In their forthcoming book, Steamed (Running Press, May), former Eater restaurant editor Rachel Levin and San Francisco Chronicle deputy food editor Tara Duggan encourage home chefs to put their feelings on the table by pounding, pummeling, crushing, and smashing their food.
“Cooking has always been thought of as therapeutic,” Levin says. “There’s humor that can be explored in that. When Covid-19 hit, and as 2020 unfolded, the ideas behind the book just became more pertinent.”
PW spoke with Levin and Duggan about devising funny recipe names and tearing up in the kitchen.
How did the idea for this book come to be?
Tara Duggan: You get so focused on the task of cooking, but you don’t always stop and think about the action. It sounds new agey, but it’s good to stop and think, “Can I get more out of it than just this dinner?” It was a refreshing way to approach a cookbook.
Rachel Levin: I hope readers will appreciate this approach—the physicality and the emotion of making the food, not just the taste and texture of the product.
How did you curate the recipes?
TD: I’d been seeing biang biang noodles around on the internet. I happened to read that the name comes from the sound of banging the noodles, and thought, “Oh, that’s perfect!” We have a mix of recipes—what’s percolating out there in the food world, and what readers find comforting.
RL: Early in the pandemic, I was ordering CSA boxes and getting so much. I remember spending two hours shelling fava beans one day. It was so freeing, so we included Drama-Free Fava Toasts in the book.
Why did you decide to write a funny book?
TD: I enjoyed getting to write the recipes in a slightly different way, because recipe writing tends to be pretty formulaic. I kept cracking up when I was reading the proof, even though I’d read it three times.
RL: Chopping onions is underrated. There are reams of articles online on how to stop the tears. No one is explaining that there’s an upside! The kitchen is a good place for crying. I wanted to play that up. And coming up with the recipe names was really fun. I’m quite proud of Self-Cured Gravlax. It’s rare to find a funny cookbook. They tend to be really earnest.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
RL: Even when the pandemic ends, we’re going to need to eat. We’re going to want to vent. We’re going to need an outlet at the end of the day, no matter what that day brings.