TORONTO - Eric Akis's goal when he wrote "Everyone Can Cook Everything" was to create a kitchen bible that people with any level of culinary expertise can use on a daily basis.
"There are easy recipes like a quick tomato soup that has minimal preparation that turns out really wonderful and gives you confidence if you're a new cook to try something else," the chef and journalist said in a telephone interview from Victoria.
"In the book I do have some more advanced things such as a halibut wrapped in phyllo that will take a little more time, but I explain it in a way that you should have success with it."
He has peppered his seventh book with plenty of tips, such as how to hard-boil eggs, use a piping bag and make a stir-fry. He also provides advice with ways to tweak recipes to one's own taste.
"I was trying to encourage people to cook. Once you've done this, then you should try to learn some more culinary skills, maybe try to learn one or two things a month such as how to steam rice, how to tell when fish is cooked, so just keep building your confidence," he said.
"And then in the book you'll find recipes that once you're up there and feeling really confident, then you'll find something a little more challenging you could take on."
Akis, 51, has been a food columnist at the Victoria Times Colonist for 16 years. He met his wife Cheryl Warwick, also a chef, while working in a kitchen in Thunder Bay, Ont. The couple moved to Toronto, then later settled in the Oak Bay area of Victoria with their son Tyler. "My son, who is now 23, has a great palate too," said Akis, who tests his recipes on family and friends.
The "Everyone Can Cook" series stemmed from a "lightbulb moment" when a newspaper reader asked in a letter if he could provide more recipes "everyone can cook" rather than the chef-based fodder he was featuring in his columns. Recipes in his books have run the gamut from appetizers, mid-week meals and slow cooker fare to seafood and celebrations.
He really wants people to relax and enjoy meal preparation.
"And as much as I love the Food Network I think it sometimes can be a little deceiving for people," he added. "I hear it all the time from chefs, 'Wow, look at how easy that was.' But what they're not telling you is there is a whole team of people behind them doing all the prep."
Akis whittled the recipes in the book, which is published by Whitecap, down to 240 favourites developed over 10 years of publishing, such as Morning Glory Pancakes to make on Sunday morning, a quick Garlic-Stuffed Chicken Legs for a week-night supper and how to cook a turkey for a festive meal.
"Then I've got some celebration ones, like a recipe for Shrimp Baked in Champagne Butter Sauce that is not particularly difficult — butter, booze, garlic, you can't go wrong. Then kind of everyday things, Oven-Baked Fish and Chips, easy cookie recipes, quick cakes, so a little bit of everything. Something you could do every day," he explained.
One food many people shy away from preparing is fish.
"Even in Victoria where we have all this beautiful fish, people are scared to cook fish," he lamented. "They're not sure how to tell if it's fresh or cooked. They're worried it might fall apart in the pan."
A salmon fillet is the easiest fish to tell if it's cooked. "When it's not cooked it will still look translucent and will feel soft in the centre. When it is cooked you'll notice between the flakes the fat is pushing through. It will feel a bit firm to the touch and it will slightly separate," he explained.
"And if you've cooked the heck out of it, then all that fat will push through and the top surface of the fish will appear quite white, it'll feel rock hard and look dry. You can usually tell when it's overcooked."
Akis said the style of cooking he likes "is based on the Italian model with really fresh vegetables, good simple ingredients, good olive oil, fresh garlic. It could be that beautiful piece of fish, chicken that I've bought from the corner butcher shop and just keep it simple. Let the ingredients sing.
"It doesn't have to have 49 ingredients to be extra special. If the ingredients are something that's special, that will make things shine."