[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] Editor’s Note: This review was created to serve as an updated, more thorough, and more expansive version of a 2013 article about our favorite chef’s knives. There is no kitchen knife more important than a chef’s knife, unless, of course, you’re an…
Month: June 2018
[Photograph: Vicky Wasik] When I’m daydreaming about my fantasy kitchen, it’s fun to think about all the big goals I aspire to, like owning a commercial deep-fryer or walk-in backlit pantry stacked floor to ceiling with Oxo pop-top containers. I often take the quiet, hardworking…
My guest on this week’s Special Sauce is the extraordinary blogger, author, and pastry chef David Lebovitz, whose latest book is L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home. David and I started off our conversation with the early days of blogging, and I asked him about whether he had ever intended to make money from his path-breaking blog. It is a question he frequently fielded at blogging conferences, where attendees would ask how they, too, could make a profit, to which he’d respond, “Do it for free for eight years.”
“The whole idea of monetization didn’t occur [to me],” David said. “I remember the first there were Google Ads, and you might make like $9 and you were so excited.” For some people, it started becoming a business over the years, but that was never the focus of my blog.”
David has had a number of interesting jobs in Paris. He was, for a very short time, a fishmonger. “I did that because I wanted to learn how to cut up fish, and because the guys who worked at this fish shop were unusually handsome. Even my straight male friends were like, ‘Yes, those guys are really, really handsome.'”
Though L’Appart is ostensibly about his misadventures renovating a Paris apartment, David said it’s also about something else. “It’s how to live like a local, and be careful what you wish for. Everyone’s like, ‘I want to live like a local.’ I’m like, ‘No, be a tourist. Come visit, have a great trip, go home with your sanity intact.'”
As to what he learned renovating his apartment, David says, “Well, I learned if you want to be comfortable, stay home. You know, if you want life to be…you know, you want to watch TV, watch your favorite shows, not have to worry about returning things, stay home and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. You know, you take a chance and that’s when…you took a chance creating Serious Eats. It might have not worked out, and it…you know, it happened to have worked out, but you took a chance. If you didn’t take a chance, it wouldn’t have happened. So taking a chance is usually an okay thing, and it’s also okay to fail at things.”
I will say, finally, that David Lebovitz is quietly one of the bravest souls I know. Why do I say that? Listen to this episode of Special Sauce to find out.
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Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life.
David Lebovitz: My partner really was amazing, and watching him yell at people, I was like, “Can you hold on, let me get my phone because this is going to go viral on YouTube. You’re going to be like a sensation,” this little tiny French guy yelling at all these people.
EL: We’re back with author and sweets-blogging hero and pastry chef David Lebovitz, the author of two recently published books: the apartment renovation memoir, I’m calling it, L’appart.
EL: And the updated and revised 10th anniversary edition of The Perfect Scoop, which is pretty awesome.
DL: Well, thank you. It was a busy couple years.
EL: Yeah, I bet it was.
DL: After writing about the apartment, it was fun to sort of make ice cream because it’s hard to be unhappy when you’re making ice cream. I love making ice creams.
EL: We had an editor, Max Falkowitz, who’s an ice cream freak.
EL: Your book is one of his bibles, and he takes ice cream, as you know, extremely seriously.
DL: Yes, yes.
EL: So you’re in Paris. You’re blogging up a storm. When did it become a big part of you earning a living, and is that how you made a living when you first got to Paris?
DL: No. I used to speak at some blogging conferences, and be like, “How could I make money? How could I do this?” I’m like, “Well, first do it for free for eight years. The whole idea of monetization didn’t even occur. I remember the first time there was like Google Ads, or something, and you might make like $9 and you were so excited. For some people, it started becoming a business over the years to people, but that was never the focus of my blog. You’re seeing that now more and more with social media. People are influencers and they’re getting stuff, they’re being paid to write or put pictures of things on their sites and on their social media. That’s what they do. It’s not who I am-
EL: And it’s also, to me, a lot of those people, not all of them, they’re as much marketers as they are creative people, and they’re really good marketers.
DL: Well, sometimes I feel like I’m the biggest idiot in the world. I have a lot of followers, I have high engagement, but a couple times I’ve been offered trips to go somewhere, to get paid to write it’s like, well, I tell people you write because you want to give. You want to give people something, you want to give them a story, you want to give them a recipe. You’re not doing what you do to get stuff. You do this podcast because you like to talk, and you like to meet people, and you like to entertain listeners-
EL: It’s true.
DL: Whether you’re getting a dollar or a million dollars, it’s not-
EL: No, it’s true. That’s the way I’ve always lived my life.
DL: Yeah, and a lot of people I know, that’s how we live our lives. On the other hand, I’m probably an idiot and I should just cash out now and as soon as this is over I answer all those emails.
EL: Well, see, my book is going to be the story of my idiocy.
DL: Yeah, but you have to make a decision in life. You have to make a decision, like do we want to support the organic butter people for $7 a pound or buy regular butter for three. Anyhow, we all make decisions all the time. Sometimes, I’m not always the cleanest … I’m sometimes going to buy the $3 a pound butter. It’s whatever, but it’s sort of a general compartment.
EL: So you were blogging, not making any money from it.
DL: Right, and it was a lot of work, but it was fun because I was actually, I was going through a lot of changes in my life and I was working them out. If you look at my old blog posts, they were really goofy. A lot of people delete their old blog posts. They’re like, “Oh. No, no.” Some of my stuff is really silly, stupid, bad.
EL: Welcome to the silly, stupid, bad blog club.
DL: Yeah, but it’s your history and it’s the stuff you did when you were 16. It’s like, “Oh God. What did I do? How stupid was I?” It’s like, “Well, you weren’t where you are now,” so it’s okay. That’s where I was then.
EL: Sure. So how were you making money?
DL: Well, I didn’t need that much. I was living very frugally. I was living in a one-room, basically a one-room apartment, and it was tiny. I didn’t have a lot of expenses. Obviously, I don’t wear fancy clothes.
EL: I don’t know. I think that shirt is like a $350 shirt?
DL: Okay. I got this on eBay. Seriously. It’s a J.Crew shirt. I think it might’ve been $14.
EL: It’s a used J.Crew shirt. All right.
DL: But that stuff looks better used, so you let someone else break it in.
EL: Right. So you didn’t have many expenses.
DL: I was writing cookbooks. I was doing okay.
EL: You were working at a fishmonger for a little bit.
DL: Well, I did that because I wanted to learn how to cut up fish, and because the guys who worked at this fish shop were unusually handsome. I used to go to the fish shop, even like my straight male friends were like, “Yes, those guys are really, really handsome.”
EL: People used to say that about the guys that throw the salmon around in Seattle.
DL: Well, you probably get … They’re lifting food-
EL: They’re buff.
DL: So, they said they would let me work there for a month with them, and it was really difficult. Starting at five in the morning, it was super cold. Fish is cold. It’s slimy. And it’s clean, it was a very clean place, but I didn’t know what I was doing. They’re teaching me how to open up a fish. It’s kind of like surgery. There’s a line you’ve got to cut. There’s a thing, you pull it back. Then, all this stuff spills out, and all of a sudden you’re seeing what the fish ate the last week, and it’s like, “Ah.” The fish is alive, and you’re kind of-
EL: Right. It’s flopping.
DL: Yeah. It was a good experience for me.
EL: But then they fired you unceremoniously.
DL: Oh, I don’t remember being fired.
EL: You said in the book you didn’t call it fired. Basically, you were asked to leave-
EL: Because of some French work requirement or something.
DL: Oh. Well, yeah. You’re not supposed to work without papers. There’s a whole … If you want to do an internship in France, there’s a way to … They fill out paperwork and they hire you. I was just kind of doing it for the experience. It was great, and I go to that fish shop all the time. Most of the guys have left. One guy was actually working across the street from me, and he used to talk to me. My partner is like, “How do you know that amazingly handsome guy?” I’m like, “Well, he’s Sebastian. He worked at the fish shop, so he’s my pal.”
EL: That’s awesome.
DL: “Make yourself scarce when he’s talking to me.”
EL: So, you didn’t write your first book about Paris until 2011, which was The Sweet Life in Paris, and it’s kind of a guidebook but it’s not a guidebook to eating in Paris. It’s kind of a guidebook to living in Paris, and it’s a very personal guidebook. It has some recipes, but I was rereading it preparing for this, and I realized I learned something so important when I read that book for the first time, which you say, “The most important phrase you need to know to get along in Paris is bonjour monsieur.”
DL: Right. Yes, you have to say hello.
EL: You have to say hello. When you walk into a store, you don’t say, “I’d like two baguettes and two croissant.”
EL: You say hello.
DL: Right, or when you go to the doctor’s office, you say hello to everyone in the waiting room. You don’t have a conversation with them, but you say hello. You greet everybody-
DL: No, you just say, “bonjour, bonjour.”
EL: Oh, bonjour.
DL: Or you get in an elevator, you acknowledge everybody.
DL: I always tell people it’s like going to someone’s house for dinner. You don’t just walk in. You say hello. So a lot of … It’s actually funny. I was with my partner, who’s Parisian, and we were in the south of France. We went to a fish restaurant, and he went up to the guy who was selling the fish for dinner, and he goes, “Well, what kind of fish do you recommend today?” The guy looked at him and he goes, “Bonjour monsieur.”
EL: But it’s true. I remember reading the book and then going to Paris, and then I was like, “David Lebovitz is right.” This is before I’d met you.
DL: Yeah. We just don’t do that in our … Now, when I’m … I’m in New York this week, when I leave like Walgreens, I’m like, “Merci. Thank you,” like waving at the cashiers. They’re like, “Who’s the crazy guy?” They’re just looking at me like I’m nuts. I’m saying hello to everybody on the subway.
EL: Now let’s talk about L’appart, which is an extraordinary book, very moving in its own way. If The Sweet Life in Paris is about how to become a Parisian, this is about how to become a full-fledged French person.
DL: It’s how to live like a local, and be careful what you wish for. Everyone’s like, “I want to live like a local.” I’m like, “No, be a tourist. Come visit, have a great trip, go home with your sanity intact.”
EL: So tell us about the genesis of the book, and just the insane ride that it was.
DL: When I was starting the remodel, I started writing about it on my site, doing little stories about looking for the sink and going to the electrical store. It was funny and it was interesting, and people liked it and were following along, my readers. They couldn’t wait to see the next chapter. Then, things started to sort of take a turn for the worse, and I-
EL: Yeah, you had some big-time contractor problems, man.
DL: Right, and I didn’t want to put that on the blog because I was going through it and it was kind of not pleasant.
EL: Super painful.
DL: Everybody who has a blog, we open ourselves up, but we have things we want personal. Well, the public wasn’t really having that, so people were starting to get very … They were like, “Where are you going to show us more, and when is …” I was just like, the stuff that was happening in my life at that time, it started getting very serious and the situation … I was doing all this stuff. I was finding tile, and I was looking at flooring, which a lot of it is fun and it’s interesting, and I learned a lot of vocabulary, but on the other hand, when the project started changing going from this something that was like, “Wow, I’m designing my dream kitchen” to “Oh, my God”-
EL: “I’m trying to survive this insane process.”
DL: Yeah. They put the kitchen counter on upside down, and they don’t want to chan- … Things like that, I’m like, “Okay.” It was kind of funny. There’s these things that were absurd, but I didn’t think people really wanted to hear that stuff. They want to hear about Paris and how fun it is, and it didn’t-
EL: Right, and where to get the best éclair.
DL: Right, exactly. So I kind of stopped writing about it. Then, I just kept going with the blog and my life, and the whole story-
EL: By this time you’re making money from the blog.
DL: Well, that wasn’t my concern.
EL: I know, but I mean-
DL: I was spending a lot more than I was …
EL: Got it.
DL: Yeah, it was like two to one.
DL: Then, when it was over, people were like, “Well, we want to see the big reveal, and we want to see your kitchen, and we want to see your bedroom and your bathroom.” I’m like, “My bathroom?” It’s kind of interesting, you become French the longer you live there, and French people are very private. You don’t go to someone’s house, they go, “Oh, we’re going to give you the house tour and we’re going to show you … Oh, this is our refrigerator. This costs $7,000. And here’s the new wall we put up so the kids can’t get out, and that was $12,000.” In France they don’t do that. People are very private.
EL: You’re trying to figure out what can go on the blog and what can’t.
DL: Right, and also a lot of these big reveals on people’s blogs are because they were sponsored. The stove manufacturer, the deal was, “We’re going to give you a stove and remodel your kitchen in exchange for showing it on your blog.”
DL: And I didn’t do that. So … and I kind of also … it’s my personal space. It’s … you know, I’m very … a lot of me … part of me is very private and I’d like to have a private life as well. But people really wanted to know what happened. They’re like, “Well, when are we going to get to see it?” And there was enough distance between what happened … I was walking down the street, actually. I was in New York one day and I said, “You know what? That story was so out there, I need to write a book about it. And no one’s going to believe it. They’re not going to believe it’s nonfiction, but it’s a great story.” Like, it was so absurd, everything that happened. I mean, crazy and funny now. You know, it’s kind of like a recipe for disaster, like the perfect storm, like I didn’t know what I was doing. It just brewed up to the story, and my publisher’s like, “Yes, your Sweet Life in Paris was a big hit.”
EL: You figured that maybe there was book to be written out of the misadventures.
DL: Yeah, well one of the things I’ve done in my life was kind of make a salad and served it out of all the stuff that’s happened to me. And you know, I’ve lived in Paris. I’ve written about the city from a real point of view rather than what the French call “carte postale Paris” or “postcard Paris”, which I find much more interesting. I find … it’s like New York. There’s so many, like, stories here. Like, you don’t really want to read about Times Square and how exciting it is. You want to read about the nitty gritty, and that’s what I find really interesting about Paris, like the small pastry shops, the things that people don’t know that much about. The market, the sort of funny transactions that happen day to day, because the French are funny and fun.
So I thought, “Okay, this is a great story,” and my publisher loved the idea of it, and they, “The Sweet Life in Paris was a very big success” and I was like, “Well, you know, I’ve grown. I’ve changed a lot during that. I’ve matured, I understand France more.” When I wrote The Sweet Life in Paris, I was still new. I was like, “Oh my God, there’s dog doo on the street,” you know. They were just like, “Oh, wow, Paris is … the people are … no one has change,” which is funny, but now I understand why all those things are that way.
EL: Yeah, but … and that was what was interesting to me about the book, was you realized you were constantly buffeted by the head winds created by your American expectations.
DL: Right. And Americans, we go into situations optimistic. We think everything is going to be great and then when it isn’t, we have our meltdowns. You know, look at the airport. The flight gets canceled, people have meltdowns at the airport. They’re all great until something happens. The flight attendant runs out of rum and some guy tries to open the door on the plane, you know. So, we go into things optimistically, where the French go into things with more skepticism.
EL: They come from a deficit kind of thinking, like what could go wrong here.
DL: Right. And they’re used to being a little more combative. You know, the French always say, “We’re a Latin culture,” so they’re used to more negotiations and things. You know, when you go into a shop in America, you know it’s going to be, like, “Hi, how are you?” You know. “Oh, do you like that shirt? Do you want to get it in green?” And in France, you’re not sure, because the employee’s not under like an obligation to sell you, like, that shirt in medium and green.
EL: And you talk about how returning something in France is impossible.
DL: Well, it’s gotten better. You know, it’s a challenge. I actually … when Amazon came to France, I bought something from a third-party dealer and the whole thing of Amazon is you can return anything. I was like, I need to buy a hard drive. I bought the wrong one. I bought the one for Windows, not Mac, so I wanted to exchange it. And the guy’s like, “No.” And I know, Amazon has a policy. They make all their … and so I wrote to Amazon and like ten minutes later the guy wrote me back and he goes, “Please send it back to me.” So it’s getting better, it’s changing. You know, one of the things when you write a book about Paris, too, Paris changes fast.
DL: You know, the things that were true then have changed. So, you know, it is getting … the customer service is getting better. A lot of younger people are taking over, in restaurants and so forth, you know. They still have certain traditions that-
EL: But you also talk about just the sheer red tape, the expectations of every encounter are completely different.
DL: Right. And once again, you don’t know. Sometimes you have to be forceful to get what you want. You have to … because it’s a game in a lot of ways.
EL: And that’s not your nature.
DL: Right. Not at all. Um, when I … luckily, my partner’s like the most incredible person. I’ve watched him get things, and how he does it. And he will not let … he’s like a pit bull, and he’s tiny. He’s a little tiny guy, but he will not let go.
EL: It seems like Roman, or whatever his real name is-
EL: … is the hero of the book.
DL: That’s … I didn’t realize that until people told me, people who read the book. They were like, “He’s such a treasure.” Like, yeah. But then I realized he really is, and he doesn’t know that because he doesn’t know how special he is, and I try to tell him, because I believe in doing that kind of stuff. He’s French and he really stood up … he really took care of me and other French friends did too. You know, once again, I didn’t … the book is not an anti-French … it’s just, the story happened to happen in France.
DL: And French friends really helped me and French architects were great, fantastic people. I couldn’t have asked for better people around me, but my partner really was amazing. Watching him yell at people, I was like, “Can you hold on? Let me get my phone, because this is going to go viral on YouTube. You’re going to be like a sensation.” This little tiny French guy yelling at all these people and not taking no … you know, just going up to their face. He’s like half their size. It was amazing. Unbelievable.
EL: One of the things I couldn’t believe is how much paper occurs in every transaction.
DL: Yeah, when you order something like a toilet seat cover, you get a bon de commande, which is a piece of paper. Then you get another piece of paper, like, with the receipt for the down payment. It’s a full size sheet of paper, not like a little slip. Then when you get it, they stamp those, then they give you like a facture, which is the bill. And then you come out with this stack of papers. It’s like, this is not very ecological. But that’s the system that they have, and they don’t really know how to-
EL: Yeah, to switch to Square.
DL: Yeah. Well, how do you do things that … they want paperwork. They want proof of everything, so you keep all that stuff and you have to keep it for your whole life. You have to keep, like, every electrical bill you have and if you don’t have one, you know, they’re going to ask for it someday, like, “Where were you in April of 2014?” I’m like, “I don’t know where the bill is.”
EL: So give me your three craziest moments that you can remember in renovating your dream kitchen and apartment. Like, what are the three things that stand out?
DL: Well, I can’t really tell you, because they’re all … a lot of spoilers in the book.
EL: Yeah, okay, so-
DL: So …
EL: I don’t want to give away any spoilers.
DL: I can’t really say.
DL: How’s that?
EL: That’s fair.
DL: Well, because I … you know when I go out and do talk about the book, I go, “And then they … this was …” and everyone’s like, “Oh” because I build up to these stories.
EL: Right. Okay.
DL: Um …
EL: Alright. Well, we have to say that you experienced tremendous dissidence in creating this dream kitchen. You ran into all kinds of problems with people … things. It’s an age-old problem. It’s “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” with Cary Grant.
DL: Right. Well, I would say one of the things that was the biggest surprise for me was finding a box of condoms in my apartment in the construction site. That was probably something I can talk about.
EL: But they were new condoms.
DL: Well, they were, but they were open … the box was open, and I didn’t count them, but …
EL: That’s good. So, you know, I was very moved by the epilogue because you talk about what you learned, and I thought it was very valuable lesson for people living anywhere.
DL: Well, I learned if you want to be comfortable, stay home. You know, if you want life to be … you know, you want to watch TV, watch your favorite shows, not have to worry about returning things, stay home and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. You know, you take a chance and that’s when … you took a chance creating Serious Eats. It might not have worked out, and it … you know, it happened to have worked out, but you took a chance. If you didn’t take a chance, it wouldn’t have happened. So taking a chance is usually an okay thing, and it’s also okay to fail at things.
DL: I have failed at things in my life.
EL: Me too.
DL: And you learn from them, and you don’t have success unless you fail. You have to screw up.
EL: Yeah. I always think that, you know, to do what you did or even to do what … I know, for me, when I did Serious Eats, in a way to create something from a blank piece of paper requires not just faith but a precipitating factor and it’s usually involving loss. Like in my case, I lost my parents when I was a teenager. And you lost your partner. Even though that’s incredibly painful, somehow I think those kinds of losses spur people to do things.
DL: Yeah. Pain is a good motivator. Loss is very difficult. People don’t know how hard it is. And I remember after I lost my partner, walking around the streets for years after, I would just look at people and going, “Wow, so many people are going through this and you would never know it.”
DL: Because a lot of times, you know, somebody loses, like … they say losing a child is like the worst thing in the world. And it happens … you see it on TV and you change the channel. You know, you’re just like, “Oh, I wonder what Jennifer Aniston’s next movie’s about”. You know, and really you think … just imagine how devastating it is for people, but a lot of people who have had terminal illnesses have become very motivated to succeed, to tell their story. There’s a fellow on ABC News, he had a full-blown … he was a cocaine addict. He had an anxiety … Dan Harris.
EL: Yeah, and then he started 10% Happier.
DL: Yeah, now he’s like this meditation guru-
DL: … and he’s kind of a cool guy. He’s not like, “You have to sit in the lotus position.”
DL: You know, so he was motivated by that, to share that part of his life. And, you know, you look at … I don’t know if you want to go there, but you look at … well, never mind.
EL: No, it’s okay. What?
DL: I was going to say look at drag queens, who have had very hard lives, because, you know … one … a friend of my who is one in San Francisco said, “You know, you never mess with a drag queen, because we’ve been messed with all our lives, and we don’t take it anymore.” Um, but they have a real … you know, a lot of them had hard lives, had difficult childhoods. It’s difficult to walk around in clothing … and they do it. And they’re amazing. And they’re amazing individuals. They’re brave, courageous people.
DL: I couldn’t do it. I probably wouldn’t be very good at it, which is why I shouldn’t do it.
EL: So one of your takeaways from the experience of renovating the apartment is if you want to be comfortable, stay home.
DL: Right, and make sure your home … make sure if you buy a home, that it doesn’t need to be remodeled.
EL: Alright, finally let’s talk about … briefly about the tenth anniversary edition of The Perfect Scoop. Every ice cream nerd I know, including, as I said, Max Falkowitz, swears by it. Why did you do the tenth anniversary edition? Like, what’s different, and what did you add?
DL: It became a bestseller. It was interesting. When I proposed the book years ago, a publisher turned it down, because they said that I didn’t have a show on TV. So, Ten Speed Press bought it, and they said it was the fastest book they’ve ever acquired. They had an acquisition meeting where they all sit in a conference room and they just get technical.
EL: Oh, I know all about those meetings.
DL: And they said it was decided within two seconds. They said, “Yes, we’re buying the book.”
I didn’t realize how many people were making ice cream, but there wasn’t really a book at the time. There was a basic guidebook. There was a couple of books that were pretty good, but they weren’t a basics book, and I wanted to do almost a textbook, but just nothing technical, just how to make ice cream at home. Here’s really good, solid recipes. Here’s a bunch of mix-ins, all those things that we love like swirls and and crunch and candies and nuts and toasted whatever, toasted marshmallow filling, and all these things that go into ice cream, and it was so fun to do.
I read somewhere it’s the number one ice cream book in the world in terms of sales. Someone can email you at [email protected] if that’s not true, but the publisher said, “Would you like to redo it? We’d like you to do an updated edition.” I said, “Yeah, it’d be great,” because we don’t get a chance to go back in life an redo things. Over the years, I use my books all the time, and now I’m like, “Oh, I would do it this way. I would do that this way,” and “No one’s gonna make that ice cream. What if I switched it with this?” So, I actually ended up rewriting the whole book. Usually, when you do an update, it’s just a new introduction.
EL: I know. I revised an expanded New York Eats back in 1991 or revised it in ’90. I didn’t do the whole book all over again.
DL: Yeah, I did, because I’m-
EL: You’re crazy.
DL: Yeah, I’m crazy.
DL: But it was fun, and I love making ice cream. I added 10 or 12 new recipes. I took a few out, and they’re funny, because they were weird recipes, not weird, but just things that were curiosities, and people were writing to me like, “Why’d you get rid of that recipe?”
DL: I’m like, “Well, if you have the old book, just hold onto it.”
EL: It’s so cool. Everyone needs to get The Perfect Scoop.
EL: All right. So, now it’s time for the Special Sauce All You Can Answer Buffet. There’s a lot of pressure.
DL: I should have studied. I didn’t know this was coming.
EL: There’s more pressure than picking out tile for a kitchen in Paris.
DL: In French.
EL: In French.
DL: When there’s a different word for red tile versus green tile.
EL: Exactly. So, who is at your last supper, no family allowed?
DL: I think I would like Marion Cunningham, Alice Medrich, Flo Braker, and Carol Field, because someone said they were the classy ladies of baking.
EL: So, we should explain that all four are seminal figures in baking. Flo Braker books-
DL: The Simple Art of Perfect Baking, Sweet Miniatures, but I used to say when she was alive, she passed away last year, I said, “When they start cloning people, they should use her,” because she was the world’s most lovely person, and she was an amazing baker, and she was, and I don’t mean to insult anybody with this. Once again send Ed your emails, but she was a wealthy housewife. She didn’t need to work. She lived in a very huge house. She wore diamond rings, but she was just a lovely baker. So, I’d love to have her back and Marion Cunningham back and Carol Field.
EL: Marion Cunningham, the famous Fannie Farmer, right?
EL: She was the original Fannie Farmer Cookbook author.
DL: She was tough.
EL: Right, but wouldn’t you be bored by just pastry chefs or chefs? Wouldn’t you want Michelle Obama, Macron, Robespierre, I don’t know.
DL: But I wouldn’t have anything in common with them.
EL: Oh, all right.
DL: I mean, Macron, I could talk to him about France, but I’m not fancy. I was actually telling somebody. I said, “Well, I’m really bad at dinner parties, because I’m awkward.” I’m used to being around food people. I’m used talking to restaurant people.
EL: Got it.
DL: And that’s who I’m comfortable with.
EL: So, what would you be eating at the last supper? Give me the menu.
DL: Oh, gosh. It would be fried chicken. Fried chicken is my favorite food in the world. I just-
EL: Top three for me, for sure.
DL: Top one. I love fried chicken, and it’s something I don’t eat very often, because it’s not the best thing for you.
EL: All right. Sides?
DL: Sides are okay, but coleslaw. I don’t need all the sides. Like, crispy skin. I’d rather eat-
EL: How about biscuits with the fried chicken?
DL: I don’t care about the biscuits.
EL: You don’t care about the biscuits.
DL: I mean, I like all that stuff-
EL: That’s big news.
DL: But it’s the fried chicken.
DL: It’s like drinking Champagne. You don’t need anything else with it. You just need a glass of really good champaign.
EL: And what are you listening to?
DL: I am listening to, right now, Stevie Wonder.
EL: What period of Stevie Wonder?
DL: Songs in the Key of Life.
EL: Songs in the Key of Life. It’s one of the great Stevie Wonders.
DL: How did he do this? It was brilliant.
EL: It was brilliant. It was amazing. I love Songs in the Key of Life. I love that.
DL: There’s one song I hate, but I always skip through that.
EL: Which one?
DL: Sir Duke.
EL: Oh, I like Sir Duke.
DL: You can have it.
EL: Because I’m a huge jazz fan.
DL: Oh, you see, I hate jazz. I dislike jazz.
EL: Oh, man, we gotta stop this episode of Special Sauce right now.
DL: All right, well, it was nice to talk to you.
EL: So, do you have … This is particularly interesting for pastry chefs. Do you have guilty pleasures?
DL: No. I actually don’t have any food that I feel guilty about eating aside from fried chicken. I love pepperoni pizza. I love bourbon. I love whiskey. I love cocktails.
EL: And you don’t feel guilty about eating or drinking any of those things?
DL: No, and when I left the restaurant business, I had to moderate what I ate, because I was eating, had access, to everything, foie gras, anything.
EL: You’re a skinny dude, man.
DL: Well, I lost some weight the last few years, because I was just eating food all the time, and I changed the way I eat, too. I’m careful about what I eat. And I’m actually one of the few people that lose weight when they come to America, because in France, I eat bread, cheese, and wine.
EL: I love the way in the part you talk about the right way to eat the edge of the baguette.
DL: The baguette, yeah.
EL: So, tell people about that. That is so awesome.
DL: Well, it’s an inadvertent thing you do when you leave a bakery and you pull the end off. It’s called the quignon, Q-U-I-G-N-O-N, and it’s something Parisians do, and baguette is Parisian. It’s not necessarily French. It was a bread that was designed for factory workers to have a loaf of bread they could bring to work and carry it. The baguette is Parisian. You can get them outside of Paris, but it’s a Parisian thing. You pull off the end and you eat it on the street. You do that when you’re coming out of the bakery.
DL: People make a big deal about it online like, “Aren’t you gonna pull the end off?”
DL: It’s like, “Well, it’s just something you do. You don’t think about it. You don’t make a big show of it.”
EL: That’s so awesome.
DL: Sometimes I’m just not. My hands are dirty, so I’ll just take the baguette, and I’ll put it in my mouth, because I’m not a clean freak, but I like to wash my hands. I’m a baker. So, I’ll stick the whole thing in my mouth. I’ll just rip the tip off.
EL: So, three books that have influenced your life the most.
DL: Well, I would probably say the Shaping East cookbook. I would say The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, which was just an amazing story.
EL: It’s a fascinating book.
DL: And, actually, there was a book I read a really long time ago. It was called Summerhil, about a school in England.
EL: Oh, it’s funny. My mother, may she rest in peace, loved that book. That’s not a recent book.
DL: No, it was called, the subtitle was called A Radical Approach to Child Rearing. I don’t know. I think I read it in high school.
EL: I think that’s where I went wrong. I was her radical approach to child rearing.
DL: Well, you were the failure, but the whole idea for people that don’t know, his whole thing was let kids do whatever they want, and they’ll decide what’s best for them. And I don’t know why, I just thought that it was such a great … Especially because kids are so controlled. It’s like, “Do this,” and raise them this way. It’s like, “No, just let them do what they do, and they’ll come out okay.”
DL: So, I don’t know why that came up.
EL: Three things in your kitchen that you can’t do without.
DL: My scale. I love having a scale, especially because I write in both metrics and pounds.
EL: Right, and you agree with Stella Parks, BraveTart, about scales, and Kenji for that matter.
DL: Yeah, well I have no choice. I’m a baker. I love my stand mixer. I’m a big fan of my stand mixer.
EL: And you only have one stand mixer?
DL: Well, I have two.
EL: Got it.
DL: They gave me the giant one. I did some work with a company that makes them. So, they gave me the huge one, and I never use that. I make a cake for one.
DL: You know what I love? I was at the Lucrece factory, and I was like, “Please, whatever you do, do not stop making that spatula.” It’s called a spoon spatula, and it’s a spatula, but it’s sort of rounded, so when you’re-
EL: It’s a curved edge.
DL: Yeah, it’s got a little bow to it. It’s the perfect spatula. It fits right in the bowl. It’s great for folding stuff. I said, “Whatever you do, I don’t care if you shut the factory down. Do not stop making those spatulas,” and they gave me a handful of them, and I was like, “Oh my God.”
EL: It’s like Christmas.
DL: Yeah, I was so … And I actually give them to people.
EL: Right, that’s cool.
DL: I love those.
EL: It’s just been declared David Lebovitz Day all over the world.
DL: Negronis for everyone.
EL: What’s happening on that day? So, negronis for everyone.
DL: Homemade rocky road for everybody with homemade marshmallows, dark chocolate, cocoa nibs, and a little bit of salt and peanuts, candied peanuts or candied almonds.
EL: So, that’s it. That’s a great menu.
DL: Yeah, well, the negronis, I can back up on and say, “Cocktail of your choice. It’s on the house.”
EL: Okay, or you do a negroni slushy in one of your books, right?
DL: Right, the new ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, I introduced a bunch of frozen cocktails, because I learned that bakers are like bartenders. We’re combining different ingredients to come up with something new, and I love cocktails, and I love frozen dessert, so why not combine them?
EL: So, they’re not doing anything but eating and drinking on David Lebovitz Day.
DL: Well, what else would you do? I mean, we’re only here on Earth to do three things: breath, reproduce, and eat, and I don’t want to get involved with people’s reproduction. I’ll let people reproduce on their own without me.
EL: Got it.
DL: People can breath on their own, too, but eating, I’ll take some control over that.
EL: Perfect. Thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us, David Lebovitz. It’s been awesome to have you.
EL: It’s been so much fun. Log on to davidlebovitz.com for David’s latest musings, and do check out his terrific new book L’Appart. You might never fantasize about buying an apartment in Paris again, or maybe it won’t dissuade you at all. Who knows? And because it’s summer, The Perfect Scoop must be on your book shopping list.
EL: So long, Serious Eaters, and we’ll see you next time. And David, it’s been a pleasure.
DL: Thank you, Ed. It was great to be here, and I love coming here and seeing you in person other than just listening to your podcast.
EL: Yeah, it’s awesome.
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