PW: In collecting recipes for The Gourmet Cookbook, how did you and your team make the cut between the recipes you'd include and the recipes you'd omit?
We kept thinking we'd have too many, and [the production staff was] going to cut them out. So we would say, well put it in, and if we have to cut, this is one we'll cut. And when push came to shove, we didn't end up cutting anything. It did sort of feel like we were getting away with something.
How did you select the recipes in the first place?
It was personal, really. We started by making lists of everything. And then we [Gourmet's executive food editor Zanne Stewart and senior food editor Kemp Miles Minifie] each individually went through them and checked off personally the ones we thought that should be in, and then we'd have a meeting. Zanne and Kemp have years and years of knowledge. I would say, well I loved this recipe, and then one of them would say to me, "Well, that's really just another version of something that Sally Darr did in 1978, and the original version used peas instead of soybeans, and the original version was better." So we would go back, and work with the original.
It sounds like a pretty subjective process.
It was subjective, except that Kemp and Zanne really knew what the recipes' history had been, and what they had developed from, how they had come to develop them, what the reader reaction to them had been. I would say, "I don't like X," and they'd say, "Yeah, but...." For example, I'm not a huge cheesecake fan. But Zanne knows that cheesecakes are so popular.
Looking at recipes from Gourmet over the past 60 years, what surprised you most?
For me the biggest shock was how things tasted. It was shocking to look at a pork recipe and see how different the meat was then. Or even flour. You'd never think it, but flour was different 30, 40, 50 years ago.
Since you've updated these recipes, is this cookbook a portrait of Gourmet magazine in 2004?
We don't want this to be a historical document. The point of this is, these are the best recipes we can give you right now. Probably 50 years from now it will look like a portrait of Gourmet in 2004.
In the book, you write about a terrine from the late 1970s that you all thought would be fantastic, and you made it and it was terrible. Were there any pleasant surprises?
Tons of them, actually. The most obvious one was Lobster Thermidore. Just the name of it sounds gooey and old-fashioned. And we made it, and it was wonderful—and not that complicated. It's a quick recipe, actually. And there are a lot of recipes like that.
Why don't you give the original issue date for each recipe?
It just seems so off-putting. You know, if you knew this recipe was from the '40s, would you be less inclined to try it? Also, because we've updated everything, none of them are as they were originally printed.
Who do you imagine buying this book?
If you read the headnotes, you'll get a whole lesson in American culinary history. It's consciously reflective of how America eats. People who just like to read cookbooks will enjoy it. Although I feel like this is a book you really want in your kitchen when you're hungry and want dinner.