Tag Archives: news

Spring Review

13 Mar

springreviewIt’s time for a Spring Review since beginning my blog in 2010. I’ve written more than 300 entries and wanted to share the best with you. Because of instantaneous access to one another via the Internet, the “world’s table” is now on public view. It is my goal, then, as a journalist, chef, author, restaurant consultant and food trends junkie, to help set the table with decades of perspective. When Vladimir Nabokov got around to writing his memoir, he called it “Speak, Memory.”  When writing my blog, I issue a similar command to myself:  “Taste, Memory!” I seek ways to connect the reader emotionally to his or her own gastronomic wavelength.

Just as Anna Quindlen writes about her keen observations about life – tying together politics, family, and one’s inner experience, often with whimsy — I have written my voice into daily, and weekly, connections to food, dining, cooking, history, biography and memoir. Each entry is a deliberate serving of the past, present and future – whether connecting the uprising in Egypt to my respect for Naguib Mafouz and my fondness for Egyptian cooking (with a contemporary photo of a young man preparing an ancient dish of ful mudammas); or experiencing the soul of Philadelphia-chef Marc Vetri through his singular approach to food and cooking and told his story by deeming him a “culinary bodhisattva.” A posting about “white carrots” informs the misinformed (which at times can be most of us), with an observation backed up with a bit of history, some speculation, and a few recipes to make the point. Included is a mesmerizing photo of carrots.

I believe that a younger generation of “food passionistas” – a term I coined for the group of dedicated, enthusiastic, and obsessively curious types about the world of food, chefs, and cooking – are in need of less hype, and more information, in an accessible  way. Inspired by the daily experiences of life in my kitchen, life in other people’s kitchens, learning at the hands of some of the industry’s most influential tastemakers, the purpose of my blog is not to attract advertisers or lure masses of readers; rather, it is an intimate, highly personal, often funny view of the world of food. Every blog posting puts my readers in-the-know about something timely. As a bonus, there’s always a “goody bag” in which one finds original recipes, ways to use new ingredients, food and wine pairing ideas, tips for entertaining, news about the coolest chefs and hottest restaurants. Or something more personal – a taste experience (ever try bitter chocolate, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sweet red grapes?); a mind stimulant (what about making marmalade from carrots?), or a new technique (like my deconstructed “wined-and-brined turkey,” or making cream cheese via “drip irrigation”).

Cooking is not merely about measurement and temperature, and the culinary world is not merely about gastronomy or nutrition. Food has deep historic and emotional resonances, and profound historical connections — think about “feast” or “famine” or “bread riots.”

Food is familial and simultaneously social: We break bread together and then divide the world into pig-eaters or pig-shunners.

When one writes well about food, all these factors come into play, consciously or not. One should know that The Gleaners in Millet’s famous painting reach backward historically to biblical injunctions not to harvest to the corners of the field, but to leave food for the poor. One should know that without the discovery of the Americas, there would be no tomatoes in Naples, no paprika in Budapest, no chocolate in Zurich. One should know something about why certain foods connect to certain religious festivals – why, for example, we serve lamb at Easter and also at Passover, and why both “feasts” relate to activities around the table.

What my mother cooked for the her family is different from what my readers’ mothers did then or do today, but they all set standards for how we view not just what’s on our plate, but how we will relate to a larger world – one in which even the present seems to vaporize in an instant.

Please take a moment to enjoy the posts below, and I encourage you to search the archives for others that may be of interest to you.

Cooking in Silence

Chocolate Dirt: Is it Art or is it Dinner?

Insanely Delicious Fresh Figs

Eating Your Way Through 2013

31 Dec

nyeThis has been a year of great upheaval, transition and growth for the planet, and for many of you this week may be a time for personal reflection and resolution-making.  I, for one, have promised myself to meditate daily, spend more time with my family, shop more carefully, entertain more often, and eat more mindfully.  Some of that has to do with paying attention to the upcoming trends this year.  Although it may be goofy to say, (I mean the word gourmet is so retro), “budget gourmet” restaurants — hipster places with cutting-edge food that 30-something’s can afford — are sprouting up faster than you can chew a mouthful of kale (which is everywhere.)

“Farm-to-Bar” — if you’re looking for future flavors then sidle up to your nearest artisan boozerie.  You will find fruits, vegetables, fresh herbal syrups, zested citrus bitters — all house-made — lining the bar top and perfuming your drinks.  I now make my own chamomile vodka (from fresh chamomile flowers) every spring and store in it the freezer.  A smart bartender will invent his/her own signature/locavore V-8.

Ingredients you’ve never heard of: Tokyo turnips, satsumas, hiramasa, squailen, astice, puffed basil seeds, scallion ash.

Feasts for sharing:  Nose-to-tail dinners — whole roasted pigs, lambs, etc. for a group of gorgers.  For example Momofuku’s Korean “bo ssam” family-style format includes a dozen oysters, a whole roasted pork shoulder, kimchee and condiments. Price? $200.

Eating in your zip code: radical locavore-ism continues with niche marketing to vegivores (a new word for me thanks to Adam Platt of New York Magazine).

The ancient flavors of Jerusalem:  Check out the fabulous new cookbook “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, and the new “Middleterranean” cooking (a hybrid of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines) in restaurants such as New York’s Taboon and Philadelphia’s Zahav.

The culinary wizardry of young Asian chefs forging a new identity: check out Nancy Matsumoto’s riveting article in the Atlantic.

Pop-ups keep popping up:  Restaurants, cookie stores, juice joints, snack bars, underground dining clubs in unexpected places.

Food as edible landscapes: check out my Chocolate Dirt piece in the Huff Post.

Prediction:  Congee (with lots of mix-ins and add-ons — and not just for breakfast.)

If you’re interested in the most ambitious and erudite trends list around, check out Michael Whiteman’s prognostications at www.baumwhiteman.com.  (He’s my husband but I’m really objective here.)  He, with his partner, the late Joe Baum, created some of the world’s largest grossing and most magical restaurants (the Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, and the Big Kitchen — the world’s first fast food court.)  Michael was also the founding editor of Nation’s Restaurant News — still going strong.   He can nose a trend as deeply as a truffle pig can hunt in Perigord.

Merry, happy, healthy.  May the New Year be a fulfilling one.

Here’s a healthy new recipe to get started:

Rigatoni with kale, chicken sausage & black olives

2 packed cups finely chopped kale leaves 12 ounces chicken sausage, removed from casing ¼ cup diced pitted kalamata or oil-cured black olives 12 grapes tomatoes, quartered Large pinch of red pepper flakes ½ cup chicken broth 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 8 ounces uncooked penne rigati 1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put kale, crumbled sausage, olives, tomatoes and pepper flakes in a large deep sauté pan with a cover. Pour chicken broth on top and drizzle olive oil over the mixture. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta 10 minutes until tender. Drain well. Remove pan from oven. Place on burners over medium heat. Add pasta and toss. Add cheese and salt to taste. Stir and cook 1 to 2 minutes.  Optional: Dust with freshly grated lemon zest. Serves 4

Who Needs Quinoa More Than You Do?

4 Dec

2012-11-30-quinoa.jpg

A guest at our Thanksgiving Leftovers Dinner raved about a quinoa stuffing she’d made for her own family’s annual feast the day before. I cringed a bit because few of us comprehend the dark side of our trendy infatuation with this ancient food from high in the arid Andes.

Quinoa is the only plant that’s a source of a complete protein; it packs so many nutrients into so little space that NASA called it an ideal food for astronauts.

America’s upper classes, relentlessly striving to eat themselves into good health, have latched onto quinoa as a “superfood,” and are gobbling up tons of it. As a result, you have this gastronomic madness of stuffing an already protein-rich turkey with protein-rich quinoa, when stale bread or bulgur wheat or rice or corn would do just as well — but with far less collateral damage to the citizens of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, where this stuff is grown.

Our quinoa craze may be enriching farmers who grow the stuff — prices, by some estimates, have tripled in recent years — and they now can afford mechanized farm equipment, solid houses and college education for their children. That’s the good news. They send us quinoa, we send them money — sounds like a perfect example of globalization. The bad news is that this boom is wrecking the diets of indigenous people who actually need to eat it, because they no longer can afford to purchase this life-sustaining vegetable. (We generally think of quinoa as a grain, but it’s actually a seed of vegetable related to chard.) Even more ironic, the children of these prosperous growers now can afford junk food, so newly acquired wealth is impacting their diets, too.

There are reports that quinoa consumption among those who actually live on it is down by about a third in the years since we’ve “discovered” this 5,000-year-old seed, and that nutritionally at-risk natives of quinoa-growing countries now only can afford cheaper, less nourishing rice or, worse yet, processed food. It starts to sound like right here, where many Americans purchase cheap, nutritionally suspect processed food because they can’t afford the real thing.

Minuscule quinoa seeds are cooked more or less like rice, and the result can be a substitute for any starchy component of a meal. You can use it as a cereal for breakfast or as a pilaf at dinner; you can make a tabbouleh-like salad for your kid’s lunchbox or thicken a soup; you can use it instead of couscous or add it to your chicken curry. Much of it is labeled “organic” or “non-GMO” or “gluten-free” or “fair trade” — adding a feel-good appeal to Americans who go soft in their legs when they see the word “sustainable” but who may be unaware that they’re taking food from the mouths of children elsewhere.

What’s more, the land used for quinoa crops is fragile and depends upon delicate balance between agriculture and herds of llamas, which help fertilize the area and whose large padded feet prevent erosion. These herds are being reduced to make room for more crops, which suggests that eventually they’ll need artificial fertilizer to maintain production, undermining one of quinoa’s fundamental market appeals.

So what should we do? None of what I’ve written means we should stop buying quinoa, because then we’d return the Andean farmers to their former states of poverty. Instead, it suggests to me that if we’re cooking a meal that might require a nutritional boost — especially if we’re vegetarians or have celiac disease, or if we’re outbound in a space capsule — then quinoa starts to make some gastronomic sense. But if we’ve already got a wholesome meal in the oven, we don’t need to overload it with superfluous “goodness” while removing disproportionate quantities of quinoa from countries where it is needed far more.

Perhaps this is a better feel-good approach.

Polenta: The Next Big Thing?

2 Jul

Not long ago, in the epicenter of Brooklyn’s culinary scene, I had a delightful dinner in a place called Osteria il Paiolo. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home to some of the world’s hippest dining venues, is a multi-culti morass of righteous Jews, old-time Italians and Dominicans, and newly-converted food passionistas with young families and big dreams. It is also home to one of the only places I know that features polenta as its calling card, authentically made in an “il paiolo” — a large unlined copper pot — the traditional vessel in northern Italy in which to s-l-o-w-l-y stir ground cornmeal into boiling water and salt until thick and creamy. It is sturdier than porridge and more sublime than its humble ingredients might imply. I was no more than 19 years old when I first met its acquaintance during a trip to northern Italy. It was there that I had one of the my most memorable dishes of my life: A thick slice of Gorgonzola dolce onto which was poured a stream of hot buttery polenta across its girth. An exercise in simplicity, its creamy texture and unexpected melding of flavors and fragrances, was downright sinful. And while not the traditional form polenta usually takes, it remains a love-at-first bite memory.

While the good people of Tuscany are known as “bean-eaters” because of their culinary proclivity towards legumes, the Piemontese locals are known as polentone. Apparently, everyone in Piedmont eats polenta all the time, and have done so before the Roman empire! (At that time, polenta was made from other grains such as millet, barley, and farro. Corn, or maize, appeared in the 16th century.)

That said, I was excited to try the polenta, and all the other good things I had heard about, at the dining spot loosely translated as “the polenta pot.” It is an osteria which, in Italy, connotes a rather casual restaurant where the owner is also the host: Enter Alex Palumbo. Alex, a native of northern Italy’s Piedmont region, was primed to bring the signature dish of his family’s kitchen to slightly tonier environs. Amidst a sprawl of white table-clothed tables in an industrial modern space, one can dine very well indeed. In addition to the myriad ways to eat polenta, topped with tomatoes and quail, with shrimp and rosemary, with fontina, are exemplary antipasti and main courses — we especially loved the homemade sausage with savory cabbage served in a terracotta casserole, and my husband said his roasted quail, prepared with pancetta, cream and sage, was the best he ever had. Good, too, was the unusual pappardelle al cioccolata, chocolate pasta with a wild boar and vegetable ragu.

Unbeknownst to me, authentic polenta is made with only water and salt, not the butter and cheese we have come to expect. But along the way, the latter ingredients have become commonplace. And while the ingredients may be 1-2-3, the mastery is in the preparation: Polenta must be slowly stirred for up to 45 minutes for its requisite creaminess and flavor. There are huge copper paiolo pots that have electric motors attached, but at Alex’s osteria, everything is lovingly stirred by a mano (by hand.) Alex gets his heirloom polenta — which is coarse and toothsome — from a “secret source” in Italy and claims that no one else in New York (ergo the country) has it. At last count, the kitchen is stirring up more than 60 pound per month, up from 10 pounds when he first got started, not so long ago. Clearly, the locals are catching on.

In my own kitchen at home, I make polenta with tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano as one of my ultimate comfort dishes, and on occasion, indulge in that time-honored memory of gorgonzola topped with steaming polenta. Only now I gild the dish with a tuft of balsamic-tinged wild arugula and anoint it all with my best extra-virgin olive oil on top. And I am still enamored of Colman Andrews’ polenta with oranges and olive oil from his wonderful book, Flavors of the Riviera. The potential for polenta is promising, perhaps turning us all into polentone one day.

Osteria il Paiolo, 106 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (www.ilpaiolonyc.com)

Insanely Delicious Fresh Figs

8 Jun

Photo Credit: Judd Pilosoff

I had a wonderful meal a few nights ago, at abckitchen in New York City, sponsored by the California fig advisory board. I am crazy about figs yet know very little about them. Dried figs were what we ate at home; fresh figs were a luxury. While we were a table of “Eves” the other night — no “Adams” — we ate like queens and I never imagined fig season would be welcomed with such open arms. Fresh, perfectly ripe, Black Mission figs dotted the menu that I shared with a round table of food editors from Oprah, Reader’s Digest, Weight Watchers, et al. It was the ultimate girl’s night out. I loved the black mission figs draped with prosciutto and set in a nest of balsamic-spiked wild arugula; I swooned over the honey-glazed turnips with figs, rosemary and lemon, and really enjoyed the individual baked Alaskas with fig ice cream and cinnamon spice cake. Clearly the chef, Dan Kluger, loves figs, too. The ancients considered figs to have magical, medicinal powers, an idea supported by scientific evidence that figs were cultivated, in Jericho, more than 11,000 years ago.The great writer Lawrence Durrell once said about olives, “a taste older than water.” The same could be said about figs.

California produces 100 percent of the country’s dried figs and 98 percent of its fresh figs, of which more than half get shipped to Canada. The season begins mid-May and extends, surprisingly, all the way to mid-December; mid-August is when it’s in full swing. In fact, more than 20 years ago, the first day of my new job working for the legendary restaurateur, Joe Baum, on August 15, I prepared a “birthday breakfast” for him — one of my homemade Venetian wine cakes (made with olive oil, red wine, rosemary and lemon) and chose, one by one, 24 perfectly ripe fresh figs from the Union Square Farmer’s Market, near our office. The figs had been warmed by the sun and were a stunning accompaniment to the cake and coffee. It was one of my favorite “fig memories.” At dinner the other night, we asked, one by one, to share our favorite fig memory. It was lovely to hear the responses: from eating them off a tree on a honeymoon to a wistful sharing of a father’s fig tree that bloomed only after he had passed away. One woman at the table had never had a fresh fig and was deemed “fig virgin” of the evening.

Apparently there are five primary varieties of figs grown in California, yet there are hundreds and hundreds of species grown around the world. The five in the U.S. are Black Mission, calimyrna, kadota, brown turkey, and sierras. And there is a newer variety known as “tiger fig” with a green-striped overcoat that revels a raspberry-red interior. I liked the way that Karla Stockli, the CEO of the fig board, described the figs — as though describing the nuances of wine! Black Mission figs with purple-black skin and deep earthy flavor are likened to a cabernet. Calimyrna, with its pale yellow skin and buttery, nutty flavor are (you guessed it!) chardonnay-like; Kadota has similar notes to sauvignon blanc; brown turkey with a light purple skin and floral notes are likened to pinot noir, and sierra with their light-colored skin and fresh, sweet flavor are Riesling-esque.

And it’s good to note that three to five fresh or dried figs provide 5 grams of dietary fiber (or 20 percent of the daily value.)

The photo here is a recipe for fresh figs that I created a decade ago for my book, Desserts 1-2-3 (which landed on the L.A. Times “Hot List” and chosen as one of the best books of the year by Food & Wine Magazine). Dipped in a thin coating of melted chocolate and yogurt, my husband named them “figs in nightgowns.” I will share the recipe tomorrow. They are insanely delicious.

Tastes of the Week

30 Apr

April 23 through April 30, 2012

It’s been a week of excess and pleasure. I often feel that way when we just eat well at home — trying new ingredients, adapting wonderful recipes to fit our needs, developing ideas for magazine articles, or simply opening that rare “convenience” food like the Butter Chicken we bought at Costco! But this week’s tastes came from outside my home and into the kitchens of some of New York’s best chefs and into a neighbor’s home for a bona fide “Afternoon Tea.”  There was lunch at North End Grill (you can read more about it in my blog post “A Chef Among Chefs“), a contemporary new restaurant created by restaurant impresario Danny Meyer and chef Floyd Cardoz. Details of the meal are included there. The restaurant is located on a hidden street where you can peer onto the river across a sweeping grassy knoll — which is a memorial to Irish immigrants. It will be a wonderful area to explore once the weather is sunny and beckoning.

I am still thinking about an impromptu lunch with Max Falkowitz — the new New York editor of Serious Eats.  We “dined” at Taboonette (the downtown offspring of the popular restaurant Taboon) and immensely enjoyed the Kruveet (taboon roasted cauliflower, grilled eggplant, hummus, tahini and cilantro), superb pulled pork with fennel-jicama-apple slaw, spicy cilantro mayo and chicharones, and lemon-cured baked salmon with za’atar oil, yogurt sauce, sumac and arugula. Wonderful coffee.

Dinner at RedFarm, Eddie Schoenfeld’s new wildly imaginative Chinese-esque restaurant in the West Village. We were delighted to take the food editor and publisher of Israel’s most important food magazine, Al Hashulchan, Janna and Ilan Gur. They were enamored by the array of extraordinary dumplings, the Kowloon filet mignon tarts, and Green Thai Curry. 

A beautiful lunch at SD26. It has a very different feel at lunch — lighter and more whimsical — and I look forward to the outdoor seating which should appear shortly. The four of us were thrilled with a first course of freshly-flown in burrata surrounded by excellent San Daniele prosciutto. That, and an espresso, might have been enough for us: It was perfection. But we moved onto the house specialty “Uovo” — soft egg yolk-filled raviolo with truffle butter, homemade fettuccine with coriander-scented lamb ragu, fava beans and fresh mint, and shared a portion of succulent swordfish served with zucchini scapece, eggplant caviar, and fried tomatoes. Great tiramisu with espresso sauce.  And would you believe that a two-course lunch is $28.

Lunch the next day at the Rubin Museum. It is not as good as it used to be but it is still an extraordinary institution (with very exciting programming) and a good place to “hang” if you want to hear your dining companion and sip good “white Earl Grey” tea.

And speaking of tea, it was a lovely surprise to attend a real tea party at the home of a neighbor to hear about the goings-on at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. Tea was poured at 4:00 p.m. and “catered” by Angela who specializes in tea parties! Tiny scones with delicious “raisin butter,” cucumber and mint sandwiches, tiny croutes with curried chicken salad, fig pound cake, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and gorgeous truffles that looked like Christmas ornaments! 

I also cooked dinner for friends, but more about that another time.

New: Beginning Wednesdays and Fridays, I will be sharing recipes from my archives! Stay tuned. Enjoy your week.

Tastes of the Week(s)

19 Mar

February 27 through March 18, 2012

Several weeks have gone by and I haven’t shared some of the interesting and, often superlative, tastes that I’ve had. This “tastes” column is a way for me to both document and re-imagine the experiences, but also an invocation for you to fine tune your own. This is a new era of “mindfulness” for me — in both cooking and eating — resulting in far more pleasure and appreciation. As many of you know, I am a student in a program called Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care and I work in an emergency room and on a cancer floor once a week. The very notion of contemplation spills over into everything nowadays — not just in working with patients. It even extends to the little cafe at Beth Israel Hospital in New York, where I slowly savor my tuna fish sandwich and unexpectedly decent coffee in a weekly ritual, sharing tables with strangers, wondering what the day has been like for them. Mindful eating is now being talked about with much grace — I enjoy re-reading the wonderful article in the New York Times about it several weeks ago — but I am also interested in “contemplative cooking” — that of my own and of others. It is a subject I will be writing much more about.

This installment bridges February and March — the end of an almost nonexistent winter and very early spring. I had a wonderful lunch last week at Rouge Tomate, a beautiful sprawling modern restaurant on East 60th Street in the city.   Their $29 prix fixe menu was quite a surprise especially because the meal was as enjoyable and professional as one I recently had at Le Bernardin. The chef, Jeremy Bearman, deserves much more attention and I look forward to learning more about him and his philosophy in cooking. Now here is a “contemplative chef!” Every detail of taste, color, harmony, balance and surprise existed in every dish. I started with a Green Tornado (not part of the prix fixe) instead of my usual glass of wine. It was a fabulous quaff blended from tarragon, spinach, basil, butter lettuce (!), mint and lemon juice. Stimulating and satisfying, I could drink these all summer long.  (And doesn’t butter lettuce sound divine and fattening?!) The first course, Wild Mushroom and Leek Salad, was a “painting” that also included spring garlic, frisee, Meyer lemon, and a polenta crisp. The main course, Arctic Char a la Plancha, came with black rice (also known as “forbidden rice”), green olives, spring onion, and passion fruit. The passion fruit was expressed by a disk of daikon that was cooked “sous vide” in passion fruit juice. It might have been one of the most exciting tastes I’ve ever had.  And while the arctic char spent a few too many seconds on the plancha, the dish as a whole was fascinating.  Desserts? A bittersweet chocolate tart, with accents of banana, coconut, lime yogurt and ginger gelato, and Fingerlakes Farms’ Yogurt Panna Cotta, with notes of dried cherry, pistachio, orange and kumquat. I want to learn more about the principles of SPE — which according to the menu is based on a “genuine respect of ingredients and the crafting of balanced dishes that naturally marries extraordinary cuisine and authentic nutrition.” The restaurant is committed to support local farms, fisheries, and producers who employ sustainable practices. And while I respect all that, I respect the “mind of the chef” most.

I had a bar of chocolate called Brooklyn Bar from Mast Brothers Chocolates – a real player on the chocolate scene  — manufactured in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The flavor profile of this particular variety really got my attention — red wine and plum.

Vietnamese coffee at the home of Arthur Schwartz. Arthur just returned from a 40-day cruise to Australia and Asia and we went to hear stories of the voyage and sip extraordinary coffee that he brought home from Vietnam. Just a few sniffs of the coffee could send you into orbit. There is nothing else that has that bouquet. Vietnamese coffee is usually served with sweetened condensed milk — but I love it straight. I, too, was so enamored of it from my own trip to Vietnam five years ago that I put a “recipe” and photo of Vietnamese coffee in my book Radically Simple! The coffee is very expensive and worth it.

Fabulous Spanish wine tasting with Gerry Dawes at Despana in Soho. It’s a terrific place to stop into mid-afternoon for a snack. 410 Broome Street. Wonderful tapas and more of that terrific Iberico ham.

Homemade whipped cream! I forgot how delicious it can be. I had leftover heavy cream from an article I was working on and decided to whip it up with confectioners sugar and good vanilla extract. Plopped it on strawberries and crepes we made from Eat Fresh Food:  Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs — for Sunday brunch.

Have a delicious week!

How I Bought 3,500 Cookbooks and Got 6,317

10 Feb

You may recall that when Gourmet Magazine was abruptly shut down in December 2009 there were 3,500 cookbooks on their library shelves that would have great value as a single collection — but they were on the verge of being broken up or, worse, sold off by Conde Nast for just $4 a book. With some well-timed phone calls, a bit of luck, and surprise approval from my family, I shelled out $14,000 to buy them all.

But not for myself. Instead, I donated them, down to the very last recipe, to New York University in honor of my Hungarian mother, a vivacious cook who was more Zsa Zsa than Julia.

I’ve just discovered that I’d purchased not 3,500, but in fact 6,317 titles. For a moment, I fantasized that the books had bred amongst themselves and that these bonus babies represented a new form of “fusion cuisine.” The more prosaic answer came from Marvin J. Taylor, director of Fales Library and Special Collections at NYU. “It turns out that there were boxes and boxes of smaller pamphlets that pushed the numbers up.”

What’s more important than the numbers is that almost two years to the day the collection is now available for research and for posterity. Financed by a grant from Les Dames d’ Escoffier, “We have just completed the cataloging of the Gourmet library,” reports Taylor. For all of us in the world of food, that’s exciting news. The collection is now ready for use by historians who live in research libraries and for the rest of us who’d just as soon troll through a cookbook as read a novel.

To that point, I’m eager to read The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman. It is a novel not about cookbook collecting, but whose premise serves as a metaphor for the substitutions we make in our lives when we can’t find what we’re looking for, i.e. reading cookbooks instead of actually cooking, collecting instead of living. My mother wisely noted that I enjoyed puttering in the kitchen rather than working on my master’s degree in psychology. So that I wouldn’t cook instead of work, she encouraged me to become a professional chef at a time when women were anathema in the kitchen. I’m proud that the woman who inspired and nurtured me is immortalized by having her nameplate in each book in the Gourmet collection.


Gourmet magazine made the world of food possible for many of us: We ate and drank its dreams. Its images and words shaped our aspirations, made us thirsty, piqued our curiosity, cajoled us to travel, and steered us to ancient hungers. We grew inquisitive as we sat at its table and became sophisticated at its knee. Few institutions can help us journey inside ourselves at the same time as we journey to the four corners of the world. The Gourmet library is so important because it means something unique to each of us.

Gourmet was where I had my first job interview after I graduated from college. I lived downstairs from their elusive photographer Luis Lemus. I didn’t get the job, but years later I wrote for them, and was eventually written about and featured on one of their covers. No doubt, each of you reading this has your own special story — even Nora Ephron, who said, “Every time I get married, I start buying Gourmet.”

According to Taylor, the Gourmet library, consisting largely of volumes published within the past 30 years, was discerningly put together. “It really represents what the editors saw as the best of the best,” he said. “It is fascinating because you can see the various trends Gourmet covered. There are shelves of Cajun books and many Mediterranean books. And there’s a very large Asian selection.”

NYU reportedly has the largest assemblage of cookbooks and other culinary miscellany in the country and I am happy that the collection will be available to chefs and food professionals forever and will keep Gourmet in everyone’s heart.

And I raise a glass to Ruth Reichl, Gourmet‘s editor-in-chief, whose spirit guided the magazine so well.

News Update

3 Nov

Credit: Warwick Brown

Read more about the wonderful dialogue between Deepak Chopra and Jean-Georges Vongerichten at abc home — on the occasion of the launch of JGV’s new cookbook:  On my Huffington Post site later today.

On our way to Napa Valley to the Culinary Institute of America today.  Michael Whiteman (husband) will be giving the key-note speech on “global flavor trends” to 700 chefs!   Will be reporting from there.

Stay tuned for Thanksgiving recipes coming up next week.

Cheers!

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