My Culinary Journey
I grew up in Southern Illinois, a rural area filled with corn fields and coal mines. There’s really not a lot going on there, on the surface anyway. But, I believe that great things can come from meager beginnings, and that’s why Man With A Menu now exists, thanks to a few select people and what they shared with me early on in life.
I really have my mother and father to thank for this. We always had plenty to eat, and man was it good. Simple at times, always evolving, and always good. At a young age, I observed my parents cooking, doing what they did, and over time gained my own confidence and independence in the kitchen as I started making my own food.
As I became of late high school age, with a job and some disposable income of my own, I began to explore the culinary landscape around me. I developed at a rather young age an awareness of and an appreciation for unpretentious gourmet dining. Southern Illinois was never really known for it’s culinary scene, but man did it have some winners. Scraping the surface off of anything often reveals many untold surprises. My old stomping grounds were places like Global Gourmet, Thai D, Mary’s Restaurant, Sao’s Asian Bistro, The Flame, Tom’s Place, and others.
How lucky, I recall now, I was to live within close proximity to so many people who understood the immense value of good food and drink, and cared enough to share their expertise with the area. I also enjoyed venturing to St. Louis, just two hours away, to explore a much broader culinary environment. Over time, my trips expanded to include other nearby places like Paducah, Evansville, Cape Girardeau, and the occasional hole-in-the-wall place in the middle of nowhere. And did I mention the twenty-some wineries within an hour of my house, smack dab in the middle of the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Association wine region? I would’ve never guessed it, but where the stork dropped me, I was set up almost from day one to fall into this.
From Eating to Cooking
Even after college, my exploration continued, and extended to learning how to cook and reproduce dishes I’d had for others, all the way to entertaining and throwing my own dinner parties. Many of these parties were a culinary exposé of my latest adventures and discoveries. For a while there, it was an almost weekly affair to have a three-to-five course dinner, with appetizers, desserts, and wine pairings. All from someone with no real training, and certainly no inborn talent.
It was determination, good instruction, and faith in my intuition that empowered me to become what I became. I was no stranger to a good time, and it was in those years that I discovered how good food does so much more than merely keep us going; it inspires and sustains and soothes and comforts us. It’s an opportunity to celebrate, to heal ourselves, to connect with others, and to rejuvenate ourselves from the inside out. I was adventurous, I tried a lot of stuff, and I thank myself for that. I came away with a lot of memories, and recipes, and a keen awareness of the impact that good food has on us.
The Power of Food
I love recipes. I love food. I love combining ingredients into recipes. And then recipes into menus. A menu, or more informally, a meal is typically a collection of two or more dishes served together to complement one another. Cooking is one thing, Recipes are another, and pairing them all is like the final step.
Knowing how to cook empowers people and fulfills our universal need for satisfaction and creativity and achievement. It helps us to become self sufficient and resourceful. It helps us to calm down and is a form of meditation. It teaches a valuable skills that can be shared with others. It keeps us alive. It can help to improve our health and help us save money. Our ability to cook is a gift we can develop and then share with others.
Most people want to cook but just don’t. They think it’s too hard or it’s a talent they don’t have. Cooking is an art and a science. Some chance. Some practiced skills. Some repeatable stuff. Great recipes followed tightly produce great results.
My Culinary Style
My recipes have come from a number of different places; my own imagination, recreations of dishes I have had, recipes shared with me by family and friends, as well as recipes by others that I have adapted. I see myself not just as a writer or a cook, but a curator information about food; recipes, how-tos, reviews, tips, and more.
My style of cooking is what I would call gourmet, but in a guilt-free way.
My inspiration for this gourmet style came from my parents, and also from my own exploration during my high school and college years, as I’d mentioned previously. This style is based around a focus on a diverse variety of classic recipes from many nationalities. I try as much as possible to look at life, and see and find all of the holidays and occasions we have to celebrate throughout the world and all of the cultures in it, discover those dishes that are indigenous to those cultures, prepare them, and through sharing, celebrate collectively with one another as one world of many people.
The second part of that, my desire to make it healthy and good to eat is something I think we all share as a goal, but find hard to execute. So often, healthy food gets a bad wrap, either because it is devoid of flavor, it’s expensive, hard to find or prepare, or it makes compromises by omitting or substituting out the ingredients that make it so good in the first place. My goal with the type of cooking I do is to maintain and preserve all of that taste, texture, experience, and affordability. You might be surprised to know as you look through my recipes that the majority of them are low-carb, gluten-free, keto friendly, and even primal / Whole 30 in some cases.
Food That’s Good For You
I don’t ascribe to any one specific diet, but I do see the positive value in living these types of lifestyles, and so I work to incorporate parts of them into what I cook to make what I share work for as many people as possible. I believe that moderation and variety are the ultimate keys to a healthy life. New diets and research on what works best to help us lose weight and stay healthy is coming out all the time, as current ideas are dismissed as no longer relevant. As a result, it’s always a guess, but I think we are beginning to make some pretty solid and lasting discoveries in a number of areas, and the volatile diet market and trends are beginning to stabilize.
As a result, I try to keep in mind what is new and cutting edge but also look to our past and see where we’ve come from and what our nature has been for years, and pick a good balance between the two. My most important goals in cooking are to use whole foods, and a variety of different foods to ensure that as much as possible, I’m meeting all of my nutritional needs naturally, not relying on supplements, drinks, and all kinds of other artificial things.
Disclaimer: None of my writing should be taken, interpreted, or misconstrued as nutritional or medical advice. If anything, it’s just a perspective to consider, something to discuss with your doctor or nutritionist, and what has worked well for myself.
I believe that at the end of the day, we would all like to cook more for ourselves, but we don’t. We all like the idea of food that’s tasty and good for you, meal prepping, etc., we just don’t do it because we either don’t know how, we think it costs too much, or that it’s just plain too much work to do it. That’s where the idea for Man With A Menu came from. You’ve heard people say “he looks like a man on a mission”, or “he’s a man with a plan”, and now, after you’ve read what you have, it makes sense for me to tell you that I’m the man with a menu.
You can get recipes anywhere. What people need is motivation, just enough knowledge to empower them to try, and a plan that helps them to not shop and cook for just one night a week, but several nights a week. People want and need shortcuts, tips, tricks, and the assurance that this is within their reach. I’ve got plenty of recipes to share, but it’s all the rest of what is in between that makes my blog different.
Thanks for reading, and now, let’s get to cooking!