Anyone who watched Jack Nicklaus in his early playing days knows that he wasn’t merely feasting on opponents.
Just as he rarely missed the sweet spot, “Fat Jack,” as he was often called, didn’t miss a lot of meals.
It’s hard to blame him. There were, for starters, all those champions’ dinners. There were also the temptations served at home. Though Nicklaus’ wife, Barbara, was a one-time kitchen novice who confessed to having difficulty boiling water when the two got hitched in 1960, she soon got down to scratch with a frying pan.
“People don’t realize what an amazing cook Barbara is,” Jack writes in the forward to a book that aims to make her talents clear.
The book is Well Done! Life, Love & Food, a collection of recipes and reflections from a Nicklaus family home that, by all appearances, is filled with happy memories and free of any fear of cholesterol.
Jack and Barbara are listed as co-authors, but the Golden Bear is no Steve Williams. He knows better than to claim undue credit. In his forward, he points out that his family knows “the true heart our home” is really “Barbara’s Kitchen.” Aside from grilling every now and then, Jack brought little more than an appetite to the table.
Well Done! takes its name from a phrase Nicklaus has long used to congratulate a victorious opponent. It takes much of its cooking from another time.
In this age of headline chefs and hipster fashions, the book does not pretend to pass as trendy. It never calls for farm-raised quail eggs or volcanic rock salt, though it does rely on big-brand cream cheese, store-bought crescent rolls and canned mushroom soup. With recipes ranging from crumpets, cheesy casseroles and quiche Lorraine to chipped beef, broccoli dip and red velvet cake, Well Done! is something of charming throwback, the print equivalent of a persimmon club head.
Like her husband, Barbara hails from Ohio, and while she doles out a few samples from overseas (there’s a recipe, for instance, for frog legs Provencal) she’s more inclined to offer heaping helpings from the heartland, including her riff on a Midwestern pasta-and-ground beef classic called Johnny Marzetti. The quantity of food her instructions produce (witness a lasagna that serves 16 to 20) is a further indication of her leanings: Barbara isn’t interested in being fussy. She’s out to keep a large family well-fed.
Unlike some celebrity lifestyle cookbooks, Well Done! doesn’t deal in juicy tabloid tidbits. There are a lot of dishes, but not a lot of dish. The closest it comes to an inside scoop is Barbara’s account of a cocktail party in South Africa, where Jack kept returning to the buffet table for more of what he called “the best things I have ever tasted.” They were artichoke rounds. Back home in Florida, Barbara found a way to replicate the recipe, using butter, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, paprika and canned artichokes, all spreadable on Melba rounds. Someone call the National Inquirer.
It is public knowledge that Jack Nicklaus no longer indulges like he used to. Once a card-carrying member of the clean plate-club, he cut down on his portions years ago, morphing, as the late great columnist Jim Murray put it, “from blond blob to Golden Bear.” Barbara, meanwhile, just kept on cooking, as this cheerful book attests.
Well Done! costs $39.99. Proceeds from it go toward the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. Calories from it wind up somewhere else. Copies are on sale at nchcf.org.