ROBERTA: If you read the Food Section of the New York Times on Wednesdays, you will surely recognize the name of food writer Kim Severson, who has written about farms, chefs, cooking, and more, for the Times since 2004. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Kim was scheduled to speak about her new book at my local bookstore, RJ Julia. So I trotted downtown with my neighbor and settled into the front row. We learned that Kim's not only a good writer, but hysterically funny and down to earth, plus chock full of tidbits about celebrity chefs and food writers--an irresistible combination! And she agreed to visit with us today to talk about food, her new memoir, SPOON FED: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, and answer questions from Jungle Red food enthusiasts. Welcome Kim!
Let's start right in with the book, which features your experiences with eight cooking women, ranging from Rachel Ray to Alice Waters to your own mom, and the life lessons they taught you. Give us a thumbnail sketch of how you came to write it and how you chose the women who are featured.
KIM: The women were people I had written about for the San Francisco Chronicle or the New York Times. I originally thought about doing a book just about Marion Cunningham, or maybe about the women who taught America to cook back before the Food Network and celebrity chefs. I was interested in making sure they didn’t get forgotten. I’m talking about women like Paula Wolfert and Diana Kennedy. Anyway, I started to think about who I wanted to write about, and who meant something to me. I realized there were reasons I was attracted to the women who ended up in the book. I chose them for profiles, I realized, because they had something I needed to learn. And in order to explain why I needed to learn lessons, I needed to explain what was happening to me at the time.
Anyway, one thing led to another and pretty soon I was spilling my guts.
ROBERTA: And now I'm wondering how you were able to get these women to talk so openly with you. Were they aware you would be writing about them? And what have been their reactions to your book?
KIM: I don’t know that they knew I was going to write a book about them, but they certainly knew I was writing newspaper pieces about them. The book came later, but it was all based on interviews I had already done or independent research. I think some were very touched, others a little uncomfortable and some, like Marcella Hazen, not so happy with it. But she wasn’t happy with the story I wrote for the Times, and the chapter about her is the back story more or less.
ROBERTA: Actually, I thought the chapter about Marcella Hazen was fascinating. Here's my sad story about dining at Alice Waters' restaurant in Berkeley, Chez Panisse. About six years ago, I secured a reservation for my husband, stepdaughter, and two of her lacrosse teammates. In spite of their pleas, the coach held them late after practice. By the time they arrived, we'd been ousted from our table. So it's still on my bucket list! Closer to home, what are your top picks for restaurants in New York City? (Let's say Manhattan proper and no fancy pants, super-expensive places please.)
KIM: That is a sad story. I’m sure you’ll get back one day. As far as NYC restaurants that’s a tough one! There are 30,000 restaurants. And it really depends on neighborhoods, style of food etc. Do you want pizza or deli or trendy or fish or ….I mean, give me a few ideas and I will send out some suggestions.
ROBERTA: And one last question. Supposing you were having the Jungle Red gang over for dinner (cheeky, I know!) What would you fix for us?
KIM: Well, depends on the time of year. If it's fall or winter, I would make you a big, proper spaghetti and meatball dinner. But if the weather was great and it was high summer, we'd have to have a great grilled skirt steak with some salsa verde and bunches of perfectly in season vegetables. Or maybe a good pasta dish. Or maybe some cod or halibut with shiitake mushrooms and fennel or ... well, the list can go on!
ROBERTA: Kim, mmm that all sounds wonderful. And we're so glad you agreed to visit with us--thank you! You can read more about Kim at her website and she'll be stopping in today to answer questions.