On April 12, Gwyneth Paltrow's third cookbook, "It's All Easy," will hit stores. Like her two bestselling cookbooks — "It's All Good" and "My Father's Daughter" — "It's All Easy" is beautifully photographed, brightly written and all the recipes (there are 125) are easy to follow. So for fans of Paltrow's cookbooks, there's only one big question: Where to hide it?
What is it about the 43-year-old Oscar-winning actress and founder of the lifestyle website Goop that drives people around the bend? To find evidence of how polarizing she is one need look no further than a 2009 YouTube video of Paltrow deboning and roasting a chicken that generated every sort of comment, from nuriaarsenio's "I like the way she cooks, very motherly" to Brent Lancaster's "she's like drunk person at a party who thinks others find them interesting. Save us!" Searching Google for Paltrow memes is an armchair sport.
It's anyone's guess if she intentionally baits the haters or just can't get out of her own way. (The extravagant two-page pantry list of suggested spices, condiments, tools and sauces in "It's All Easy" is a case in point. Does every kitchen require a bamboo matcha whisk and gluten-free pancake mix?)
But the Internet is just as full of posts by Gwyneth apologists, ones with titles like "Why You Should Give Gwyneth Paltrow's Cookbook a Chance." And frankly, why not? She's famously well-traveled, hangs out with star chefs such as Mario Batali, and if she doesn't include red meat in her diet and rarely eats pork, seems willing to take a shot at anything and everything else.
Paltrow also has great curating skills, being able to take delicious food she's eaten around the world, remove some of the oil, fat and cream, and have it taste good.
Because the subtitle of "It's All Easy" is "Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook," I reached out to my friend, Dave White, who as film critic and co-host of the podcast Linoleum Knife is super-busy as well as the guy in charge of dinner at his house. His assignment? To make Paltrow's Zuni Sheet Pan Chicken. The recipe is a clever riff off of the late San Francisco chef Judy Rodgers' legendary roast bird, distilling its notorious three-day preparation into a couple of hours, if you count the herb-mincing and zesting.
Unlike many apologists, White is proud that his copy of "It's All Good" is dog-eared and ingredient-spattered. "It was given to me as a gift — I thought it was a joke," he says, "But then I started cooking from it and thought, 'Everything is so good.'"
Dave delights in almost everything about Paltrow, including "how unapologetically rich she is." And he loves the page where Paltrow dedicates "It's All Easy" not just to her own children, Apple and Moses, but the kids of her many celeb pals, including Beyoncé's daughter, Blue Ivy, and Olympia, Mafalda and Tassilo, the offspring of Bulgarian royalty.
Because of this, I was surprised when he reported back to me that even though the chicken turned out "crazy delicious," he didn't like "the description of the super fancy restaurant version of this, which she has no idea will make you feel bad about your own version before you even start," and he wasn't thrilled about "the final few instructions, which are not laid out very plainly.
"I love her but none of it is 'easy' in a real-world way," White says. "I think about my mom who was a terrible cook, but it was still her job during the week to come home and make dinner. We ate canned things and things from the freezer and Tuna Helper and Libbyland TV dinners," he says.
Somewhere in his reminiscing about his mother is perhaps a kernel of what the hate is about, of why some regard Paltrow as the ultimate condescending celebrity, the one who, out of touch with the real world, tells everyone that they ought to be spending $4,739 on a gold-plated juicer or dining at Benz's, a restaurant located on the remote Koh Kood Island in Thailand, an hour's boat ride from the mainland.
But what happens if she doesn't mean for her cookbooks to be prescriptive, as in "You should be living the way I live?" What if she means for them to be merely aspirational? That's a question I'd love to have put to her along with more basic things like how she develops her recipes and what's the division of labor between her and co-writer Thea Baumann. But when I asked to talk about the cookbook, the answer from her reps was no.
So instead the book will speak for itself. I put it to the test by cooking from it on three consecutive super-busy nights. Everything came out perfectly.