Don Cwynar enjoys making dishes for guests that they wouldn't make for themselves.
John Starks | Staff Photographer
He's creating special surprises in the kitchen
Don Cwynar breaks one of his cardinal, culinary rules for us today: nobody is allowed in his kitchen while he's cooking.
"I chase them out," he says. "I get too nervous, and I don't like people seeing the ingredients; I want it to be a total surprise."
But for the Cook of the Week Don allowed our cameraman into his Carpentersville kitchen to film while he prepares one of this week's recipes.
An enthusiastic, if sporadic cook, Don enjoys preparing meals for family and friends "that they wouldn't normally make for themselves."
Sometimes it's a Door County-inspired, shrimp-and-sausage boil (using his big turkey fryer), a summertime routine for up to 12 people.
Eggs Benedict is another treat he has prepared for decades for family and friends visiting Christmas morning, and, more recently, New Year's Day.
Another memorable meal: a Costa Rican-style dinner of salmon with mango salsa and stuffed tomatillos.
"I was trying to convince some friends to go to Costa Rica with us," says Don. Two out of four signed on.
Presentation is part of the deal for Don, who likes to individually plate each meal instead of serving family style. Pork tenderloin slices get artfully arranged with a salsa or star fruit or asparagus for color. He's collecting new dishes that will "set everything off nicely, even hamburgers."
For weeknights, when Don and his wife, Cynthia, are working, he sometimes warms up leftovers from weekend cooking sessions. Homemade soups, chili or chicken tetrazzini are better than frozen entrees or too many restaurant meals.
Don grew up in Chicago watching his father, a former Navy cook, wield "a spatula in one hand, a beer in the other."
"I picked up cooking as a hobby," he says. "It probably kicked in more when I was about 30."
"It's not light cooking; it's cheesecakes, meat, salmon, the whole spectrum," he says. "Everything is fine in moderation."
One of his more decadent dishes is Lobster Thermidor, a pricey, special-occasion recipe his mother made for Father's Day or family birthdays.
"It's just delicious with oven-baked rolls and green salad," he says.
For the grill or broiler Don suggests an easy, Asian-marinated pork tenderloin.
"I wrap fresh corn, beans and potatoes in foil and put them on the grill too," he says.
From the Costa Rican supper he shares Salmon with Mango Salsa, brightly flavored with jalapeno, lime and cilantro.
"I was going for different textures and colors on the plate," he says.
Though Cynthia manages a lot of meal preparation, the two never work together.
"One cook in the kitchen at a time is a good rule," says Don.