Bonnie Stern Tells Us About Her New Cookbook, “Don’t Worry, Just Cook”
Canadian culinary icon Bonnie Stern and her daughter Anna Rupert talk to Best Health about the duo's new cookbook, Don’t Worry, Just Cook.
Image: Tyler Anderson
Bonnie Stern is likely a mainstay of your cookbook collection. As the author of 12 cookbooks and the founder of the Bonnie Stern School of Cooking in Toronto, where she taught people how to cook for over 35 years, Stern has become a companion and guide for many in the kitchen. During the pandemic, Stern and her daughter, Anna Rupert, worked together to create Don’t Worry, Just Cook, an accessible guide to home cooking imbued with the intimacy and nourishment of a family meal.
Here, Stern and Rupert talk about working together and how cooking and creating a cookbook helped them forge a close bond.
Best Health: Where did the idea for the book come from?
Bonnie Stern: I know that when I get together with people, I feel like crying these days because it’s just been so long. And I think getting together over a meal makes it extra special and gives it more meaning because you’re nurturing people and giving them part of yourself. You know, cooking has always been like that, whether it’s family cooking or entertaining, or bringing food to work and sharing. I think it’s about sharing.
BH: Why did you choose to work together?
Anna Rupert: I had been helping with writing and editing a monthly newsletter and occasional presentation, so we had already started working together a little bit in that capacity. One day—I don’t know when it was because I have no sense of time anymore with the pandemic—but I said, if you did want to write another book, I’d be happy to help. I don’t think either of us knew going into it that I would end up being a co-author. But the process was really wonderful, and we’ve always been close, and annoyingly, I can say that we’re even closer now. I even stayed over, sometimes for two weeks at a time, during the lockdowns.
BH: Bonnie, in the book you mention that you didn’t have the confidence to write another book until Anna suggested it to you. What did Anna bring to this project that you needed?
BS: My last cookbook was 14 years ago even and so much has changed since then with social media and with what people expect from cooking. When I had my cooking school, I would get constant feedback and know what people wanted to know, which I always try to put in the recipes. But Anna, as well as jumping into social media, also provided that kind of feedback that I didn’t have since the school closed [in 2011].
BH: What was it like working on this project during the pandemic?
AR: I think I can speak for both of us: we were so incredibly thankful and grateful that we had the book through this whole time. It was a bit of a distraction. It was a really wonderful, positive thing that we could work on together that was keeping us busy and that was nourishing. The process of putting it together and testing the recipes and eating all the recipes nourished us and I think we’re incredibly lucky that we had that through that time.
BS: It was very lonely not being with people and not being able to celebrate occasions. To have the opportunity to be able to create something that would eventually help people was very big.
BH: Aside from delicious recipes, the book is also about bonding through cooking. How has food and cooking together helped you two stay so close?
AR: We have Friday night dinner together as a family basically every week—during lockdown, mom created takeaway dinners and we’d eat them over Zoom—and my mom and I will start texting on Tuesday or Wednesday to decide what to make. Like, for example, Friday night dinner this week is for my brother’s birthday—I don’t know if you saw the popcorn ice cream cake [in the book], but we always make an ice cream cake for my brother’s birthday, so we’re going to make that this week.
BH: Bonnie, you’re the teacher, but what did Anna teach you during this process?
BS: She taught me not to worry as much as I do. That doesn’t mean don’t worry about everything, but she has a different outlook and it’s very positive. That’s a very encouraging thing for me to think of the bright side of things instead of worrying about what could go wrong. She also taught me how to write better and tell a story better. She and my son, Mark Rupert, also taught me how to use Instagram—I mean, I think I’m pretty good for an older person, but they’re just amazing at it. And, I’ve been so lucky to be able to see her as an adult and work together with her, and I’m just so proud of her and this book.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Excerpted from Don’t Worry, Just Cook by Bonnie Stern. Copyright © 2022 Bonnie Stern Cooking Schools Ltd. and Anna Rupert. Photography © 2022 Tyler Anderson with additional photos by Mark Rupert and Anna Rupert. Food styling by Olga Truchan. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.