They want to know what to do with a whisk. They want to know how to tell when poultry is done.
And they are amazed that besides brushing pastry, a pastry brush can also apply a coat of glaze to chicken.
They are folks who regard the stove as foreign territory.
Some of them are the offspring of two-career couples. They grew up eating in restaurants or eating carry-out food. Some of them just didn't like the way their mother cooked. Or they didn't like their mother.
And so while they may know how to program a computer, they are unsteady when it comes to cooking supper.
These reports on the world of the non-cooks come from Diana Torrey, who has just completed a six-city swing -- Baltimore, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle -- around America cooking for folks who think watching the work of a zester -- a device that removes the colorful part of the fruit peel while leaving the bitter pulp -- is great entertainment.
Ms. Torrey met these stove-shy folks on familiar ground, the offices where they work. During lunch hour or during after-work cooking demonstrations at various corporate headquarters, she prepared simple recipes, took questions and, in general, tried to reduce the anxiety some people feel about cooking from scratch.
Ms. Torrey's effort is sponsored by the California Raisin Advisory Board. The raisin board figured that if more people know how to cook, they will buy more raisins. Just to be sure, a 16-page pamphlet, "Beyond Boiling Water," that Ms. Torrey passes out among the uncooking masses, contains recipes calling for raisins. It also contains definitions of basic cooking terms and tools.
I talked with Ms. Torrey recently when she was in town, demonstrating how to cook Cornish hens -- they are done, she said, when you prick the thickest part of the thigh and the juice runs clear -- to workers at Black & Decker headquarters in Towson.
It was easy to see why Ms. Torrey was picked as ambassador to the uncooked. She is 30 years old, right in the middle of the 25-35 age bracket that many of the cooking-impaired fall into.
Moreover, she knew what you do with a whisk -- you use it to beat ingredients together ensuring a lump-free mixture.
She said she was taught to cook by her mother who stayed home to raise five children. At St. Lawrence University in New York, she learned this "unusual" ability to cook helped her social life. "I was known as the one who had the great parties," she said, the ones with real food.
Now she is manager of the kitchen of the San Francisco office of Ketchum Public Relations, where she develops recipes for the firm's clients, such as the raisin board.
Her recent journey through uncooking America left her with the impression that there are numbers of young adults lurking at the kitchen door. They are curious about what goes in the kitchen. They are willing to give this cooking thing a try, as long as it doesn't take more than two hours. But their skills are, shall we say, spotty.
Some can deglaze -- make a sauce from meat juices in the heated pan by adding liquid then scraping off the browned particles -- with the best of them.
But some need help.
Like the woman, fresh out of medical school, who read a recipe that told her to "reduce the sauce by half." An experienced cook knows that "reducing" a sauce means cooking it at high heat so some of the liquid will evaporate, thus intensifying the flavors.
But the young doctor, who knew her tibias from her fibulas, didn't know her cooking terms.
So when the recipe told her to reduce the sauce by half, she poured half the sauce down the drain.
For a copy of the free recipe booklet, send a self-addressed 9-by-12-inch envelope, with $1.25 in postage, to: Raisin Cooking School, 55 Union St., Dept. CST, San Francisco 94111.