We all have those certain foods or treats that immediately transport us to a specific place or time in our lives -- a grandmother’s biscuits, a father’s baby back ribs, an aunt’s potato salad. For a lot of people, food isn’t just vitamins and nutrients; food is memories and feelings and togetherness. New college grad Michelle Kaplin, who’s been documenting herself cooking every recipe in Chrissy Teigen’s “Cravings” cookbook before her job starts, knows a little bit about that.
When I first heard about Kaplin’s mission -- born, understandably, from her love of the film “Julie & Julie,” in which an amateur cook makes every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in the span of a year -- I was mostly intrigued because, as an owner of both “Cravings” books myself, I wanted to see how Kaplin handled some of Teigen’s more in-depth recipes. Having learned to cook under a Thai mom, some of Teigen’s concoctions involve hard-to-find ingredients and processes I’m unfamiliar with as of yet, like her pork-stuffed cucumber soup.
But once you start watching Kaplin’s journey through “Cravings,” you realize that it’s not about the technique or finished product , but about what food and cooking means to her and her family.
While each video, as promised, goes through a recipe from start to dinner-table finish, Kaplin also adds some annotation to each clip, sometimes talking about what was going through her head while making the dish or how it turned out, in her opinion, but other times explaining what kinds of memories the meal brought up for her.
In one video, Kaplin makes the sriracha caesar salad and talks about her times aboard the My World Odyssey during a semester at sea; during her four months on the open ocean, she said, meal times were when all the students could gather to decompress and share stories, and one consistency she could always count on was a particular caesar salad on board.
In another, Kaplin shares that she and her best friend of 20 years are moving far apart from each other, unable to have the proper goodbye and send-off that they would have enjoyed pre-pandemic. So, Kaplin shows her friend some love in the best way she knows how: through food! Specifically Chrissy Teigen’s yellow cake baked oatmeal.
The most wonderful recipe videos, though, are those in which Kaplin talks about her family. It’s sweet enough that at the end of each recipe, she includes a shot of everyone sitting down at the table together, but some clips go deeper into the bond her family clearly shares. Like when she makes crab cake benedict, a recipe her brother, who was preparing to move out, picked out.
“David has been my sous chef and best friend for the last 302 days, and even though I’m slightly heartbroken that we’re moving away, I’m so grateful for this time together that we were never really expecting to have,” she said in the video.
And once it was Kaplin’s turn to move out, even though she’s keeping up with her initiative from what looks like a New York City apartment, she saved one of her family’s most comfortable of comfort foods to make to celebrate their dwindling days of family dinners together.
And then her dad continued her tradition from the kitchen where it started.
As someone who gets a certain joy out of cooking for others and mastering difficult recipes, it’s been delightful following Kaplin’s culinary journey. There are just under 100 recipes in “Cravings,” and she’s gotten through 56 at the time of writing, so we’re looking forward to seeing her complete her mission!