It’s impossible not to be smitten with Dorie Greenspan. The James Beard award-winning author of ten cookbooks, including the recent Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes From My Home to Yours, will present her latest cookbook at the Darien Library in conjunction with Barrett Bookstore on November 18 at 7 pm. This compilation of approachable recipes inspired by contemporary French home cooking, shows us that it's not necessarily all about Escoffier.
We had a chance to chat with the gracious author, Francophile and cook about everything from her favorite Connecticut haunts (she has a home in Westbrook, CT), to her favorite recipes, memorable kitchen flops, and what makes a good home cook.
Your cookbooks make me want to drop everything and get messy in my kitchen. You split your time between three places. Where is home for you?
I think of them as three kitchens. I have a kitchen in NYC, a kitchen in Westbrook, CT and one in Paris. They are three so very very different places. I was born and raised in New York, I’ve lived on the upper west side forever and always where our son was born and raised. My New York kitchen is what you see on my blog but I do most of my recipe testing in Connecticut. It’s because of space and quiet. I’m very comfortable in that kitchen. The kitchen is a wonderful space, its nice to work in space where I can open the door and cool pots of soup in mounds of snow, and have the room to put cookie trays out.
What are some of your favorite food destinations in Connecticut?
They are favorite destinations and things I do all the time in CT, such as when the Lyme Market is in season, I love being there. It is a beautiful beautiful site ... every time as we drive up and we see the start of the stone wall ... on a farm that has a rolling pasture you see the barn and the stone walls, and the tops of the white tents. It just makes my heart race every week. I love the Chester Sunday market, great community on the main street with the feel of a European street market. Everybody participates. When you shop in farmer’s markets you start to understand what it means to have a relationship with a purveyor. And I think when the season closes, I for one really miss that and tried to find that through specialty shop.
In Chester, one of my favorite restaurants is River Tavern, I love it. And I adore the pizza at Al Forno in Old Saybrook it’s more than a pizzeria, they have really great food. They sell their bread at both the Lyme and Chester markets.
Those are a few favorite places. I like to shop at Benny’s Market in Essex. We’ve been in Connecticut for 28 years but we really only know our little neighborhood because we just like to have friends in.
What was the inspiration for your latest book, From My French Table and where did you develop your recipes?
I am in Paris about four months of the year in little bits all through the year which is fabulous because I see all the seasons and shop the markets when all the ingredients are coming into season. I cook a lot in France and collect a lot of recipes in France. But I do all my testing in America because I want to use American ingredients.
I get inspiration and I cook like mad in Paris and I talk to people and I go out. But I do all my testing primarily in Connecticut. It has really turned into my test kitchen.
What are some of the recipes we absolutely can’t miss in this book?
This is so hard for me, I think it’s why I only had one child. I think you should make salmon rillette. Which is really just an easy dish for brunch, or serve with slices of toasted baguette with an aperitif before dinner. It’s a mixture of fresh and smoked salmon. It can also be frozen so it’s a great party dish. As a main dish, make the cover recipe, “Chicken In a Pot” or make the “Lamb & Apricot Tagine,” that’s really an interesting recipe. Oh make the the “Stuffed Pumpkin!” It’s not really a recipe its like an arts and crafts project. I have found that anyone who has made that pumpkin once has made it at least one more times, it is just one that people really want in their lives and is great for the holidays. And you need to make Marie-Hélène’s apple cake.
Your approach to cooking strikes me as contemporary French, not necessarily Escoffier which I think we all tend to think of when we ponder French cooking. How would you classify your approach to cooking in this book?
This is a very personal book. You’re right, this is not Escoffier, this is not a by the rules cookbook. This is my view of whats happening in food in France today. It’s the food I make, the food my friends in France make, this is not restaurant food in any way. I really believe French food today is more recognizable to Americans than every before. Our cuisine has changes and so has theirs. Its a brighter, lighter yet more modern and more international. The ingredients being used are not as traditional. And I think its fascinating and I also think its delicious.
I work on a recipe and I send it out into the world but I want people to make it and really enjoy it and make it their own and I think you see that, I know you see that in Tuesdays with Dorie and French Fridays with Dorie. People take the recipes and improvise. I love that.
Are there chefs working today that embody this approach to French food?
I love what Yves Camdeborde is doing. Greg Marchand is doing a very modern take on French food. His restaurant is called Frenchy and he has worked at Gramercy Tavern. They used to call him Frenchy in the kitchen. He is doing food that has some American influence but he is French. He grew up in France and he trained in France and this is really interesting food to me and it is interesting that the French are loving it. It’s a sign of real change. Its not just that you find. Things happen in restaurants that take a while to trickle down to home kitchens. And sometimes it’s only a small group of people who appreciate what certain chefs are doing. A young chef, his name is Daniel Rose in Chicago, went to France to apprentice with Paul Bocuse, he has opened a restaurant called Spring. He does exquisite, really beautiful food. Then you have the pastry chefs, like Pierre Hermé who for most of his career has changed the way we look at French pastry.
You’ve worked with so many wonderful chefs from Julia Child to Daniel Boulud, who are some chefs you’d like to work with but haven’t yet had the pleasure?
I would be so happy if I could just go from kitchen to kitchen! I would love to work with Olivier Roellinger in Brittany who is a master of spices. Frederic Bao, anything he does with chocolate is amazing. This is a moment for French food. It has been changing for a while. My book is just a snapshot. I write for people who will cook on a Wednesday night. It should be everyday food, the way it is everyday food in France, really.
In your bio it says you almost burned down your kitchen as a teenager. How did you go from almost burning down a kitchen at age 13 years to publishing 10 cookbooks?
I got married at 19 as a college student ... I had not cooked before that. My husband has his first job, we had no money so we had to cook and I discovered I loved cooking. It was a different time and we learned from books, we cooked for one another and we clipped recipes, an there wasn’t the array of food magazines or newspaper food coverage, none of us thought we could make a profession in food because a chef was all you could be.
I did a Doctorate in gerontology and thought I was going to teach in the University. After our son was born and I couldn’t face finishing my dissertation and I didn’t want to go back to work. Then my husband said why don’t you bake, so I started to bake. But it wasn’t easy there weren’t opportunities. After I got a few writing assignments, I wanted to be a food writer but I didn’t know what to call myself. I also realized if you told someone you were a food writer they didn’t know what you were talking about. I was really lucky because I got to do what I really loved. It wasn’t planned and I couldn’t have planned because it didn’t exist.
I worked for Elle magazine when it first launched in the states and got to work with many chefs, with with Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges Vongerichten and that was a fabulous experience. It was really through working with so many fabulous chefs that I thought about doing a cookbook.
What are some new books you are excited about?
My friend Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth’s bakery. I worked with her when she first opened on Amsterdam Avenue, when she was open for 2 weeks. Very exciting for me that she finally has a cookbook after all these years.
Amanda Hesser’s monumental The Essential New York Times book. She has done a great job on what must have been a monster to pull together. A new book by Mark Bittreman called Salted. He is just a guy who is crazy about salt and knows everything there is to know about salt. And Flour by Joanne Chang. She is very talented, met her when she was working in New York with François Paillard and now she has her own bakery in Boston called Flour.
I tend to have memorable kitchen flops on a weekly basis, do you have any advice for people like me or perhaps Dorie at 19?
Just keep cooking. Just keep baking. Don’t let the flops get you down. I made London bake you couldn’t even chew on it ... all of these mistakes are part of learning, its really important to just keep cooking.
About making mistakes and just saying its a mistake and sometimes you just have to throw it away. And its hard to toss away food so I always try to salvage something. But sometimes when you are working on a recipe you have to just say it doesn’t work and I’ll try it again.
What makes a good home cook?
I think good cooks are the ones who want to cook, who take time to enjoy the process of cooking. Taking pleasure in it. Working with ingredients and watching them change and wanting to share it with someone. You can learn all the technical stuff. You can learn how to dice carrots perfectly you can learn to make puff pastry but the important stuff is to learn to enjoy cooking. I think if you take time with it and see it as a pleasure you become a good cook and a good baker.
Cooking is a very generous act, particularly baking. It’s sad to get through life without a cookie but you could. The more you do them the more you learn about how you work in the kitchen the more enjoy it the better your food gets.