Knopf Editor Tom Pold on Sohla El-Waylly's Master Class in Better Cooking
Change the way you think about cooking! A practical, information-packed, and transformative guide to becoming a better cook and conquering the kitchen, Sohla El-Waylly‘s START HERE (Knopf) features over a dozen technique-themed chapters! From “Temperature Management 101” and “Break it Down & Get Saucy” to “Go to Brown Town,” “All About Butter,” and “Getting to Know Dough”, Sohla El-Waylly explains the hows and whys of cooking, introducing the fundamental skills that you need to become a more intuitive, inventive cook.
We spoke with Tom Pold, Senior Editor, Knopf about the Knopf Cooks list, how this newest addition subverts the formula, and which recipes we should all be reaching for. Discover more below!
How would you introduce the Knopf Cooks list to someone who’s come across it for the first time?
Knopf has been publishing cookbooks for eons, beginning with Julia Child’s MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING in 1961 (not a bad way to start!) followed by so many other luminaries—Edna Lewis, Marcella Hazan, James Beard, Lidia Bastianich, Madhur Jaffrey, Deb Perelman, Nancy Silverton—and so our list today really tries to honor that legacy. That means publishing authors who have something new, fresh, and important to say—someone who can be the voice in their space—and who write and cook with personality—Sohla, clearly, checks every one of those boxes.
You’ve worked with iconic culinary experts such as Kwame Onwuachi and Sandra Gutierrez, and now of course, Sohla El-Waylly. When working with the author, what are some of the unique elements you home in on to put out a cookbook that feels compelling and true to the author?
Everything begins with the author. If we’ve acquired a book from someone, it’s because we believe in their vision, so that’s the driver for the entire process. We spend so much time at the outset talking about what the author wants to say in the book, and then thinking about what makes their book different from other books out there. Those early conversations are what drive the rest of the process.
How is START HERE a genre-bending cookbook and what is unique about El-Waylly’s approach?
There are lots of (great!) teaching books for beginner cooks, and lots of (also great!) teaching books for more advanced ones, but there aren’t many that do both. START HERE is one of the rare cookbooks that aims to teach everyone, at any level, how to be a better cook. That’s really hard to do—and possibly why there aren’t many other books out there like it!—but Sohla threads the needle so well. START HERE is very much a book you can dip into, or read cover to cover. The chapters are organized by technique, so you can work your way through each one, beginning to end, or you can dip in and out. We like to joke that it’s basically culinary school without the debt.
The other thing Sohla does that’s quite unique is to give equal weight to savory and pastry recipes, a reflection of her own experience coming up in professional kitchens, and which I’ve never seen in a book before.
What’s a favorite memory from working on this title?
Finally seeing a finished copy of the book! It’s such an impressive object (656 pages!) that seeing it IRL felt very different from all those months of seeing it only onscreen. And then getting to share a finished copy with Sohla.
Tell us three recipes you think we should bookmark!
Resisting my natural urge to go all pastries, I’d say the Cannellini Beany Melt, the Bravas Potato Salad, and the Mix & Match Jammy Cookie Bars.