Amy Thielen, Host of The Food Network’s The Heartland Table
Author of The New Midwestern Table
Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.
The first book that really hooked me was The Making of a Cook by Madeleine Kamman. She was a French chef cooking in the U.S., and even though she was a professional, her food had a homey, rustic edge, calling to mind an old French farmhouse. To my knowledge, she’s one of the first American cookbook authors to regularly delve into food science in a book meant for home cooks and the rare writer who could seamlessly weave this information with personal stories and cooking anecdotes. For example, she goes right from a discussion of pH levels in fruit jam to a story about her French great-grandmother Jeanne’s love for double-thick crème fraîche and then tells you how to approximate it using easy-to-find American ingredients. Check out the grilling chapter, where her writing loosens up and reflects her wit and dry sense of humor. Like a lot of those super-experienced cookbook authors (Marcella Hazan comes to mind, too), she attempts to check her bossiness at the door as she writes, but I actually love the places where it kind of seeps through. But then again, I love that kind of authoritative voice in the kitchen–probably because it reminds me of the women in my family!
Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.
I may regret saying this, but I feel like my style has been set for some time now though I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to stretch my repertoire. But there are a couple of books that have changed the way I communicate and write about food. One would be Nigel Slater’s Tender. I love how his recipes always feel like private meals, even though everything he makes could just as well be a family dinner. Each dish feels like it is perfectly matched to fill a momentary craving: a vivid chocolate beet cake for a sunny winter day, a baked dish of sliced parsnips and cheese for a soggy fall one, etc. Like I do, he cooks out of the garden, which can be a challenge for a recipe developer because you don’t have the freedom to make absolutely whatever you want. You have to deal with real lacks and overwhelming surpluses. So, when I read his books, I see a way out.
Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.
I try to venture out and try new places whenever I’m in Brooklyn, which is a few times a year, but somehow I always find myself at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, chewing pretzels and not sharing my side of incredible house-made bacon. I especially like that place for brunch.
Amy will be at the Food Book Fair panel: Food + The Midwest on Friday, April 25 at 12 p.m.