PW: Was Young and Hungry sparked by the article Amanda Hesser wrote about you in the New York Times in April 2003?
Dave Lieberman: It was. Mary Ellen O'Neal from Hyperion was literally the first message on my answering machine after the article came out. She told me she'd read the article and asked me if I'd considered doing a book. There were messages from editors from at five or six other publishing houses but I ended up going with Hyperion.
PW: Think of all the young chefs who have trained at the Culinary Institute of America and other places who are toiling away in restaurants as we speak. Yet, here you are, just out of Yale, with a cookbook and your own cooking show on the Food Network about to air. How do you account for your good fortune?
DL: I think I happen to put a face on this trend that Amanda Hesser described, of college students taking more of an interest in cooking and food.
PW: You weren't formally trained. Do you consider yourself a home cook writing for home cooks?
DL: I think what I do is more sophisticated than a home cook.
PW: Did you go to Yale knowing that you wanted to be a chef? The great chef Patrick O'Connell commented to PW that more and more college educated people are becoming chefs.
DL: I knew I had this love and passion for cooking but I didn't want to be in a professional kitchen. Now there's this fortuitous turn of events and I don't have to. Working in a restaurant kitchen is a really tough environment and it's matched to certain personalities. The focus is on routine and repetition and I'm much more fascinated by the idea of creating dishes than I am in honing the minutia of the production. I knew it wasn't going to be fun to work my way up through the ranks. I mean, I would love to work in Thomas Keller's kitchen, and I'm sure it would be good for me. But I like to have my hand on the entire picture.
PW: Throughout the book, there are references equating food and love. Did this start with your love for your father, who did the cooking in your family and inspired you to cook?
DL: I remember that when I was really young, my father would pack my lunch in a brown bag and I never wanted to throw out his food when I was full. I would feel like crying when I had to throw away something he made because it reminded me of him and of how much I loved him.
PW: The way you describe cooking and sharing meals with family and friends feels almost sacramental in the sense that there is something timeless and eternal about it.
DL: Yes. I don't think I've ever spoken or even really thought about this before, but I grew up in a very religious Jewish family and every Friday night my father made the Sabbath meal and we would have guests. We would eat and sit around the table talking for hours. That was where I first learned that cooking and sharing a meal can create a way of feeling that is timeless, as you say.
PW: Julia Child has written about this, and Nigella Lawson told PW that cooking and writing about food is a way of remembering her mother and other loved ones. Does it make you feel connected to your father?
DL: Yes, and my father kept his mother's recipes and used them. I remember they were on old yellowed paper, and he lost his mother when he was young. Cooking really is about expressing love. It's a tool for creating memorable times and evoking good sensations. You give and you get.