It’s summertime, which means wedding season! A time to rejoice at your friends’ happiness, or at least make a beeline for the open bar that’s supposed to compensate for the expensive present you had to buy. Kidding! But not really. In any event, it seemed like a good time to interview James Briscione, who, along with his wife, Brooke Parkhurst, recently authored a culinary guide to wedding bliss, Just Married and Cooking. We called him up to learn what not to buy off the wedding registry.
How did you and your wife meet?
Our meeting is a funny story. We met for the first time when we were 10 years old at summer church camp in Alabama. I had a huge crush on her and she liked my best friend and ended up going to the dance with him. We grew up in the same hometown and then 15 years later, I was the chef de cuisine at Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham and she came into the restaurant with her cousin. He said, “Oh, the chef here is also from Pensacola,” but she didn’t remember me. I came out and said hi and I talked her into letting me take her to the farmers’ market the next day. There’s a great market in Birmingham, and I won her over with foie gras and fried oysters. We dated long distance for a year and then I moved to New York City to work at Daniel and spent a year in that kitchen before coming to the Institute of Culinary Education [where I now teach].
So what inspired you to write your book?
That first day at the farmers’ market, and from then on, was always food. My wife came from a great family of Southern cooks and I was working all the time in restaurants. Food has been a big part of our story. Now that we’re married and have a little one, we’re cooking a lot and wanted to share it with people and make it approachable. Cooking doesn’t have to be overly simple or boring.
Is it hard writing a cookbook with a significant other?
Yes and no. The one part of coming up with everything was easy. Everything in that book is part of our story. I can tell you when we made [a given recipe] together, and we share a lot of our stories about the food. I think if you ask any chef, the hardest part is sitting down at the computer and getting to write.
But you’re not really newlyweds anymore, right?
We’ve been married now for two and half years, heading for three. We had just gotten married when we started writing the book. It was basically a two-year process starting from the time we got married.
How do you divide up kitchen duties?
A lot of times, the recipe testing and note-taking happened after our daughter went to bed. We have a great open kitchen so one of us would take notes while sitting on the couch while the other cooked. It was a nice way to spend time together. What should someone cook for dinner if they’re looking to impress a significant other?
In my experience, pasta. I love fresh, handmade pasta, but you don’t have to go that route. Even if it’s a good hearty tube like rigatoni with fresh vegetables and cheese. That’s really all you need.
What’s the worst fight you and your wife have had in the kitchen?
I will say this: It’s hard for me being a teacher and always being in charge to be able to turn that off. I correct more than I should.
What’s the best kitchen-related present to buy someone who is getting married?
I’d say without a doubt a gift certificate for Just Married and Cooking! We go to people’s houses and show them how to use their kitchen. But in all seriousness, gift certificates can be great, whether they be to a kitchen store so they can get what they want or to a store like Whole Foods. How can you get into the habit of cooking? Really, the best thing is to just go buy some food because you’ll want to cook it before it goes bad and not waste $20.
And the worst?
I have a lot on that list. Especially for us city dwellers, the big appliances are the worst thing you can have. They just take up space and are not getting used because you have to stash them in a place where they don’t really fit. Handheld mixers and blenders are so much easier. Even though we have the big Cuisinart and the blender, they’re hard to get to and don’t compare to the handhelds.
Check back in tomorrow, when James explains why he swapped restaurant cooking for teaching.
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