Late to Cooking by
(11 Stories)

Prompted By Learning To Cook

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The only cooking training I received growing up was in the Boy Scouts, and that was minimal and primitive – there aren’t many open fires to cook over in most kitchens! My mother was a mediocre cook, at best, and not inclined to teach her boys anything. It was our generation. During my first marriage and as my daughters were growing up, my ex was a stay-at-home mom for most of the years and she was in charge of the kitchen. I cooked some breakfasts, could make sandwiches, and grill meat outdoors. I suspect this was true for many of us males.

How I progressed from zero cooking to pretty good.

This changed instantly the moment the ex left with me with sole custody of the aforesaid daughters. I literally bought Cooking for Dummies and proceeded to try and teach myself to cook so that we could eat. None of us starved, but the cooking was very basic. My eldest daughter sought to encourage me by gifting The Joy of Cooking on Christmas. It worked – I actually came to enjoy picking out recipes and they appreciated the better food. I learned that making a recipe the first time to follow it to the letter. I do a little improvisation when it’s obviously needed, but I’m an inveterate recipe follower.

In my first post-divorce relationship, I dated and later moved in with a gourmet cook who had learned from her gourmet cook mother. While I did less cooking, I observed and questioned incessantly. This also seriously broadened the range of foods I would eat and even enjoy. I ended up sailing with the mother and father halfway around the world; we ate like kings even in the most remote and primitive places.

Unfortunately, I ended up getting along with the parents much better than with the daughter, and the relationship[p ended. This led to my taking a job in New Jersey and setting up my first-ever kitchen. A few more cookbooks joined the rotation and I was able to improve my cooking using the knowledge gained recently.

I think it’s fair to say that I got good enough to impress at least one lady. After a day at the beach, I whipped up grilled marinated chicken breasts, corn on the cob and fresh tomato salad. (Most of you probably don’t know that the absolute best tomatoes are Jersey Tomatoes!) She was amazed and delighted! That, and access to the beach, kept her around long enough to fall in love and we got married three years later. Still going strong and cooking 17 years later! In fact, when my wife was the Chief Nursing Officer of 17 long-term are facilities in 2020, I did virtually all of the shopping and cooking as she worked over 12-hour days, seven days a week, for six months fighting the initial Covid pandemic.

Among my specialties now are The World’s Best Clam Chowder, guacamole and flourless chocolate cake. The photo shows me making “salt sticks” that we bought every Thanksgiving for years until the bakery shut down. I could not get their recipe, so I researched and experimented until I duplicated them. The photo was my first successful Thanksgiving dinner effort. (I have further developed to make each one much smaller.) They are absolutely demanded at every Thanksgiving dinner.

I think my Mom would be proud of her son in the kitchen now!



Profile photo of Joe Worth Joe Worth

Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. It was very illuminating to hear about your cooking saga, from no-dice to novice to quite accomplished chef. Being able to duplicate something you’ve encountered in the world of culinary professionals shows true mastery,

  2. We’re proud of you too Joe and that apres-beach meal sounds delish, your wife’s a smart and lucky gal!
    Good to see you back on Retro!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    You may have been relatively late, Joe, but you sure have soared as a cook over the years. I am humbled and envious!

    Incidentally, the “chowdah” looks great — none of this Manhattan vegetable soup stuff they served in New York. And, as a Tri-State kid from Connecticut, I must concede that New Jersey does, in fact, have the world’s best tomatoes. Whether that alone qualifies it to be “The Garden State” is debatable, though. In any event, those tomatoes then need to be sent to my home state since, as we all know, Connecticut has the best pizza.

  4. Suzy says:

    Fascinating story of how you came to cooking. Thanks for the details about suddenly being a single Dad and learning from Cooking for Dummies, then having a gourmet cook girlfriend, and finally the one you impressed so much with your cooking that she married you!

    I grew up in New Jersey, and I agree about Jersey Tomatoes (my father grew some in our backyard), although the ones we grow in California are pretty darn good too. And your salt sticks look delicious!

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    My grandfather grew tomatoes in the back yard as well! Jersey (aka “Rutgers”” tomatoes were renowned. I think part of the secret was that even the store bought ones were vine ripened or at worst picked a bit green so you could ripen them on your sunny windowsill. They were NEVER gas “ripened.” Those are an abomination.

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