If the prospect of hosting friends and family for a meal is anxiety-inducing, Amy Thielen’s new book, Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others, could be the antidote. The former TV cooking show host and cookbook author, 48, shares 125 recipes, composed in 20 fully conceived menus designed to allow home chefs to mix-and-match dishes. She writes in an easy, conversational style, and includes tips to amp up your kitchen competency so that you feel confident switching up recipes according to the freshest produce available or making adjustments as your food cooks. Ultimately, the down-to-earth chef hopes to inspire readers to love cooking as much as she does.
What does “radically casual” cooking mean to you?
When I think about an entertaining book, there’s generally the assumption that it's going to be performative, or that you’re cooking for people in order to show off your own culinary skills. With this book, I wanted to reimagine that relationship between the host and the guest, and to kind of center the cook’s experience. I like to throw a lot of parties because I like the cooking itself, so the book really is about the cook’s pleasure and the pleasure that we take in preparing things for other people.
How would you define your approach to cooking?
I like to think of it as a time where we can be creative. Some of the recipes and menus are “projects” that are really fun — almost like a craft project. For example, there’s a French apple strudel cake in the book called Pastis du Quercy. It involves stretching strudel dough, which is a recipe I’ve worked on for years to get it right. That’s not something you make right before people are arriving. Those “projects” are mixed in with things that are incredibly easy. There are lots of simple vegetable sides that I use to pad out a menu, because when you’re doing a menu for people, you have to think about the menu and the plate as a whole. I think what’s really different about this book is that it is a menu cookbook of all these things that I’ve made for so many years.
Since the book is designed in menus, can someone mix and match to suit their tastes or cooking style?
Some of the menus are kind of long, and you don’t have to make every single thing. There’s kind of a choose-your-own-adventure vibe to the book where things are interchangeable. Obviously, I don’t expect that people are necessarily going to make a menu from start to finish. But if that’s the part that is challenging for a home cook — to come up with the menu — the guidance is there. It could be inspirational. You could pick the beef from one menu and the salad from another.