Cookbook editor and food blogger Luisa Weiss recently sold a memoir, My Berlin Kitchen, to Viking. On her blog, The Wednesday Chef, Weiss explained, “I'm moving back to Berlin and I'm writing a book, about Berlin, about my life, about cooking and home and family and love, about being divided and finding a way back to being whole again, about a city and its recipes, and a girl who's learning how to find her way.” She talked to PW from her office at Stewart, Tabori and Chang, where she’s wrapping things up before departing for Berlin.
PW: Tell me about your book.
LW: It’s a food narrative-memoir hybrid. I’m going to go to Berlin for a year and spend it rediscovering the city. I left 15 years ago and have been back for holidays here and there, but the city has really changed a lot over the past 15 years. The culinary scene is one I’ve always been interested in, and I think American readers would be interested in it, too. I’m going to write essays about Berlin, the food scene, growing up there in the ’80s when the wall was still up, and the ways the city has changed. I’m going to be a one-woman cheering team for German cuisine. And there’s going to be some personal stuff in there, too, and recipes—a few per chapter.
PW: German food isn’t exactly popular in the U.S.
LW: I think that Germany has a funny reputation about food. It’s the butt of a lot of culinary jokes. People think it’s a place for potatoes and sausage, and it does have those things, but Germany has a lot of wonderful food. A lot of American food—pretzels, donuts, pickles—came out of German culinary traditions. My goal is to introduce German cuisine to readers who are interested, who have a feeling that Germany is something they’re interested in but they’re not really sure what awaits them. It’s a really seasonally focused country, and there are a lot of food traditions people don’t know about, a lot of fresh vegetable recipes people don’t know about. There’s really good food to be had; you just need somebody to unlock it.
LW: I think that everybody has an emotional association with food, even if you don’t consider yourself someone who’s particularly interested in food. Everyone can smell something cooking and have a reaction, whether it’s their grandmother’s chicken soup or their dad’s pot roast. Food memoirs tap into something that everybody shares. You have to write in a personal way, but if you’re able to make a bridge between your life and the reader’s life it can be powerful.
PW: Who are some food memoirists you admire?
LW: Laurie Colwin wrote more food-based essays, while Ruth Reichl wrote more emotionally-based books about food. The success of both of them is really powerful. You can write about food in the most mundane way possible. There’s always going to be a market for cookbooks, but the food memoir has something more than that—more than the glossy photos. A food narrative combines the best of both worlds. It has recipes and stories.
The story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.