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The Cook You Want to Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress may be the first cookbook by Andy Baraghani – but it’s probably not the first time many readers will encounter his recipes. Baraghani has become a familiar face to those who follow the food world thanks to his contributions to Saveur and Bon Appetit, particularly the latter’s popular online videos. He left his role as that magazine’s senior food editor in 2021 and has been working on developing his own projects ever since – and getting in a bit of antiquing, too, as came up in our recent conversation with him. Read on for more about his inspirations, creative passions, and why he gave his book a vegetable-forward bent.
Try a recipe from the book: Andy’s Chickpeas Cacio e Pepe with Caramelized Lemon.
You write in your book that you did not want to go into the food world professionally, you wanted to be the next Al Pacino. Did you spend time trying to be an actor?
Well, I wouldn’t say I really tried, but I did, and I still very much do, love movies. Even now I would say I definitely watch more movies than, even though we are in a golden age of TV, I watch a lot more movies than tv and I’ve always had a fascination with actors. Not in the celebrity sense, but just performances. Something that when I was younger it was such a thing for me to watch the award shows, and I always would just watch the actor’s speeches. And I feel like for many years now, the way I go to bed is by watching old speeches. So, I definitely have this fascination or love for film and acting, but I never really pursued it. I did take a few acting classes, when I was younger, like 12, 13, but not for too long.
What’s a favorite movie you’ve watched recently, within the last year, let’s say?
Oh God, I’m going down the Rolodex. I would say… Drive My Car was incredible. I did see Dune because I always loved Dune the book, and I thought Power of the Dog was incredible. I actually, I loved Belfast too. I thought Belfast was so beautiful. I love Olivia Coleman, and so I love The Lost Daughter, which was directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I thought that was amazing. That was amazing.
So, despite your love of cinema, what made you want to cook? You write about your Persian roots influencing your style. Were there other chefs in the family?
No, there was no one who ever pursued food in a professional sense in my family. Obviously, I think my family definitely influenced my cooking style, and certain flavors, and definitely instilled that love for food. But I would say that what got me into actually cooking professionally was not my family, it was more of distant figures, you know? It was chefs in certain restaurants, and certain people on TV that I was enamored by. And even when I did pursue cooking professionally, I didn’t think I would necessarily do it for a long period of time. I thought like, “Well, I just really love doing this. So I might as well just do it for now.” But obviously one thing led to another where it evolved, from just working at a restaurant and working my way up, to pivoting and working in food media and starting to develop recipes, and then write more, and then get a better sense of how to put a brand and magazine together. Which just kept on opening – I shouldn’t say opening doors, because obviously doors were closed or paths were cut – but I felt like me loving food has been a constant. I didn’t go to culinary school. I didn’t wake up and decide to do it in my twenties, and not to say there’s anything wrong with that, but it was more like this is something that has been a constant in my life for as long as I could remember. And there have been moments in my life where I’ve tried to maybe rid myself of it, but it has always followed me. And I know at this point I very much embrace that.
Who are some of these distant figures, some of your food heroes, that inspired you?
Well, I think the very, very, very early figures are Julia Child and Lydia Bastianich, and Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook. I think those definitely were the people that I was drawn to just watching on TV when I was very, very young. But then I think also Bay Area chefs, I think just looking, obviously at Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, where I started my career, but also Nancy Oaks of Boulevard in San Francisco. And these aren’t people that I necessarily knew. I don’t know Nancy Oaks, but that restaurant and that cookbook was very influential to me, and inspiring. And obviously Zuni Cafe. I would say a lot of it was not necessarily distant. It was just in the city or further in the East Bay, but it was a lot of figures in the Bay Area. Paul Bertolli, who was the chef of Olivetos. There was definitely people who I understood their influence and their philosophy in the kitchen, and I was very drawn to that.
While your cookbook is not specifically vegetarian, a significant portion of the recipes are meat-free. Is that a reflection of how you’ve always eaten, or is that a decision that you’ve made later in life?
That hasn’t been the way that I’ve always eaten, but I think with this… I will answer that question, but before I answer that question, I’ll say this: I wanted to make sure that I didn’t write a book that felt like it was so directive or authoritative. I wanted to empower people – in ways that are maybe more subtle, and sometimes maybe a little bit more overt. But for example, you’re right, most of the recipes are non-meat. And that was a conscious decision on my part because my cooking style and my eating habits have changed over time. And while I love meat, and I love seafood, and I don’t plan on ever giving that up, I do believe in a diet that consists mostly of vegetables and a little bit of meat. I think that is not only something that has just worked for me, but also just trying to be, in my own little tiny way, thoughtful and thinking about the planet, about the things that we really should be eating, and what people are not eating enough. And so, there’s plenty of cookbooks that are just dedicated to meat, or seafood, or where it’s mostly meat. And please, by all means, I fully support those, but I think I really wanted to write a book where it was a subtle commentary on how I think we should be eating now, at this moment in time. I also will say my partner doesn’t eat meat, many of my family members, they don’t eat meat. So this is something that it certainly… it’s not something that I had to adapt to, it was something that I very much embraced.
You write a lot about wanting to make your recipes accessible, focusing on recipes that can be made in a small apartment kitchen and don’t require a lot of super expensive ingredients. So, with that in mind, were there any recipes you considered but decided to cut from them book because they were just too pricey or impractical for the typical home cook to execute?
Yeah, I think a good amount of desserts. I mean, the dessert chapter is very small. And while I would have liked to have a bigger dessert chapter, I think some of the things I wanted to do, it was either against the clock, not enough time, and I couldn’t find a way to maybe not use a stand mixer for certain things or certain equipment. So I think I have a better sense now, going forward. But I would say generally, that was mostly the chapter. Everything else I felt pretty confident with not having to use too much equipment.
Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?
It’s so hard for me to pick one. I would say something that I keep going back to is the sweet potatoes with brown butter-harissa hazelnuts and yogurt, which is actually the back cover. And I say that one because, yes, there’s a technique with cooking the sweet potatoes so they’re nice and crisp. But also, I think just the technique of browning the nuts in the butter, you get this wonderful toasty, caramelized nut, but also butter. But then blooming the harissa in that, and then bringing it all together with a lemon-y yogurt. The truth is that setup works beautifully with sweet potatoes, but it really works well with just about any vegetable. That’s the thing. If you were to replace the sweet potatoes with cauliflower, or broccoli, it just would work really, really well.
You have had a winding career trajectory touching lots of different parts of the food world, working in restaurants and in media at Saveur and Bon Appétit. What are you hoping to check off next?
I think a big goal for me is – and I’ve tried to integrate it in my book – is I’ve always had a deep love for design. While I am not a designer and I’m not necessarily in that field, I do love the world of interiors and tabletops. That’s something that I’ve always loved looking for, [going] antiquing and looking for different pieces. And so, I’ve really tried to kind of bring that in the aesthetic of really my home into the book. And I think what I would love to do is expand into that world, as well. So going beyond the kitchen.