Ask the Test Cooks

Ask Matthew: My Husband Is a Terrible Cook. How Can I Nudge Him in the Right Direction Without Breaking His Spirit?

This series answers all your cooking questions. And yes, by “all” we mean the wild, silly, and “stupid” ones, too.

Published Feb. 25, 2020.

Before Matthew Fairman joined Cook’s Country as a test cook, he cooked in many restaurants and taught college literature and writing. When hes not pitching a new take on fried rice to his editors or whispering to his slow cookers, Matthew is usually scaling plastic mountains at the climbing gym or running food experiments on his wife, Lauren, and cat, Daisy. He hopes to one day pay for climbing trips by selling fried rice from a food truck to hungry people stumbling out of bars after last call.

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Dear Matthew, My husband is a terrible cook. I want to be supportive because he “loves to cook,” but honestly, every time he makes dinner I’m just totally disappointed. For example, he barely seasons anything. Everything is bland and one-note. Sometimes I think he agrees with me, but by the time the food comes to the table, his pride takes over and he’d never admit that it wasn’t good. Do you have any advice on how to nudge him in the right direction without breaking his spirit? I don’t want to sneak salt into his dishes behind his back; I just want him to have better taste. It’s getting bleak.

— Bleak House

My Dear Bleak House,

Please know that I don’t say this lightly. But from the sound of it, I’m just not sure this is salvageable. I mean, if the person you’ve chosen to spend the rest of your life with doesn’t have decent taste in food and you’re staring down the prospect of bad meals for a lifetime, then it may be time to talk about the D-word.

That’s right: Decide that you’ll never eat another bland home-cooked meal by giving your beloved soulmate and best friend forever a gift membership to! With hundreds of exhaustively tested recipes at his disposal, he’ll never have to guess how much salt to add to a pot of pasta again. What? Did you think I meant Divorce? I’m not a monster! He’s just a sweet, misguided man trying to cook you a nourishing meal!

I know, I know. Isn’t this all just a bit self-serving coming from a guy who is currently employed by and writing for Cook’s Country? Well, yes! But in this case, what’s good for me happens to be great for you. I mean, I’m a pretty good cook (if I can just pat myself on the back for a second), but there’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t pull up our website to reference a recipe for the dish I’m making. I’m confident that the seasoning is perfect in all those recipes because the test cooks who created them tasted the food over and over again to make sure. That’s the kind of foolproof expertise you could put in your husband’s hands each time he cooks for you. But how do you give him this kind of a gift without implying that he’s not a good enough cook already?

Well, maybe the conversation goes a little something like this. You two are just finishing up dinner. You’ve cleared the table, and you bring him his favorite after-dinner drink and a little wrapped gift. He says,

“What’s this?! A gift?”

And here, you come in with your most charming voice: “You know, I’m so proud to have a husband who cooks for me.”

Him: “Oh, please. You know I love cooking. It’s no trouble. You’re so sweet—you didn’t have to get me a gift to repay me!”

You: “But I wanted to! You’re becoming such a good cook, and you love it so much. I thought I’d get you an early birthday present!”

You hand him the box, and he unwraps it to find his first issue of Cook’s Country magazine along with a set of the test kitchen’s favorite measuring spoons (a not-so-subtle reminder for him to measure the precise amounts of salt and seasonings we call for) and a printout of the one-year gift membership to You flip the magazine open to a recipe you’ve bookmarked and say, “I’d love it if you made this for me!” Maybe it’s a slightly more advanced recipe, such as our Philly Tomato Pie or Chicken in Adobo. That way you can say something like, “You’re such a good chef. But have you ever made pizza dough from scratch or cooked with dried chiles?”

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Now he’s hooked. He’s staring at gorgeous photos of food, and he’s got an exact, step-by-step explanation of how to get there. He doesn’t have to worry about how much salt to add and when, because the recipe tells him. And you? You spend a little free time each week perusing his subscription to Cook’s Country and emailing him recipes you want him to make. This week it may be Penne with Pancetta and Asparagus, next week it might be Slow-Cooker Lentil and Chorizo Soup. A year from now, it might be Steak Teriyaki for Two. The possibilities, like your love for one another, are endless. And if he’s paying attention to our recipes at all, he won’t be able to keep from becoming a better cook.

Until then, may your marriage bond grow stronger and stronger with every perfectly seasoned lasagna, couscous, and roast chicken that your husband makes for you.

Matthew Fairman

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