Dorie Greenspan is the ultimate baking guru, having written classics like Baking: From My Home to Yours and Paris Sweets. And now she shows readers her savory side with her new cookbook, Around My French Table. She gives us the lowdown on her shaky beginnings as a professional baker and why French food has a special place in her heart.
You studied gerontology in grad school and didn’t begin your food-writing career until fairly late. What made you switch over?
Yes, I was all but dissertation. I took all that coursework but didn’t finish. I say it’s the one deadline that I didn’t make. I got married as a child and I started cooking and baking at home, and it was after I looked at my dissertation that I realized I wasn’t ever going to finish it. So I thought about what I wanted to do. My husband said, “You like to bake, so why don’t you do that?” But it was different back then. At my first job interview the chef kept saying that he wanted a boy employee. And that wasn’t me!
So where did you end up working?
Well, I got fired from my first job at SoHo Charcuterie, and then I worked at Sarabeth’s for a bit but I wasn’t very good at it! I was slow and would be fussing with the frosting while everyone would be waiting for me. Then I quit Sarabeth’s before she could fire me. But then a friend said, “You know a lot about food. Why don’t you write about it?” Which was just not something that I grew up with. If I had told people I wanted to be a food writer, they wouldn’t have known what that was.
Around My French Table has a more personal feeling than some of your other books. Was it more fun to write?
To be given the chance to write something about something I love — France and its food — was a dream project. I’m not organized enough to keep notebooks and journals, but Baking would have been my kitchen journal. I think of Around My French Table as the companion book representing the salty, savory part of my life. You put the two together and you have my culinary biography!
Cooking-the-book blogs have become popular — and especially with your books. First there was Tuesdays With Dorie and now French Fridays With Dorie. What’s it like having a community discuss your work?
Fabulous. It’s amazing. I’m totally blown away by it. I can’t even tell you how exciting it is as an author. In the old days, pre-Internet, when you wrote a book, you sent it out into the world and your mother bought a copy but you really didn’t know what happened to it afterwards. Now you can see what people are doing with your recipes, like a triple layer cake will be made into cupcakes. It’s thrilling, as I want my food to live in people’s lives.
What’s your favorite recipe from the book?
Choosing a favorite recipe is a bit like choosing a favorite child! But that’s why I only had one. But there are some recipes that I make all the time, like the gougères and the stuffed pumpkin. And I serve the salmon rillettes whenever I have a party. And I love the hamburger. It’s funny that I had to go to Paris to get a hamburger recipe.
What’s so great about French food, anyway?
One of the things that was fun about the book was collecting the recipes for what people are eating in France today. French food is becoming more recognizable to Americans. The classics remain, and I’m thrilled that the French hold on to their traditional recipes, but they are more open to new, exotic ingredients and it makes French food more exciting.
Do you go to any French restaurants in New York City?
I love all of Daniel Boulud’s food, and Jean Georges and Le Bernardin. But those are special-occasion restaurants. I’d love to have a little bistro on the corner where you can go in without having a reservation months in advance. You know, the small, mom-and-pop-type places opened by Michelin-starred chefs. I think that’s what Brooklyn is all about, but I want one on my corner!
Check back tomorrow to find out what Dorie Greenspan thinks is the difference between cooking in France and America and to learn if there will be a return of CookieBar.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 1, 2010