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February 16, 2007

Cooking With Criticism

I don't think this article is about what The New York Times thinks it is:

Yolanda Edwards was at a friend’s house in Brooklyn for dinner when the hostess asked her to pull out a pot for boiling pasta. Ms. Edwards froze. As her friend looked at her in disbelief, she said she was not up to the job.

“I used to think I was a good cook,” said Ms. Edwards, an editor at the parenting magazine Cookie. “But my husband’s a kitchen bully. He’s so critical, I second-guess myself now.”

The New York Times appears to believe they've written a sassy little piece about "alpha cooks" in marriages. But it's pretty clear they've actually uncovered a spate of deeply abusive relationships. When your criticism has so affected your wife that she falls into a comatose state of learned helplessness if asked to boil some water, that's not kitchen bossiness, it's emotional abuse. And look how much fun they seem to be having:

Abusive Cooks
"Kill me now," says Yolanda Edwards.

It gets better:

“I have no problem admitting that I’m an alpha,” said her husband, Matthew Hranek, a photographer. “Yolanda wouldn’t know a corked bottle of wine if you put it in front of her. When we met, she had four days’ worth of dishes in her sink, most of which had what looked like black bean on them. Ever since then, I’ve cooked for her.”

My, what a charmer. My wife is a moron who can't take care of herself, and I have no problem admitting it in a nationally-read newspaper. That better be some risotto justifying this jerk. Elsewhere:

Ms. Henry relayed [her husband's criticisms] — along with her feeling that she is expected to greet any meal he might make on an average weeknight with the equivalent of a marching band reception — with affection.

“It’s part of his charm,” she said. Like many betas, she seems to have made peace with her lower status. The only time bitterness crept into her voice was when she talked about the tasks her fiancé assigns her when she plays sous-chef.

“He’s like, ‘Great, yes, come cook with me.’ And then he gives me the take-the-chicken-out-of-the-package-and-rinse-it job,” she said.

That is charming! Meanwhile, the article's one bright spot comes here:

Suzanne Goin, the chef and owner of A.O.C. and Lucques in Los Angeles, is married to David Lentz, the chef and owner of the Hungry Cat in Hollywood. They are both alpha cooks, she said, but that has only been an issue on their nights off.

“In a professional kitchen you don’t really get your feelings hurt,” Ms. Goin said. “It’s a little different at home though. If David says, ‘Do you think this is a little salty?’ about something I made, I’ll be like: ‘No. Do you think it’s too salty? Maybe your palate’s off.’ ”

That's an awesome riposte. Don't like my food? There's something wrong with your mouth.

Update: And oh man. Look at this comment.

February 16, 2007 | Permalink


holy shit, this is fucked up. While I'm glad some men have decided to help around the house, they could probably do so without being complete dicks.

this level of badgering wreaks of controlling behavior, the cruelty of the words indicate a complete lack of respect for their target. Who talks to people they love like this. Who is pathetic enough to put up with this?

As for the last remark, no that's not cool. A mutually abusive relationship really isn't any healthier than one that isn't at all. Also, this isn't an invalid complaint. You don't leave any room for legitimate criticism. Salt content is a very personal preference and as such, it's wise to skimp on the salt for most dishes and people to adjust it to taste on their plates. There's a difference between "Oh my god, you suck!!!" and "My food is a little salty."

Posted by: soullite | Feb 16, 2007 9:26:13 AM

My husband is an alpha cook, although I wouldn't consider him abusive. He doesn't understand why people would follow recipes (which I do), since he thinks he knows enough to do things his own way. When I would cook, he'd constantly lecture me – "you don't have to do it that way" or "why are you adding that?". I finally had to ask him to leave the kitchen while I cook. At first I thought he was being critical of me, but I really believe he thought he was trying to help, or teach me.

He's a fantastic cook, blows me away with the food he makes. I'm really good at following recipes, doing minimal improvisation. I think they're two different things. I'm incapable of doing it his way, and he's incapable of doing it my way. I end up doing most all of the baking, which requires more measuring and precision than just whipping stuff up like he does. Both ways end up with great food, though, so it's all good IMO.

Posted by: Jumada | Feb 16, 2007 10:07:39 AM

These men are even a step below those who think they're heroes because they make grilled cheese for their kids once a week.

Posted by: Dissento | Feb 16, 2007 10:39:22 AM

Isn't this standard sitcom fare with the genders reversed? "My husband's a total doofus in the kitchen!" [canned laughter]

Posted by: digamma | Feb 16, 2007 10:46:46 AM

Well, mostly I'm the alpha cook in my marriage; when he cooks I have to hold my tongue or get out of the kitchen, instead of correcting a technique or turning the heat down if he overlooks it.

He follows recipes, and we're both improvisers; what he's not good at is understanding basic techniques and being able to judge the food as it cooks - is it done? is the fire hot enough or too hot? is this a dice or roughly chopped?

However, one difference is - when I cook by myself, I do everything, including the clean-up. When my husband cooks, he never cleans up after himself, but leaves it.

Posted by: g | Feb 16, 2007 10:51:16 AM

Alcohol, bitterness, cramped NYC apartment, cleavers and chef's knives. I smell a new reality series.

Posted by: Brian C.B. | Feb 16, 2007 10:51:57 AM

Thank you so much for writing about this article. It's encouraging to see that at least one man was as disturbed by the NYT's breezy treatment of such a disturbing topic as I was.

The NYT's descent into the CNN of newspapers is almost complete, in my view. At this point, I almost wish that it would leave important topics alone. Lately, it's so rarely capable of doing anything other than appealing to the most base and mindless of reader instincts.

Posted by: janis | Feb 16, 2007 10:57:37 AM

Thank you so much for writing about this article. It's encouraging to see that at least one man was as disturbed by the NYT's breezy treatment of such a disturbing topic as I was.

The NYT's descent into the CNN of newspapers is almost complete, in my view. At this point, I almost wish that it would leave important topics alone. Lately, it's so rarely capable of doing anything other than appealing to the most base and mindless of reader instincts.

Posted by: janis | Feb 16, 2007 10:58:09 AM

What a dickhead.

He needs a frying pan upside his head..stat!

Posted by: Terry C | Feb 16, 2007 10:59:50 AM

I think that this has nothing to do with cooking. If someone is a controlling person, then it will manifest itself in the kitchen. Part of the "alpha"-ness being described here is based on the "tyrant" model of governance in most restaurants (see, e.g. Gordon Ramsey). I think that unfortunately cooking and "chefdom" have been corporatized, i.e. a chef must be the model of the hard charging entrepeneur.

For me, it's alway about the food and the sharing of time. These people should get over themselves.

Posted by: eddie | Feb 16, 2007 11:07:55 AM

i'm the alpha cook in our relationship and i do get abusive toward my wife when she cooks. her food is so terrible you have to continually tell her not to cook any more.

it's a matter of life or death in some households.

Posted by: tockeyhockey | Feb 16, 2007 11:09:06 AM

Isn't this standard sitcom fare with the genders reversed? "My husband's a total doofus in the kitchen!" [canned laughter]

I think that's how the writer is presenting it. However, when it gets to the point where a spouse who used to love to cook is now afraid of picking the wrong pot to boil pasta in, that's a signal that something has gone seriously wrong.

Even if you reverse the genders -- the husband used to cook for himself and enjoyed it, but now he's been so beaten-down that he can't even figure out which pot to use -- it's not funny.

Posted by: Mnemosyne | Feb 16, 2007 11:15:29 AM

While I'm glad some men have decided to help around the house

And I am equally glad some women have decided to help around the get a job outside the house.

I don't know why, but I find that as offensive as what I just wrote.

Posted by: Lettuce | Feb 16, 2007 11:17:36 AM

Ya, alpha's can be intolerable, often without realizing they are. I'm glad we installed the word clueless in our vocab to supplement the word cruel.

Just imagine what sex is like for the alphas and betas!

No wonder that the percentage of married folks declines year after year.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Feb 16, 2007 11:23:40 AM

I am the alpha cook in our house, but I hope I'm not an asshole about it like the guy in the article. If my wife happens to cook (not terrible often by the by), I'm happy--even if it's boxed mac and cheese.
Like many mentioned though I am definitely a completely improvisational cook and she is really good with baking and things that require measurement and direction. Kind of like the rest of our lives.

Posted by: banana slug | Feb 16, 2007 11:31:11 AM

it's not "alpha" it's abusive, and chances are it extends to all aspects of the relationship.

I remember Laura B. telling this little story during the 2000 campaign, although it wasn't to Leno:

Laura recently told Jay Leno the following story about herself and her man. Her mother in-law had warned her never to criticize George W.’s political speeches, so she never did — until, as they were returning one night from an event where George had made a speech, George asked his wife what she honestly thought of it. Laura said, "Well, it wasn’t that good." The often-emotional George drove their car into the wall of their garage.

the media has been trying to "normalize" abusive relationships since that time...

Posted by: sukabi | Feb 16, 2007 11:34:33 AM

Gender issues and marital issues aside, why are people so angry about food? It's food! If you can't have fun making and eating food, you're a joyless freak.

Posted by: brent | Feb 16, 2007 11:35:54 AM

....decided to help around the house...

lettuce beat me to it but wtf kind of comment is that? what decade are you living in?

anyhow, having two alpha cooks in a very small kitchen can be a challenge but its not just cooking, its everything. sometimes the littlest things can turn into a power struggle and we have to ask ourselves how important is it that this particular task be done in the particular fashion that we happen to think is correct. I've stuggled with this for years and I'd like to think my partner and I have come to some loose agreements (it can still get ugly, however)



Posted by: ken | Feb 16, 2007 11:40:52 AM

I was disturbed by that article; some of it can describe me in the kitchen. I'm fairly proud of my "domestic" abilities, and I tease my wife about her lack of same.

Sounds like I need to ask her some questions about my behavior, because being a damn good cook doesn't require being an asshole about it.

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 16, 2007 12:03:10 PM

Oh yeah, I can't read that comment Ezra mentions in the update; nothing displays on that page but ads and headlines. Anyone care to mention what it says?

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 16, 2007 12:04:22 PM

What a prick. I am a professional chef. I don't treat my employees that way and I certainly wouldn't treat my wife or anybody that I professed love for that way. It's completly unnecessary, and in my opinion (this is gonna sound a little "weird) flavors the food with that bad vibe. Cook with love, and you'll love what you cook. Anyway, what do you expect from one of the biggest misinforming cheerleaders of the death and destruction president?

Posted by: D in Porland | Feb 16, 2007 12:27:34 PM

And, we share the responsibilities - you cook it, I'll clean it and vice versa. After slinging hash all day, sometimes I just want to eat it, not have to cook it. And I'm pretty damn happy with whatever she'll put in front of me.

Posted by: D in Porland | Feb 16, 2007 12:29:43 PM

why are people so angry about food?

It's not really being angry about food, but the cooking that's involved with it -- you know, the part with extremely flammable materials, sharp objects and a need for extraordinary timing. Control in any kitchen is very important. And you certainly DON'T have to be an asshole to maintain it.

I cook alone, but I enjoy people near me sharing wine, beer, conversation, etc, but I don't want them to get slashed by a knife or turn their presence in the kitchen into something smokey or dangerous. However, I also can't wait to start cooking with my kid.

And it's funny to note the 'beta' (we switch roles in the rest of the household chores, so I don't know what it really means) in the kitchen is usually the baker because that's also true in my household.

When my wife chooses to cook, I used to try and be 'helpful', but I realized that was a patronizing attitude and made things tense. I find it's best to just hang out in the living room and wait for a dinner for which I'm always grateful.

Posted by: Jay B | Feb 16, 2007 12:29:50 PM

I'd bet most of the shit in this article is way exaggerated or totally made up. These kinds of stories are stupid.

Posted by: paulf | Feb 16, 2007 12:30:53 PM

Any food my wife cooks for me or even brings me is the best tasting, most nourishing food in the world. It has her love in it. She's an alright cook, too.

Posted by: Mooser | Feb 16, 2007 12:31:09 PM

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