Dorie Greenspan is one of those people who, in a perfect world, would live in the house next door. She would advise you about pie crust over coffee on the front porch. You would leave a plate of anonymous cookies on her front step, knowing how ridiculous it was to bake for the author of Baking: From My Home to Yours, but liking her too much not to want to share.
The James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, food blogger — of In the Kitchen and On the Road with Dorie — extraordinaire, champion of macarons, and Friend of Pierre, took some time the other day to chat about her latest book, Around My French Table, due out in the fall, as well as a few other things. Turn the page for our interview, and check back tomorrow for Part 2, as well as Greenspan's recipe for La Palette's Strawberry Tart. A small suggestion: unless you have some on hand, go out and buy a quart of ripe Gaviotas or Albions or Chandlers now, because you're going to want to go straight into the kitchen once you read the recipe. Or at least that's the response some of us had.
Squid Ink: So tell us about your new book.
Dorie Greenspan: It's a really exciting book for me because, like Baking From My Home to Yours, it's really a kitchen diary. In fact, I think of Around My French Table as a companion book to Baking, but in this book, the stories and recipes (more than 300 of them!) come from my life in France. And I love the food in it. It's got my takes on some classics, lots of the food I cook when I'm at home in Paris and so many easy and really unexpected recipes from my French friends, things like a delicious Basque tortilla with crushed potato chips standing in for the usual spuds, or a luscious chocolate mousse made in a flash from a back-of-the-wrapper recipe.
SI: So how many books is this? 9?
DG: Hard as it is for me to believe, Around My French Table is my tenth book.
SI: This is not, it seems, a baking book…
DG: No, it's not. While it's got about 60 terrific dessert recipes, AMFT is a cookbook-cookbook, meaning it's got nibbles and hor d'oeuvres, soups and starters, main courses and vegetables, too. In other words, it's got recipes for everything you want to eat before you get to the cookies and cakes and that wonderful chocolate mousse.
SI: How much time do you spend in France? And why France?
DG: I spend about 3 to 4 months a year in France, primarily in Paris, where we've got an apartment, but I spend it in little chunks of a couple of weeks at a time, which means I get to see the country in every season. (And yes, I know how lucky I am – I still pinch myself every time I land in Paris.) I'd love to have a long stretch of time to stay, but for now I've got a busy and happy life in the US – one that includes testing my French recipes with American ingredients – so I'm a bi-continental commuter.
As for 'Why France?' it was almost an imperative. My husband, Michael, and I went to France shortly after I finished college and the instant I set foot on the sidewalk in Paris, I felt sure it was were I was meant to be. I'd never had that feeling about a city before or since.
Oh, and there's the food …
SI: One of the many things you've done in France is worked with Pierre Hermé. How'd you get involved with him?
DG: I met Pierre in Paris almost 20 years ago – neither one of us can remember just when it was – when he was the pastry chef at Fauchon and I was researching a story about chestnuts for The New York Times. I thought we'd have a quick chat (I'd set aside 15 minutes for the meeting, knowing he was busy), but instead we tasted pastries and talked for over 2 hours. We've been talking ever since.
SI: Some chefs have this kind of Jekyl/Hyde thing going on when they get near stoves. What's Hermé like in the pastry kitchen?
DG: Is now the place to say that I think Pierre is a genius? Well, he is. He is profoundly creative, intensely interested in flavor and texture and aroma – as well as art and music and life – and he cares deeply about people. But that didn't answer your question.
Pierre's kitchen is one of the calmest I've ever been in. One day I was in the kitchen when the team was preparing the large Ispahan macarons – the pastry is composed of two rose-flavored macarons sandwiching a rose cream filling, raspberries and lychees; it's topped with a rose petal. At each station, there was a vase holding very long-stemmed red roses. And although there were many people in the kitchen, each person working quickly and intently, the only sound that you could hear was the occasional snap or pop when a pastry cook would take the head off a rose to pluck the petals. I think the quiet, the competence, the concentration, the commitment and the contentment that you see in the kitchen is a reflection of Pierre's style.
SI: Daniel Boulud seems like a seriously nice man. Is he? Would you tell us? He has this adorable picture of himself with oysters over his eyes on his website.
DG: Daniel is seriously nice. And he is adorable. I think the oysters-over-his-eyes photo is the perfect companion to the picture of him standing in the middle of Park Avenue eating a hot dog.
SI: So how did you get into cooking? Weren't you trained as a scientist? A PhD in gerontology, right? That's kind of a career switch. Although maybe not. The older I get, the more I like to make pâte à choux.
DG: I started cooking and baking when I got married. I was a college student and the only cooking experience I had was burning down my parents' kitchen when I was 13. It was love from the start. I adored everything about cooking and baking. I loved the preparation (I think it's the same as you liking to make pâte à choux), the way things came together, the way they looked and smelled, and I loved, loved, loved testing dishes out on friends. We had friends over all the time – even on school nights – and I just cooked my heart out, learning as I went.
And yes, I did study gerontology – but the social not the medical side of it – and I was in a doctoral program. But I never finished my dissertation (I often say that was the only big deadline I've ever missed) and I've never been sorry.
Check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, and for a recipe from the chef.