Since 2004, Rose Levy Beranbaum has worked with Woody Wolston—long distance for nearly a decade and then, for the past couple of years, in the New Jersey home Beranbaum shares with her husband. Ahead of her newest book, Rose’s Baking Basics (HMH, Sept.), we spoke with the pair about the team they’ve dubbed RoseWood.
Rose, you wrote eight books before Woody joined you. Were you looking for a collaborator?
RLB: I wasn’t looking for a recipe tester and certainly not a collaborator. I wanted total control of every part of the process of writing my cookbooks. This was in part due to one recipe tester having claimed he “eyeballed” the liquid in a measuring cup, and another, a patent award–winning engineer at Proctor and Gamble, where I was consulting, having measured the liquid instead of weighing it. So I made the decision to continue working alone.
How did you wind up getting together?
WW: We’d already started an exchange of emails that went on for several months when I met Rose for the first time, at a coffee shop in Minneapolis. She’d come to do a Christmas cookie event at General Mills. Along with my copies of The Cake Bible and The Pie and Pastry Bible, I brought servings of two cakes I’d baked.
RLB: They were so perfectly executed, I decided to give him two recipes to try as a test for the book I was working on at the time, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.
WW: I was a self-taught home baker from making recipes in The Joy of Cooking and The Cake Bible. Our email exchanges continued, now including recipe taste-testing reports.
How did the long-distance partnership work?
WW: For the first few years, we communicated by daily emails and a weekly phone call. Our call would go over the previous week’s tests, prepping for the next week of tests, and her teaching me.
RLB: It took a long time to trust another person again, and to communicate all the important things he needed to know about the way I do things.
Did collaborating long-distance lead to any misadventures?
WW: On many flights to New York, I would bring up to 30 pounds of superfine sugar in my carry-on duffel bag, because I could buy it wholesale. Of course, I was flagged by TSA as they did their chemical checks for cocaine or whatever, as they inquired why I was transporting sugar.
Woody, why did you move to the East Coast?
WW: With the success of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, my tai chi master said it was my dharma to work with Rose and encouraged me to take whatever path presented itself. Other than a few months’ relocation for a previous job, this was my first time leaving the Twin Cities in almost 60 years.
How did the partnership change once you shared the same workspace?
RLB: Julia Child once told me that she would no longer write cookbooks, because it was too lonely. People often assume that writers are introverts, but this is not true in all cases. Loving to write can be very solitary, and there are times when total silence is needed, but the rest of the time, it’s so helpful to have another person who’s on one’s wavelength to run things by and to offer an opinion. Also, when still in Minnesota, he would test the recipes by himself, but here we do it together. We remind each other if one or the other of us misses a step.
What are the benefits of having a partner?
RLB: Speed, quality, and accuracy.
WW: Our working together has proven that one plus one equals five, in our being able to accomplish more and better quality in the same amount of time.
RLB: Fourteen years later, I can’t imagine working without Woody. My books became our books.