A Chat with Frank Bruni and Amanda Hesser

Okay so maybe the title is misleading.  I didn’t chat with them, I listened to them publicly chat with each other at a lecture at the Brooklyn Public Library (which always hosts fantastic, free events).

Amanda Hesser – New York Times food columnist – recently came out with “The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century” (published October 2010).  This was both a followup to and a departure from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook (first published in 1961).  Amanda had the unwieldy task of going through the tens of thousands of recipes in the New York Times recipe archives, using the most popular and commented upon recipes from the New York Times Food Section website, as a guide, including the hands down most popular recipe: Plum Torte (note: Amanda called out an error in the printing of this recipe!  It should read 1 tsp of baking powder, not tbsp.)

Pulling from recipes dating all the way back to the 1850’s (the oldest recipe in the Cookbook is for: Cafe Au Lait), testing around 1400 over the course of 5 years, eventually selecting 1100 to complete the compendium, was certainly no easy task.  But the Essential New York Times Cookbook is a testament to the breadth and depth of the New York Times archives, an amazing resource for both foodies and historians.

Amanda talked about her history with food and how she came to be a food columnist, mentioning Les Dames Escoffiers and her interest in the narrative of individuals and culture, which carries over to her standards for interesting, lasting cookbooks.  Cookbooks should tell a story.  And this is part and parcel of why cookbooks are still so popular today, the tangible, human factor.

Interesting Things Learned About the Cookbook:  70% of the recipes included came from the last 25 years, and Amanda joked that the cookbook could have been titled “Bittman’s Recipes” or “Chicken and Dessert.”

Also: Incidentally both columnists appeared in the film Julie and Julia.  Amanda had to audition with its director, Nora Ephron, to play herself in the film (as she appears in the book), and laughingly told us of the pep talk she gave herself before the audition, because hey, if you’re not cast to play yourself, there’s nothing more depressing or demoralizing.

Recipe: Original Plum Torte

And a sidenote: During the Q&A an audience member asked Frank Bruni how he got into the business of food as a restaurant critic for the New York Times, having been a war correspondent, Rome bureau chief and White House correspondent.  He simply replied (paraphrasing): I think in terms of life adventure.  Being a restaurant critic is something only a few people ever get to experience, and this was an experience I couldn’t pass up.


~ by drywoodburstingintoflame on February 5, 2011.

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