Local Author Andy Baraghani Publishes His First Cookbook

(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
It was a full house at Orinda Books, Friday, Aug. 12, when celebrity chef Andy Baraghani (left), an Orinda native, came back home to talk about and sign copies of his new book, The Cook You Want to Be. Baraghani was welcomed by Orinda Books owner Pat Rudebusch (right) and proved to be a hit with his relatives, longtime friends and local fans.

    When he was just eight years old, Andy Baraghani became obsessed with watching Julia Child and Yan Can Cook on PBS. He delighted in devising embellishments like chili flakes or freshly grated cheddar to spice up boxed mac and cheese. 
    Today, at age 32, the Miramonte High School graduate has parlayed his childhood passion into positions at prestigious restaurants, food magazines and a series of viral culinary videos. Baraghani’s latest accomplishment is the publication of his debut cookbook, The Cook You Want to Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress.
    The book has garnered lavish acclaim from both ordinary readers and eminent chefs around the world.
    Looking back, Baraghani is sure his success began to simmer in the kitchen of his Orinda childhood home.
    “I’m a first generation (American). My parents came from Iran in the late ‘70s, and I grew up in a household where cooking at home was a daily thing,” said Baraghani.
    He fondly remembers grocery shopping with his mother and then sitting on the kitchen counter while she cooked for a houseful of grandparents, aunts and uncles.
    “In my family it was very natural to be eating with a lot of people while having conversations,” he added. “The act of eating brought so much pleasure, but I was curious about more than just eating.” 
    Baraghani’s curiosity guided his journey to becoming a New York Times bestselling cookbook author – an untraditional career trajectory he carved out on his own. He got his start as a high school senior with a job at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, as part of the WISE program at Miramonte.
    When asked how he landed the prestigious restaurant posting at such a young age, he said, “I was pretty focused and I had a clear sense of self and what I liked. I knew that space was special. I went in there one day and told them that I wanted to work in the kitchen. I said I’d be there every Friday after school and every Saturday. I’d be there as early as possible and stay as late as possible and do whatever they needed.”
    This combination of moxie and determination propelled Baraghani to the ultimate heights of the culinary world. After graduating high school, he moved to New York to attend NYU.
    While in college, he worked at renowned restaurant Estela and interned in the test kitchen at foodie magazine Saveur. There, he soaked up their anthropological approach to food while learning how to develop his own recipes. Later, as a senior editor at Bon Appétit, he launched a popular series of videos featuring him cooking and eating in exotic locales. 
    Baraghani has combined all that experience and knowledge to create The Cook You Want to Be, a collection of 120 recipes, complete with personal essays, gorgeous design and photography meant to inspire home cooks.
    “There are so many great cookbooks, but many of them take the authoritarian approach to cooking,” said Baraghani. “I want to help readers think about and develop their own personal cooking styles. I think of all the lessons I’ve learned in this crazy food world to challenge myself and stay curious and continue to evolve. I want to pass them down. I hope I can push cooks to try new things.”
    The book encourages the home cook to achieve “maximal flavor in minimal time,” using flavorful ingredients, fresh vegetables and special techniques Baraghani has honed over the years.
    Some recipes are versions of Persian dishes from his childhood, like the frittata dish Kuku Sabzi. Others, like Hot-and-sour Garlic Soup with Shiitake and Celery, are drawn from his Asian travels. Entrées like Proper Steak with brown butter fried onion rings are more traditional American fare. Baraghani’s intent is to challenge and enchant the taste buds of just about any kind of cook.
    Although Baraghani has traveled the world, dining and writing about food, he has an enduring fondness for his childhood home.
    “The East Bay is a very special place,” he said. “The nature, the farmers’ markets, the incredible restaurants have inspired me, both in and out of the kitchen.”

Kathy Cordova can be reached at khcordova@gmail.com.

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