Why did you decide to take on the project of cooking everything in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year?
The short answer is that it was a panic attack. I had gotten so far into this terrible state of angst and ennui over where my life was and where it seemed to be going or not going. And this was what came out.
You admit that MtAoFC is a bit antiquated. So what drew you, a young New Yorker, to it?
I've always been a little frustrated with food trendiness and the sort of pornographic aspect of commercial food writing. Somehow, to me, with this book, there's something timeless in its approach to food: the sort of nonglitzy but deep importance it places on feeding yourself and your friends and your family.
What's your take on the kind of food writing that appears in established cooking magazines like Gourmetand Food & Wine?
There are great people out there writing about food. But food is a really difficult thing to write about. There's as much bad writing about food as there is about sex. I get really aggravated with these articles about the summer I spent in this hill town where nobody works—how does this enlighten me in any way? What I hope to do is to try to explore the more difficult associations with food and the place it holds in our lives. Not in terms of body image or anything like that, but what feelings bring you to the kitchen.
You must've had some disasters—can you tell me about one?
The worst was Oeufs en Gelée, or poached eggs in aspic. The disaster started because I tried to do the aspic the old-fashioned French way. I tried to make it by boiling various animal parts, taking calves' hooves and stuff, and it smelled like a tannery. It was horrendous. And then you make it solid and put poached eggs in it. It really was the most ill-conceived dish I've ever heard of. It made me so angry—I was making this thing that I just knew was going to suck.
What was your best meal out of MtAoFC?
I did a duck that was boned, stuffed with pâté and put in a pastry crust and baked. It was something that I had been absolutely terrified of. There are these drawings of it in the book that are incredibly frightening. The moment when I followed all of Julia's directions and got the duck boned, it epitomized my sense of accomplishment for the year. I'd fuck up a crepe or something, and I'd think, "What the hell have I been doing for a year? This is such a waste of my life!" But when I boned that duck and it came out looking exactly like the drawing, I realized if nothing else comes out of this year, I know that I can do that.