Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York’s best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we’ll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.
The Way We Ate
By Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz, 256 pages, Touchstone Books, $35
In 2011, esteemed food photographers Paul Wagtouicz and Noah Fecks decided to cook, eat, and photograph their way through the entire archive of the late, great Gourmet Magazine, which, after chronicling American taste for nearly 70 years, released its final issue in November 2009. That’s 815 issues, and blogging at a rate of one issue per week, the project should take approximately…15 years. Check out their blog, The Way We Ate, for near-daily dining inspiration and gorgeous, full-color photographs of the foods that shaped the nation’s palate.
In October, Fecks and Wagtouicz released their debut cookbook, named for the blog, which follows a similar format. It’s 100 years of history, with one recipe per year from venerable chefs like Jaques Pepin, Daniel Boulud, Anita Lo, and food critics and editors, including Ruth Reichl, who edited Gourmet from 1999 until 2009. And of course, those glorious photographs…Because every dish has its moment.
In this interview, Fecks talks fun and failure, famous food feuds, and the key to eternal youth.
What is the oldest recipe in this book and where did you come from?
You’d have to duke it out between a few. Jacques Pepin’s recipe from 1961 is an actual vintage recipe. Some of the other ones are more current recipes that are a response, or a postmodern interpretation, but I would say Pepin all the way. His recipe from 1961 actually inhabited that space and time, it’s a recipe from his archive, from his library that he graciously provided for us. This was also one that we couldn’t find a good image for, so what we did was this: We worked with Jacques, took his recipe, and tried to give it new life by making it and photographing it and putting it in the context of 1961.
Another of my favorites is 1973: Sally Darr did these fluted brioches for a 1973 issue of Gourmet. So that’s an original recipe as well. Sally wrote those recipes based on the original Cuisinart — the first Cuisinart — and you always forget that this was this revolutionary new item that completely eradicated these long prep times, so Sally wrote these recipes for this machine that nobody had any idea what to do with. And what’s so cool about it is that you use that recipe today, and it’s air-tight. Rock solid.
If you could give one piece of cooking advice to the world, what would it be and why?
Woah. I think the takeaway is that failure is part of the package. You have to accept that the greatest successes come through repeated failure. I forget this all the time, and I get so frustrated when I fail, and I get really angry, but all of my failures, I try to make them into learning experiences…In the kitchen at least! It’s really that whole thing about try, try again.
What cook(s), living or dead, do you most admire and why?
I’m really into this lady right now, Madeleine Kamman. She’s still alive, and much older. She did this landmark book called The Making of a Cook and had this huge, famous feud with Julia Child. And the quote was, and Julia Child said this exactly: “I shall take her by the short hairs, wearing gloves, of course, and grind her up bit by bit in my food processor.” Julia Child said that about her. She is somebody who lived and died by technique, lived and died by tradition. And I don’t necessarily agree with her, but man do I respect that. And I love that she really — whenever she’s nervous or unsure, and we all get that way — she really falls on tradition. So when I’m unsure of something, you can read her words, and she’s so steadfast, and so self-assured, she’s a precursor to the egomaniacal male chef of now. But to be so confident and self-assured as a woman, in the 1970s, it’s so rare. She’s practically beating her chest, she’s so loud and aggressive. I love it.
What’s your go-to seasonal ingredient right now, and what do you love about it?
Thyme. Fresh thyme. I cook a lot at home, and I’m constantly testing things. I made three things yesterday, and I’ve got three things going today. But thyme is just so seasonal right now; I made some muffins with thyme, I put it in my breakfast, I made a Shephard’s pie. I love an apple pie with herbs: with rosemary or thyme. I love to cut up a whole bunch of apples, and stuff a chicken with them and whole sprigs of rosemary and cover it with rosemary. So rosemary and thyme, both of them.
Name one unusual/unexpected/unique recipe from the book.
Definitely Claudia’s Crunchy Salad. It’s 1970, and it’s by Claudia Gonson, who is the drummer for the Magnetic Fields. I met Claudia when I was on assignment for Saveur, and we were shooting her in her kitchen. So while we were shooting, I was like, ‘What are you making,” and she was like, “Claudia’s Crunchy Salad,” named after herself, of course. She said it’s kind of different every time, but she said, “I only put things in that are crunchy.” So it’s like fennel, cucumbers, celery, sunflower seeds, and onion, and then she chops it all up and puts in rice vinegar and olive oil and sesame oil with a whole bunch of sunflower seeds. And it’s like, OK, that sounds good, and you think it’s going to be good, but holy shit. It’s like, wow. We need to eradicate one of the three meals of the day and make it this. Because if you eat this every day, you will live forever. It’s so empowering. After you eat it, it’s kind of like if you just got a tattoo. It’s like, “RAAAAR!” You’re ready to take on the world.
Wanna live forever? Click to the next page for the recipe.
Claudia’s Crunchy Salad (1971, from Claudia Gonson)
Makes 4-6 servings
2 large cukes (peeled if you want)
1 bulb fennel
2 stalks celery
2 carrots, peeled
Bit of sweet white onion, finely chopped
1 small green or colorful bell pepper
Cherry tomatoes (if you want, I don’t usually add them, because they’re not crunchy)
1 big handful unsalted sunflower seeds
Salt and pepper
1 scant tablespoon safflower or canola oil
Dash seasoned rice vinegar
3-5 drops sesame oil
Chop it all up, add dressing, and toss. Best after chilling!