evan, in 1996, Jones learned firsthand about the leap involved in adjusting to cooking for one s self, which she covered in a chapter of her food memoir The Tenth Muse (2007). Still, as she toured the country promoting the book, the public s response made it clear that such a topic demanded more than a single chapter. When I delivered readings and lectures, people who had read that section asked me if I knew of a good cookbook tailored to people who lived alone, and I had to admit that I did not, says Jones, who s also responsible for ushering into print The Diary of Anne Frank and works by Jean-Paul Sartre and John Updike.

An experience to savor

For Jones, cooking is a sensual experience that goes beyond the kitchen to incorporate the act of gathering ingredients and setting a table with candles and a nice glass of wine. In short, the entire process from start to finish is something to savor, even if you re the only one at the table. There s a definite therapeutic value to cooking for one s self, she says. Preparing a delicious meal that pleases your eyes and taste buds coupled with the sense of accomplishment that you get from it are both part of treating yourself well, especially if you ve suffered a loss. Jones wanted to change the way people view cooking for one, focusing heavily on the art and strategy that makes it fun. Over the course of a year, she spent hours in the kitchen, testing recipes and recording each step with a precision and clarity worthy of her former colleague, Julia Child. The fruit of her labor is a book that allows readers to create several meals from a single dish. For example, the broiled lamb with broiled new potatoes one night might be lamb and lentils on the second night. The supermarkets usually sell more than one person needs, so it occurred to me to do a book that gives readers ideas on how to turn one dish into two, she says. Maybe one has a Middle Eastern flavor and the other North African. You give the dishes different accents so you don t feel like you re eating the same thing over and over again. Herein lies the book s main virtue. In a day when fast food and instant gratification dominate the popular mindset, Jones encourages eating for enjoyment as much as for nourishment. Cooking for yourself is a great way to learn, she adds. If it doesn t turn out perfectly, you make a note of what to do differently next time. It s a creative process, and one that sort of forces us to eat mindfully. When you sit down at the table, you can feel good about what you ve created.