“Now I’ve become a pretty good cook and I’m ecstatic that I get to keep my new skillset for the rest of my life.”
Name: Merrill Long
I cook for: My wife and two kids — 7 and 5
The ability to cook means: freedom to eat well
Favorite Cook Smarts meal:
My wife and I: Sesame-Teriyaki Salmon
My kids: Panko-Crusted Fish Tacos
How did you learn to cook?
My wife had always been in charge of cooking and meal planning for the family, and I’d happily stay out of her way. But two years ago, she started a new business – Bloom Retreat in Walnut Creek. The work consumed her and she was gone 60-70 hours a week. I had to take over most of the household responsibilities, and of these, cooking was the most daunting. I was lost in the kitchen and needed help.
I found Cook Smarts and started following the weekly meal plans word for word. They told me what to buy and what to do with it once I got home. I watched the online videos about how to prep and store food, which spices to keep around, and how to repurpose leftovers. Cook Smarts was a lifesaver for me and allowed me to put good food in front of my kids and have stuff for my wife to eat when she got home. The meals were awesome, and it was only a matter of weeks before I felt on top of things in the kitchen. Now I’ve become a pretty good cook and I’m ecstatic that I get to keep my new skillset for the rest of my life.
What’s your biggest challenge in the kitchen?
When I first started, it was chaos in our fridge and in our cupboards. I didn’t know where things were, I didn’t know which spices we needed, we didn’t have the right tools — it took a few weeks of slogging through before I was able to get on top of it.
How has Cook Smarts helped you with this challenge?
I appreciated having good meals chosen for me and having a detailed grocery list. This was at least half of the battle for me. The meal plans were something I could rely on in a time of chaos. It also helped to have clear food prep instructions and online training videos to teach me how to do simple things, like chop an onion efficiently. Cook Smarts also suggested pans and cooking tools that I could buy to make things as easy as possible.
“Cook Smarts was a lifesaver for me and allowed me to put good food in front of my kids and have stuff for my wife to eat when she got home.”
Tell us about your current cooking routine and how it’s changed over time?
When I first started, I followed all the recipes exactly. I didn’t deviate for fear of ruining something. Now, though, I feel free to combine sides from other meals, make substitutions, and pull together hodge-podge meals from what I have left over. The shift came as I recognized things that I’d done many times before — for example, vinaigrettes are usually one part vinegar to two parts oil. Now I can improvise with them.
What new skill or dish have you cooked that you’re most proud of?
We had friends over and I cooked up sweet potato tacos with homemade avocado (pretty quickly and easily I might add) and they came out beautifully. It was then that I realized I had a valuable new skill that I get to keep for the rest of my life.
What advice would you give to other dads who are newly navigating the kitchen?
Don’t be afraid of it and just dive in. It was tough going for me at first, but it only took a few weeks before I started to feel on top of it, and things got much easier. Now I’m much more comfortable in the kitchen and I’m eating better.
Merrill, your wife is very lucky to be able to come home from a long day at work and enjoy your delicious meals. Your story is very inspiring. Nothing is more motivating than someone who went from not cooking to being a terrific cook. Perhaps we will be seeing you on Top Chef next?!