Was it difficult to put this book together during the pandemic?
I wrote my first book (“Where Cooking Begins,” published in
2019) when I still had a full time job. The dream for the second
book was like, I was going to be working from home, I was going
to have this flexible schedule, I was going to be able to really
focus on the recipe development and the writing. I had like six
weeks of that, and then we were in quarantine. So I was at home
and able to focus and have very few other distractions, except
for the fact that everyone who I live with was home all day. The
kitchen was also a place where there were three meals a day
needing to be made. We did eat a lot of the recipes that I worked
on for development for dinner. And that was great. A benefit was
that I had sketched out the table of contents before everything
happened, so I kind of had a roadmap and I knew what I wanted
to work on. Cooking all those meals at home made the book so
much better because I wasn't in test kitchen mode and I wasn’t in
just being creative for creative’s sake mode. I was really cooking
so much and very aware of how long meals take to prepare, clean
up, the ease of acquiring ingredients—it was just a very good way
to get into a hardcore home-cook mindset.
One of the things I appreciate about “That Sounds So Good”
was that it’s aimed at both amatuer and more experienced
cooks, and tries to bridge the divide.
Yeah, I think that's all summed up in the “Spin It” sections of the
book, which was part of my first book too, and really came out
of recognizing that I don't make recipes the same way twice. For
beginner cooks, it is a way of saying, if you don't have something,
or you have a variation on something, go forward with the recipe.
I think that beginner cooks get really freaked out if they're
missing one ingredient, and think not having it is going to ruin
the dish, or substituting something else might not work. So I
really want to give people freedom to not worry about that. And
during the pandemic, some stuff just wasn’t available so you had
to kind of be flexible.
Your family's a big part of the book (your son Cosmo even
contributes some writing). Was that always part of the plan
or due to the unusual circumstances of the previous year?
It was both planned and amplified by the wacky year. The first
book was very focused on technique and the basic cooking foundations
that have served me well. And for this book, I wanted it
to be more personal, as a way of differentiating it from the first
book. Sometimes cooking’s a solitary pleasure—pasta night by
yourself when everybody else has plans. But most of the time, it's
really an expression of happiness, and family, and togetherness.
How has Fort Greene, where you live, inspired you and your
cooking over the last year?
Especially in quarantine, the way that local businesses transformed
themselves to stay open and be of service to their community
was truly amazing to me. Everybody at the beginning
was freaking out about shortages and hoarding toilet paper, all of
that stuff. Ordering online became pretty unreliable. But actually
going out and picking stuff up in person, there was no problem—
the stores were completely stocked. I actually started procuring
stuff more by making little trips. Places like Mr. Mango, Mr.
Coco, Greene-Ville Garden, Gnarly Vines, Leon & Son. It was
kind of like one of the only reasons to leave the house, you know?
What kind of advice do you have for people who might be
entertaining for the first time since the pandemic?
I think for a lot of people just being together is sort of the prize
after all this time. And my approach to cooking for a lot of
people is to not overextend yourself and not overdo it so that
you can enjoy the experience of the cooking but also kind of
be in a place to enjoy sitting down with people. In the book, I
really tried to think about keeping active cooking time to 30 or
45 minutes, even if the total cooking time could be four hours
for the grill-roasted turkey breast or there's an oven version of
pork and beans. So I would not overcomplicate it and let people
bring stuff. My mom doesn't really like it when other people
want to bring parts of a meal because she feels like, as a hostess,
that's what she's supposed to do for her guests. But at this point
if someone says, “Can I bring a side or the dessert?” I'm like,
“Yeah!” It takes work away from me and it just makes it easier. So
unless you really, really love project cooking, just make it about