Cookbook review: Lessons in inquisitive eating

‘Thoughtful Cooking: Recipes Rooted in the New South’ by William Stark Dissen (Countryman Press, $35)
"Thoughtful Cooking: Recipes Rooted in the New South" by William Stark Dissen (Countryman, $35)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

"Thoughtful Cooking: Recipes Rooted in the New South" by William Stark Dissen (Countryman, $35)

In my haste to find something to cook for dinner, I nearly dismissed William Stark Dissen’s debut cookbook, “Thoughtful Cooking: Recipes Rooted in the New South” (Countryman, $35), as too cheffy for my immediate purposes.

Quickly flipping through the pages, I saw luscious-looking dishes with lengthy ingredient lists that sometimes directed me elsewhere for additional instructions, such as pickling green strawberries or curing egg yolks for a garnish.

Then I came across Indian Okra and Tomato Stew with Cilantro and Cucumber Raita. Having nearly everything the recipe called for, including a barely used bottle of garam masala, I made it that night, and the dish was as flavorful as Dissen described. That convinced me to give this book a deeper look.

Dissen is the chef behind several farm-to-table restaurants including the Market Place Restaurant and Lounge in Asheville, North Carolina. In 2021, he claimed the title of “Most Sustainable Chef in the World” on National Geographic’s TV series, “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.”

“Thoughtful Cooking,” Dissen readily admits, isn’t designed to be quick. Rather, “it’s inconvenient in all the right ways: it asks the home cook to be in the moment, to take a breath, and to connect.”

That means taking our time to ponder the season’s cycles with the local bounty — lessons he learned exploring the Appalachian forests of his youth and enjoying meals prepared by his grandmother from her West Virginia garden.

Chapters flow from season to season, linked by Dissen’s evocative storytelling and recipes that marry nature’s flavors with modern twists. In summer, that includes grilled summer squash drizzled with homemade chili crisp; fried catfish with chowchow and boiled peanut stew; and heirloom tomatoes sandwiched in Pullman bread smeared with garlic confit aioli.

“Even a simple tomato sandwich has the ability to transform,” Dissen explains, “especially when we aren’t trying to balance our phone on our other hand, waiting for the perfect Instagrammable moment.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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