Andy Barghani is direct, welcoming and eloquent – and his new book, The cook you want to beis no different.
In the first two pages, Barghani tells his story of working in several restaurants during his teenage years while discover his identity as a gay Iranian, to list the cooking rules he follows that he thinks everyone should follow as well.
Of its ten rules (which are more like commandments), “lose the gadgets” is perhaps the most controversial.
“Consumers are told that [gadgets] make your life in the kitchen easier, but I think that ends up creating these barriers and clouding your judgment in the kitchen,” says Barghani. “I want to eliminate all forms of fear.”
And the chef practices what he preaches – many might be shocked to learn that he refrains from using a garlic press and instant pot and rarely uses measuring cups or spoons. He believes in the “less is more” approach and is a strong advocate for using his hands to better focus and connect with what is in front of him.
The recipes in her book will encourage the reader to “get in there”, whether that means using your hands to rid your herbs of dirt in her Kuku Sabzi or savoring the freshly grated coconut shavings that linger on your fingers while making her fresh crispy coconut and chile.
“There’s this transformation that happens when you combine a set of ingredients,” he says. “And when you put a little time and thought into it, something beautiful and delicious can happen.”
Barghani’s book is full of flavors reflecting his past. Many of his recipes incorporate popular Persian ingredients into classic dishes. “It was the first food I was given,” he says. “These dishes, tangy, sour, yogurt-filled, intensely herbal, floral-flavored, they dominated the kind of dishes I had growing up. I would say that’s really part of my style of cooking, bringing in those flavors. He adds with a laugh: “I take rice very seriously.
All vibrant and innovative recipes, however, are tied to an essence of comfort and warmth, and her Caramelized Lemon Cacio e Pepe Chickpea is perhaps the perfect example.
“I love that the chickpeas act as a creamy texture for the dish, that the flavors are familiar in the sense that you have the cheese and the pepper,” Barghani says. “But then you have these caramelized lemon bits, and they act like these jammy, punchy disruptions. It keeps your mouth excited.
The recipe is essentially the love child of two classic dishes: the pasta and this, a broth, a chickpea stew and the cacio e pepe. It’s a dish that kind of checks all the boxes, with a short ingredient list, easy-to-follow instructions, minimal equipment, and a comforting result. In a sense, he embodies precisely what Barghani sought to do.
“You only get better as a cook if you practice and interact with what you’re doing,” says Barghani. “A big goal for me, for the reader, is to be more open in the kitchen, to be more open when you’re out in the world, to be open to failure, and to be optimistic.”