Melissa Clark Will Likely Never Return to Sweden: An Interview


For Melissa Clark, hunger has been a way of life and a way to make a living. Clark writes a New York Times recipe column, and her part memoir, part cookbook In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite just came out. Here, she chats with us about her book, and how feeding herself and others speaks as much about heartbreak and childhood as much as it does food. Oh, and she also told us about pretty, dead waterfowl. Check back tomorrow for the second half of our interview.

What can we expect from your new book?
Every chapter is inspired by recipes–they’re culinary essays. I have the Times column every Wednesday, and if you read the columns, the older ones in 2007-2008, you see that they had an essay attached to it. That’s kind of the sense of the voice. But the things in the book are all new material, 150 recipes and essays. Some of them are food memories, so it’s sort of a memoir told through food. They’re very, very ingredient-driven. I will take an ingredient and ask myself: ‘What do I do with this?’ and kind of riff on that. I also talk a lot about trying to raise a two-year-old, and trying to feed a lot of characters in my life. I also talk about feeding my husband, who doesn’t eat dairy.

Any highlights you care to mention?
The intro to the fish chapter–the one I’ve written about my first husband. Each husband gets a little bit in the book, but not too much information. I’ve been married three times, each has his own part. Anyway, the essay talks about how fish and fishing has been a metaphor for my failed marriage. I told the story of the last time I went fishing with my then-husband in Sweden, with his best friend and his best friend’s girlfriend. In Sweden, you get there and everyone is tall and blond. I was just like, “OK, Jewish girl from Brooklyn, I’m out of my element here.” It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. And fishing summed up my marriage, and the essay is a perfect example of this moment.

Go on…
We’re sitting there–my then-husband, his best friend, and his girlfriend–in a boat, in the pouring rain. The girlfriend, she’s like this blond waterproof woman singing Swedish folk songs, and I’m there reading my book. She’s like a fairy nymph and just skips along. And I had to pee at one point. We couldn’t dock because the shore was granite. Finally, we found a place, and I left the boat. When I walked, I saw a crater, I noticed that there was a dead swan inside. The swan was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and it looked like it was flying off, like it was in motion, but of course, it was dead. And I said: “That’s kind of like my marriage right now, great.” It’s a quirky book.

How did your upbringing affect your tastes?
I had a really crazy childhood. My parents were and still are incredible foodies. Every summer, we went to France. The French franc was worth 10 to the dollar. You could go there and live and just eat at these fancy restaurants. So we ate–all we did was eat. I really learned about food and cooking from that.

Any food in particular from your experience there?
Chocolate croissants were my family vacation food. My mother was crazy, she wanted to cook everything. We would sit down to dinner, and she would be chomping at the bit, waiting, and be like: “It’s horse steak!” Everything was “chicken”: Frog legs were chicken, rabbits were chicken, snake was chicken, deep-fried sweetbreads–chicken nuggets.

Check in again tomorrow for part two of the interview.

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