Attention, men: If you’re going to cook for someone other than yourself, then you have to do it all—shop, prep, cook and clean, refusing all offers of help from your guest(s).
That’s the advice from veteran cook Tom Hodgson, one of many nuggets of information that will allow you to offer guests a good meal and a nice atmosphere. He’s created and self-published a cookbook of simple, elegant dishes, called The Sunday Night Cookbook, that anyone, male or female, can make on their own with a little preparation. He’s even illustrated every dish with his own color photos, “taken with an iPhone with the filters on,” he says.
Writing a cookbook was a vanity project, he says. The positive—even envious—reception he received after posting on Facebook some photos of his dinner dishes prompted him to share his culinary knowledge. Everyone wanted to eat the food or learn how to make it.
The first thing he had to do was design recipes, since he usually cooks without them, preferring to create his own. He began the project earlier this fall and found that, like his mother, the late Mary Ann Hodgson, he liked writing. Mary Ann, however, didn’t like to cook, which is another reason her son started cooking—so he could eat better.
The Sunday Night Cookbook has about 20 dishes and 40 pages. It’s available at Heery’s Too! downtown and retails for $25, with a portion of the profits going to the Clarke County Mentor Program and the Athens Community Council on Aging.
An Athens native, Hodgson—yes, one of the Hodgson Oil Building Hodgsons—started cooking as a bachelor in Manhattan in the late 1970s. He had a great one-bedroom apartment with a balcony, but he couldn’t afford to take dates out to nice restaurants. He rarely ate out himself, because even then, eating out in Manhattan was expensive. So he started cooking at home.
“I’d make pasta Alfredo or grill fish on the terrace,” he says. “My first date with Patti [whom he married] was dinner at my apartment.”
The couple eventually moved to Atlanta. While they were rearing their three children, Patti was preparing family meals, and Tom was traveling the country for his job, eating with colleagues at some of the best restaurants one could find. He noticed the food seemed to taste better when it was arranged nicely. So when his youngest child left home about 10 years ago and he started cooking again, he made sure to plate the food to be beautiful.
The first dish he mastered, he says, was vodka pasta, following a recipe from The New York Times. If the Facebook posts are an indication, Hodgson likes to cook fish with some kind of accompaniment. That pasta Alfredo he made decades ago? Now he makes “pasta Alfred and stuff,” adding vegetables and other ingredients.
“Everything I do well seems to be on the stove top,” he says. “I don’t bake, and I don’t use an outdoor grill.”
For the past 25 years, the Hodgsons and four other families have assembled for a week of vacation at the beach. Tom happily helms the kitchen, making dinner each evening for about 30 people, “but I don’t clean up,” he adds quickly.
If he could make a meal for three guests, he would serve melon wrapped with prosciutto, blackened grouper with sautéed rapini, a small Sunday night salad (the recipe is in the cookbook) and bananas Foster. He would share the meal with his mother, James Beard and Charlize Theron. And you can bet the presentation would be beautiful.