Here’s a little interview I did with Serious Eats about my favorite cookbooks (click here). Craig says that the picture that I took of myself is “goofy,” but he wasn’t there to take it and I made a choice. I’m owning that choice.
Last night, I went to meet a friend for a drink at Laurel Hardware, a restaurant in West Hollywood that has a killer cocktail called The Vig that combines tequila, pineapple, vanilla bean, and green chartreuse. As is my wont, I arrived fifteen minutes early and found myself standing in the entryway where the staff was having a meeting and the chefs in the open kitchen were prepping for the dinner rush. These facts would normally be totally lost on me, but because I’d been reading Molly Wizenberg’s fantastic new memoir, Delancey, I suddenly felt a surge of recognition. “These people are girding themselves for an onslaught,” I told myself, studying the scene with fascination. “In one hour, they’re all going to be elbow deep in the muck.”
Our landlords recently told us that they’re selling our apartment and so, despite how much we like it here, we’re going to have to pack up and move on July 1st. I’m already spending way too much time on Westsiderentals.com (the big rental site out here) and a site called Padmapper (which puts Craigslist listings on a map) trying to find our next place. One thing I’ll miss about our current place, besides its proximity to a grocery store (Gelson’s) and a gourmet market (The Oaks) is Counterpoint, the used book store on our street. I’ve found many cookbook gems there, like The Mandy Patinkin Family Cookbook (which I didn’t buy) and The Cooking of Southwest France (which I did).
We all have regrets in life. I regret pulling out the chair from under Stacy Epstein in the 3rd grade. Can I go back and change that I did that? No I can’t. But I can go back and change one regret from a few weeks ago. I was at the used book store on my street and found, to my surprise, a copy of Mandy Patinkin’s Jewish family cookbook. Actually, it’s not his cookbook–he just wrote the Introduction–it’s Grandma Doralee Patinkin’s cookbook. That’s either his mother or grandmother, it’s hard to tell (she looks young) but the point is I didn’t buy it. And it’s still there. And I still haven’t bought it. What’s wrong with me?
The concept of COOKFIGHT is incredibly fresh. New York Times journalists Kim Severson and Julia Moskin, who also happen to be best friends, choose a theme (dinner on a budget, for example) and then compete to see who can make the best meal. The results of their efforts fill the pages of this book; a book so chock-full of winning recipes, I’m not sure which one I want to make first. Ok, that’s a lie, I know which one I want to make first but it means I’m choosing sides in the Cookfight. (Don’t tell Kim, but it’s Julia’s pasta with roast chicken, currants and pine nuts.)
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to the New York Times building (my first time!) to interview Kim and Julia about their book. Instead of a lengthy 20 minute interview that meanders in all directions, I decided to pose various Cookfights to them to watch them duke it out. Coke vs. Pepsi, Mounds vs. Almond Joy, etc. The results are in the video below; but if you have a job where you can’t watch videos at work, I’ve broken it all down for you underneath it with comic book speech balloons that recreate the conversation.
My friend Amanda Cohen, chef at Dirt Candy in New York’s East Village, has a pretty incredible cookbook out right now called, appropriately enough, Dirt Candy. The remarkable thing about the book is that it’s in a graphic novel format, so there are drawings and speech balloons and little boxes and exclamations and all of that good stuff you expect to see in a graphic novel. What’s great is how this format enhances the experience of reading a cookbook…the combination of text and imagery carries the points home further so the various techniques described (sweating, reducing, etc.) are made incredibly clear. Today I popped into Dirt Candy to sit down with Amanda to chat about the book, how it came about, how she wrote it in this format, and to get the dirt on some of the stories she tells (about Iron Chef, for example). Thanks Amanda for taking the time to talk to me and congrats on your awesome new book!
The first food book that I ever read (and the first food book that changed my life) was Calvin Trillin’s Feeding A Yen. I don’t recall what led me to it, but I remember the first chapter incredibly well: Trillin’s daughter no longer lives in New York and he thinks he can woo her back if he rediscovers the pumpernickel bagel that she loved in her childhood. This feat of food writing–which deftly juggles comedy, pathos, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the New York bagel scene–immediately revealed to me that food writing didn’t have to be stuffy or pretentious. Though Trillin takes food seriously, he doesn’t take himself too seriously; his lightness of touch is unmatched in the business. Which is why this book tops the list (though the rest of the list is no particular order); it’s the book that made me want to be a food writer.
Iconic male food writers like A.J. Liebling and R.W. Apple were large men; they flaunted their girth in ways that their female counterparts (M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, Ruth Reichl) did not. Their weight helped them cultivate an aura of power and authority; it’s easy to imagine them sitting in a brown leather chair, patting their tummies after a large meal, smoking a very expensive cigar and sipping a very fine Brandy. But to quote the Monkees: that was then and this is now.