“We’re not trying to impress anyone. We’re also not trying to kill anyone, either.” So says Rob Barrett, the personable Eden Prairie man behind “Cooking for Dads,” an Internet-based cooking show, as he’s assessing whether the chicken he’s making is fully cooked. A dad who loathes measuring, considers cream “our friend,” and wants his kids to eat more fish, Barrett is setting himself up as a more relatable (and male) Rachael Ray: he promises easy meals that kids will actually eat.
While his day job as a music producer has Barrett mixing tracks, at night he’s mixing up pizza dough and filming the whole process, from pulling the ingredients off the shelf at the store to forgetting to use a hot pad when grabbing a pan on the stove. Budding chefs can find all Barrett’s episodes at CookingForDads.net.
Where did you get the idea for a dad-centric cooking show?
I probably cook two or three meals a week at our house to help out, and I enjoy cooking. When I have friends over, they’re always saying, “I could never do that,” and I kept thinking, why not? It’s not an innate gift. Just put the egg in the pan and flip it. [The egg, not the pan, that is.] It’s a very doable thing. I thought, what if I put out a video on how to cook a dish and the video itself becomes the recipe?
Doing a show on the Internet means anyone can see it. What sort of feedback have you gotten?
I get feedback from all over the world thanks to the video sharing. A guy in Poland liked my cheesy chicken; that’s been a favorite of people. And I’m big in Japan. Men in Japan don’t cook, so it might just be so outlandish for them to watch the man cook.
Where do you get your recipe ideas?
The web is a great place for recipes. Once you get to a certain point, you understand basic concepts like ginger and soy and brown sugar, those are good things together. I usually pull up four or five recipes on the web and take the best ideas from each one. I like to make up my own quite a bit. And sometimes we get home and make things from scraps.
In your videos you emphasize that measuring is a bad thing.
I think that is one of the big boundaries to cooking men have had.
Did you take home ec at all?
I took home ec back in junior high when everyone else took woodshop.
Did you get beaten up?
I did. Quite a bit. But all the girls said, “Leave him alone, he makes good cookies!” But remember how you’d get the tablespoon and they showed you the correct way to level off what you were measuring? You couldn’t just scrape it off. It was so complicated! Even the verbs like whisk, sauté, and poach the normal person might not know. So I say put in half an inch of butter instead of tablespoon because there’s no reason why you can’t use words people will understand.
You also use the fist a lot as a measuring tool, suggesting people use a “fistful” of cheese or flour.
That’s kind of a guy thing. It doesn’t have to be exact. Instead of a tablespoon I just say grab a spoon and put in a spoonful. That’s close enough. That simplifies it enough so that people say, “I have a hand; I understand grabbing flour.”
What intimidates dads specifically about the kitchen?
I think it’s the verbs and the tools. Someone said you could get a dad to make anything if you put a beater on the end of an electric drill … which I might do. I like that idea. But I think in times past, there might have been a stigma about dads cooking, but that’s going away out of necessity because sharing the cooking duties is a reality. There’s a pizza commercial out now where instead of cooking, Dad just orders out, and there’s a cultural reflection going on there on a couple of levels.
Is that insulting?
I try to be slow to be insulted, but things are funny because they’re true. And I don’t think it has to be that way. The idea for the show is each dad should have three or four things they can make. You don’t have to be a great cook, but every time it’s Dad’s turn to cook the kids should say, “Oh, we love when Dad makes that cheesy chicken!” or “Only Dad should be allowed to make French toast.” There should be some legend-building.
What are you known for at your house?
I cook a lot, so I have more than two or three main recipes. I do a lot of pastas, and I do all the grilling — we grill all year long. Everyone wants me to do grilling for the show, but there’s a ton of grilling shows out there, so I don’t feel it’s a unique thing.
You embrace your mistakes and encourage viewers to point them out. Is it important to emphasize that things don’t have to be perfect and it’s okay to make mistakes?
I wish I didn’t make so many mistakes. I’ve done two more episodes and I was editing them last night and the worst one is coming. It’s embarrassing. I was doing a show on game-day foods and I keep saying not to buy the Hormel chili with beans in it for the dip I was making. “No beans!” I kept saying “Make sure not to get the chili with beans.” And when I’m making the dip I open the can and the cameraman said “It looks like there’s beans in there.” I’d bought the wrong can. Do we stop and go back to the store? No, at that point we used it. And the show went on.
Monica Wright is Minnesota Parent’s assistant editor.