Why I Cook, with Amanda Haas
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The cookbook author and former Williams Sonoma culinary director shares how cooking has positively changed her life in more ways than one.
This multi-talented cook may have years of experience in the culinary world, but Amanda Haas learned to cook just like many of us do—out of necessity. She shares how her love of eating led to a career in cooking, and how a dietary restriction completely changed the way she thinks about food.
Taste of Home: Where are you from, and how did your love of cooking begin?
Amanda Haas: I’m originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, but have lived in the Bay Area for more than half my life now—the suburbs of San Francisco feel like home!
Growing up, the joke in my family is that I was born to eat. I’d ask “what’s for dinner?” as soon as I was done with lunch. When I went to college and got an apartment with friends, I figured someone should learn how to cook for us, so I went for it. My grandma had handwritten all of my favorite recipes for me like tuna noodle casserole, pot roast with cream of mushroom soup and Country Captain Chicken. (Grandma really knows best, doesn’t she? Try these classic recipes inspired by Grandma to see for yourself.)
I started there and it evolved! I realized quickly that everyone wants to be near food and in the kitchen, so it became a wonderful way to connect with my friends and family.
After graduating and moving to San Francisco, I started working for Williams Sonoma, which I loved, and began taking cooking classes at night. After seven years in the corporate world, I found the nerve to quit my job and go to cooking school, which was the best decision I ever made. I fell into recipe testing and development for cookbooks, then was lucky enough to write my own books. It all came full circle when I returned to Williams Sonoma 10 years after leaving and was able to be the culinary director there—a dream job!
TOH: What inspired you to begin writing your own cookbooks?
AH: I fully believe we all have our own ideas to contribute to the world. I have known since I was a child that I wanted to be a cookbook author. I decided to write my own cookbook before I even had a contract, so if the opportunity ever arose, I’d be ready! So as I created new recipes, I started to write. When I write, I don’t like to look at anyone else’s work, for fear it will cloud my own ideas. I wrote 150 recipes and had them ready to go in case I was ever given the opportunity.
As luck would have it, I finished writing a book with Chef Todd English, and at the end of the process, he was kind enough to share with the publishers that I did a ton of the work. (Not something you’d expect from a well-known chef.) The publishers then said to me, “Do you have anything on your own?” and literally within a month I had a cookbook contract, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now I’m finishing my third book on my own, and it’s all because I worked hard and people believed in me.
TOH: You’re switching your focus to more healthy-eating recipes. Why was the shift so important to you?
AH: I learned about eight years ago that I was gluten intolerant, which was a total bummer. It was making me really sick. Once I removed gluten from my diet, my health improved so rapidly that a light went on for me. I realized that food can be a wonderful healing tool, or it can work against you. I decided I wanted to create recipes that were so delicious, people wouldn’t notice that they were really good for you! Food continues to be my best weapon for good health and preventing disease.
(Try out some of our favorite gluten-free meals that prove healthy and delicious can coexist!)
TOH: What advice would you give to home cooks who’d like to begin developing their own recipes?
AH: Just start writing them down! It can be as easy as writing down the measurements of ingredients when you cook with a few simple steps to yourself, like “saute the chicken for five minutes on medium heat, turn the chicken and cook for two more minutes.”
(Interested in learning more about developing recipes? Here are some of our Test Kitchen’s best cooking tips.)
TOH: Do you have a secret weapon in the kitchen?
AH: I am so steadfast in my answer to this question. I am obsessed with the Williams Sonoma fish spatula. It not only works for fish, it works for everything! It’s thin and flexible but sturdy enough to flip a pancake or a burger. I literally have two dozen of them in my closet so I can give them away to friends.
In terms of techniques, I believe in roasting veggies on a really high-heat convection oven—like 450°F—so they get all caramelized and crispy delicious! Cauliflower goes from being boring and slightly stinky to sweet and candy-like!
(Try these tips to make the ultimate roasted veggies just like Amanda’s faves.)
TOH: Does your family like to help you in the kitchen at home?
AH: I have two sons, Connor and Charlie, who are 15 and 13 .They have different loves for food and my cooking. Connor is the least picky eater you’ll ever meet, and appreciates anything I cook for him. He has zero desire to cook himself.
Charlie, on the other hand, is my biggest critic—yet he is a terrific cook. He’ll say things like, “Mom, this needs more acid,” and gosh darn it, he’s always right! He always helps me with my cookbooks, as he gives honest feedback and helps make me better. I love that we can connect in the kitchen. When they’re not eating, they are usually playing basketball. My dad played basketball in college and I loved playing growing up, so nothing makes me happier than hearing the thump of the basketball outside while I cook!
TOH: What’s your favorite thing about cooking? The “why” of why you cook!
AH: I cook because it grounds me. As someone who has a ton of energy and is always running around, cooking is the life force that allows me to settle into my own thoughts while expressing my creativity. It’s also my greatest expression of love, so it brings undeniable happiness to cook for my family and friends. I am so grateful for the opportunity to cook every day of my life!
(You can buy Amanda’s book the Anti-Inflammation Cookbook now. And look out for her new cookbook, The Vibrant Life: Eat Well, Live Well, and Love Your Midlife, available in June 2019.)
Next, learn why Lauren Ash of Superstore cooks.