Photography lesson

Don’t Worry, Just Cook: A Stress-Free Mother-Daughter Cooking Lesson

Our cookbook of the week is Don’t Worry, Just Cook by Bonnie Stern and Anna Rupert. To try a recipe from the book, check out: chirshi (Tunisian and Libyan pumpkin spread), pan-roasted cherry tomatoes with herbs and garlic, and roasted turnips with za’atar and labneh.

Ahead of the September 20 launch of their mother-daughter cookbook, Anna Rupert posted a tribute video to her mom, Bonnie Stern. For many Canadians, Stern needs no introduction. But Rupert realized that while the food writer and cookbook author has accomplished over his five-decade career, some home cooks could benefit from an introduction.

“There are obviously Bonnie fans, who know Bonnie Stern. And then there is a huge, huge new generation of people who (get) most of their revenue from TikTok, ”explains Rupert, speech therapist, researcher, head of health and social services and co-author of Don’t worry, just cook (Appetite by Random House, 2022).

Rupert created the video summarizing his mother’s successes as a surprise. “I don’t think I would have let her publish it,” Stern says. “I just don’t talk about those things. I just do things.

Stern has been a champion of home cooking since 1973, when she founded the now-closed Bonnie Stern School of Cooking in Toronto. She had planned to become a librarian. But after graduating from cooking school, she ended up welcoming renowned chefs such as Jacques Pépin and the late Marcella Hazan to her cooking school.

Any of her accomplishments – running a cooking school, hosting television shows, writing more than a dozen cookbooks and spending 30 years as a weekly columnist (17 of them at national post ) – would be considered an achievement. Throughout his career, however, getting the job done has been more important to Stern than stopping to consider its impact.

“I never thought I would do this forever. I never thought I wouldn’t be. I just never planned ahead,” Stern says. “People are going, ‘Oh, you’ve planned so well ahead.’ And I had no idea that would be the next big thing.

When Stern decided to open a cooking school at just 25, she was following her passion. “I didn’t know any better,” she adds, laughing. “And I loved to cook. I liked it so much.

Toronto, now home to one of the most diverse food scenes in the world (and the top Michelin Guide destination in Canada), had a very different culinary offering in the 1970s.

There were a few good restaurants, Stern recalls, but for the most part people cooked at home. For many, eating three meals a day was a chore. At her cooking school, Stern countered that feeling of drudgery with cheerful enthusiasm.

Stern describes himself as a “very shy” person – then and now – but not when it comes to food. “Cooking gives me something to connect with people,” she says, “which is huge for me.”

She recounts her first cooking demo – a fundraiser for New College at the University of Toronto, where she had earned a degree in English. Two hundred people were present. “Afterwards, my mom and I sat there, and we just laughed at ourselves. Like, that I could actually do that – and I was very surprised.

Of all the ways Stern helped people cook at home, his school was closest to his heart. In 2011, food was booming on the big and small screen. With thriving social media platforms and a new style of food television, the way people consumed food information was changing.

The yards were always full, but Stern’s landlord tripled his rent overnight. She took it as a sign: After 37 years, it was time to close.

“I think I was dumbfounded. Dumbfounded for about a year,” Stern says.

“Or more,” laughs Rupert.

“Or 10 years – until this book,” adds Stern.

The seed for Don’t worry, just cook was planted before the pandemic, but Stern and Rupert started writing in earnest when COVID hit. Stern had started sharing recipes on social media and was encouraged by the response.

“People really seemed to like it. And they wrote back to me and told me how grateful they were, and I thought, “Well, maybe I still have something to offer people,” Stern laughs.

When Rupert offered to help, “it really worked because she’s a great writer and quickly learned everything we were doing in food photography. It made a big difference working with Anna.

The timing seemed right, even though writing a cookbook during a global health crisis presented unique challenges.

Compared to Stern’s other cookbooks, which she produced with the help of a large team, the photo shoot for Don’t worry, just cook was a small matter. All accessories (i.e. tableware, textiles and utensils) were either from Stern’s collection or that of his food stylist Olga Truchan. The team of five – including the former national post team photographer Tyler Anderson — ensconced in Stern’s Toronto home, with the doors wide open in the middle of winter.

“We wore our jackets and our masks. It was interesting. I have no basis for comparison, but I feel like that makes it a bit more of a labor of love. When we hold it, it’s like, how the hell did this happen? said Rupert.

Writing the book together was an emotional experience, Stern adds, but in a good way. “It’s amazing to meet your child as an adult who is so smart and accomplished and can handle things.”

However Don’t worry, just cook is Stern’s first book since she closed her cooking school over a decade ago, she has never stopped developing recipes. She’s still teaching — first giving private lessons from home, then via video chat during the pandemic — and experimenting with new dishes and techniques.

When it came time to decide on recipes for Don’t worry, just cook she and Rupert had a list of hundreds of choices.

“Because she hadn’t published a book at that time, we had so many favorite recipes,” Rupert explains. “Even though it’s the first time they’ve been there, they’re our favorite classics.”

Many recipes have been influenced by Stern’s travels, such as chirshi (Tunisian and Libyan pumpkin spread) — introduced to him by his friend Gil Hovav, an Israeli author and TV presenter — and roasted turnips with za’atar and labneh, inspired by a dish she had at chef and baker Erez Komarovsky’s in northern Israel.

Others have still stood the test of time, such as the tomato and oregano focaccia by the late Italian author and professor Giuliano Bugialli, and the prawn, garlic and olive oil spaghetti. Hazan olive. “These are truly timeless recipes,” adds Rupert.

The ability of food to provide comfort and connection is a common thread Don’t worry, just cook . And the title of the book contains an extra layer of meaning for those familiar with Stern. Although she often tells people not to stress about cooking, she is a born worrier.

“We think the title is perfect and hilarious, because if you know her, that’s what she tells everyone. But if you really know her, you know that she worried nonstop and that ‘She’s always worried,’ Rupert says.

Worrying is part of the Stern process, mother and daughter agree. Stern connects this to his cooking school.

“I really liked people asking questions. And even when other people in the class grumbled, I took the question seriously. And because they asked so many questions, that’s why I always think of them,” she says. “I try to worry about the things I can help with.”

Now that Don’t worry, just cook came out, Stern heard from readers who are glad she’s back writing cookbooks.

She may not like to think about all she’s accomplished — or take compliments too seriously — but dedicating decades to helping people cook at home has been worth it, Stern says. “It’s not work. That’s all for me.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2022