In part two of my terrific interview with Smitten Kitchen‘s Deb Perelman, we move from the creation of her blog into book writing (her second book Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites was just published in October 2017), and how social media has (or hasn’t) changed what she does.
The first thing I learned was that writing books was never part of Deb’s grand master plan: “From 2003, I had been hearing from agents and editors. No, I did not think I needed to write a book. I thought it was like…’Why would I need a book? The web is all I’ll ever need.’ And that was really very much my mindset. It’s so ridiculous to say this, and it’s so insulting to somebody who really wants to write a cookbook, that I was so flippant about it, but I had to be talked into it.”
Deb admitted that she was more “terrified” than anything else when her first book was published, particularly about how it might be received: “It was actually going to ruin…take the blog down with it when the book was panned. These were live and real things that were in my head, until the first day that it maybe hit the bestseller list, and then I was like, “Okay, one week of not thinking this way. Let me see if I can make it to next week.”
I guess it isn’t surprising that it did so well, in light of the fact that 85% of the recipes were new and couldn’t be found on her blog: “I wanted it to be of value. I was really concerned about long-term readers feeling like this was not a book for them. It had to be of value to them. I wasn’t going to ask you to buy stuff I’d been giving you for free, like you didn’t know how money worked, you know?”
Deb’s concern for her readers getting the most out of the work she does also plays into the way she uses social media: “You have to know what you’re selling, I guess. For me, it’s the stories, it’s the recipes. So, I always felt social media has to meet people where they are. If you want to find out about my site on Facebook, let me show up on Facebook and be there. If you want to get your news on Twitter, I will be in all those places. I will meet you there. But I’m still going to tell you what I’m doing, where I’m doing it, if that makes sense.”
Perhaps what’s so surprising about Deb’s success, in the end, is that she has kept Smitten Kitchen a one-woman show. “It’s not the smartest thing I’ve ever done…It’s not making me feel younger. I do my own everything. And part of it is that I…You could say I’m a control freak, but it’s more that who else…How are you going to answer email for me? How are you going to write for me? How are you going to edit photos? It’s all my vision.”
To hear more about that vision and what makes the person behind Smitten Kitchen tick, you’re just going to have to tune into the show.
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life.
Deb Perelman: I always felt social media has to meet people where they are. If you want to find out about my site through Facebook, let me show up on Facebook and be there. If you want to get your news on Twitter, I will be in all of these places. I will meet you there.
EL: This week we’re continuing our conversation with Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman to talk about her cookbooks, her web TV series, and all this other good stuff that she’s doing. Before we talk about your books, I want to talk a little bit more about voice. I think your readers identify with you. You’re self-deprecating in the extreme. You fumble around quite visibly. You struggle with juggling work and family. You’re very open about any number of things from your many failed attempts at making something, to using other cooks and cookbook writers as inspirations, which I think is great, and I get the feeling that your readers don’t just identify with you, they want to be you. It’s a little bit like I feel about Ree Drummond and Pioneer Woman.
DP: I want to be the Pioneer Woman.
EL: Your editor was once quoted as saying that you’re a woman who has become, in a very 21st-century way, a dear friend of theirs.
DP: Wow, that’s very flattering. And it’s so interesting to me, because when somebody says they think I’m cool, I’m like, “How have I failed to tell you the truth?” I’m like, “How is my repeated …”
EL: I didn’t say you were cool.
DP: Okay, good, because I’m like …
EL: I just said you were my friend.
DP: Sorry. See, there you go. That’s what I’m saying. I’m trying to say, “How have I failed to tell you …” I feel like I’ve failed somehow. I’m not trying to … But, yeah, anyway.
EL: But I once sat with Ree Drummond at a book signing she did. She said, “The only way way I’m going to get to see you …” Because she also started around when we started, right?
DP: Do you remember? Do you remember that I told you about her? I did. I know, maybe this sounds crazy.
EL: I believe you.
DP: I was like, “You know who we …” I was like, “I’m not doing a good job getting these articles into your … Have you seen Ree Drummond? Have you seen the Pioneer Woman?”
DP: I told you about her.
EL: You did. Now I do remember, you told me about her, and I ended up going to see the ranch.
DP: I was like, “She is on fire. This is like, she is brand new. She has been blogging for two fewer years than me, and it’s like …”
EL: She’s the Martha Stewart of the 21st century.
DP: She really is, and she knew what she wanted.
EL: Oh my god, talk about focus.
DP: I know, and I just … I also went out to the ranch at one point, and we had some conversations about some projects that had come up that would involve us, and she was like, “Why would I let somebody else do that project for me? I should start my own project.” And I was like, “How?”
EL: I know, when I went out to the ranch, she was like, “Oh, yeah, this used to be the bunkhouse. We’re going to make it into our TV studio.”
EL: Wait, wait. You’re a blogger, and you’re building a TV studio on your ranch. Yeah, she’d always do it. It’s so interesting, because when I was at the book signing with her, all these people came up to her, and they really, it didn’t matter if they were hipsters from Brooklyn, or they’d driven in from Pennsylvania, they all wanted to be her, and I always thought that was so interesting, and I think you have that same ability. I mean, I’ve never been to a book signing of yours.
DP: It’s very flattering. And I guess, I hope it’s just because I’ll be honest with people about stuff. Maybe that’s it. But I don’t think it’s very glamorous, or anything, what I do.
EL: Well, let’s talk about the first book, which is called “Smitten Kitchen,” and how it came about. Was it like, “Somebody wants me to do a book,” or was it, “The next step is doing a book.”
DP: It was the former. I’m a little bit embarrassed. This is like, I have grown up too, but in the beginning … And this is really just a certain age. I feel like if you were writing on the web in certain years, and you had, anybody had heard of you, you had an agent who had reached out to you, or three, or four, or twelve. It was just, they were looking at blogs, and if your blog was out there, and it was getting any attention, you had heard …
So, for me, from 2003, I had been hearing from agents and editors. No, I did not think I needed to write a book. I thought it was like … I was like, “Why would I need a book? The web is all I’ll ever need.” And that was really very much my mindset. It’s so ridiculous to say this, and it’s so insulting to somebody who really wants to write a cookbook, that I was so flippant about it, but I had to be talked into it.
EL: How did writing the book differ from writing the blog?
DP: It was just so much harder. I don’t know why, because the idea was, it was going to be the same, similar format. Here’s an intro, here’s a recipe, here’s a picture or two, and this is what I do every day, and I do not pull my hair out all the time doing this. And the book was like, it took me three years to write it, and then it took me five years to write the second. No, five years between the two books. I don’t know why it’s so much harder, but it just is.
EL: Is it because you felt, when you’re writing for a book, you’re writing for posterity?
DP: Maybe. And I think I was much … I felt like I was really outside my comfort zone. I also was absolutely convinced that writing a book was some sort of … It wasn’t selling out, but it was just … I don’t know. It seems silly to me, like I was jumping the shark. And also, I was convinced that most people just saw me as this flash in the pan, and that this book was probably going to be the last thing that I ever wrote.
EL: Right. Somebody was going to tap you on the shoulder and say …
DP: “And you’re done.”
EL: “And you’re done.”
DP: And it was actually going to ruin … take the blog down with it when the book was panned. These were live and real things that were in my head, until the first day that it maybe hit the bestseller list, and then I was like, “Okay, one week of not thinking this way. Let me see if I can make it to next week.”
EL: So, in short order, the book went from being your Titanic to being the America’s Cup winner.
DP: I mean, I don’t know if I ever … But I was like, “Okay, so, I did it this one time.” But I never really … I really just thought that it was going to take me down with it, and that it was just this … So, yeah, I was petrified.
EL: You didn’t put every recipe from the site into the book, right?
DP: No, not at all. In fact, the book is 85 percent new recipes, and the only reason there were any from the site was just for kind of continuity, where it’s like, how could you call this Smitten Kitchen if you don’t have these five favorites, that are five of the best recipes on the site? So, it was always planned that way. I wanted it to be of value. I was really concerned about long-term readers feeling like this was not a book for them. It had to be of value to them. I wasn’t going to ask you to buy stuff I’d been giving you for free, like you didn’t know how money worked, you know?
EL: Yeah, that’s funny. You know, one of the things that I read in one of the articles about you is that somebody who was at a signing said, “I had to have this book. I needed to own something physical that you wrote.” And I thought that was such an interesting way to look at a book, which is in the physical world, right? It’s not in the digital world.
DP: It’s a very sweet thing. I don’t remember that at all, but that’s very sweet. And I guess, maybe just because I came up through the web, I didn’t get the importance. I mean, when I sat down with an agent, she had to explain to me what the big six were. I didn’t know about publishers. I didn’t know anything about the publishing process, and who they were, and what they wrote, and what their styles were. I mean, I had to get Publishing 101 education first.
EL: Right, and we should say, the big six were the big six publishing houses, or conglomerates at the time.
DP: And now it’s five, right?
EL: Yeah, or four, or whatever.
EL: So, you were obviously surprised at its success. I read one story that said you’re at 325,000 copies, and still going strong. How the hell did that happen?
DP: I don’t know. I haven’t looked at the … I really, genuinely have not looked at the numbers. I’m not being coy. Because, yeah, no. I just haven’t looked. You know the way you get the thing twice a year, and you’re like, “Okay, there’s that number.”
EL: Right, the royalties thing.
DP: Yeah. Twice a year, nine months after you actually sold the books. Royalties are amazing. And then, yeah, you get it twice a year, and I take a look, and then I remember the number for like a week, and then it falls out of my head. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t stay in my head.
EL: So, name three recipes from the first book that you think people who just bought the book should make.
DP: You should make … I mean, I had it on the site first, but you should make the broccoli slaw. You should make …
EL: And these are from the first book?
DP: This is the first book.
DP: Oh, okay. Sorry. Am I …
EL: Your first book.
DP: First book, you should make the broccoli slaw. You should make … Again, see, this also came over from the site, which is not a very good argument, but I love the spaghetti squash tacos in there. I have been trying to save spaghetti squash from spaghetti and meatballs’ tethers for years, and the spaghetti squash tacos are amazing. I also really like the New York breakfast casserole, which is a savory bread pudding, but you make it with bagels and cream cheese.
EL: Yeah, I know. That’s a pretty awesome recipe.
DP: I was worried it was a little kitschy at the time. I actually pulled it and then put it back in the cookbook several times, but I love that recipe.
EL: So, how did the success of the first book change your life?
DP: Absolutely not even in the smallest way, except for people started asking, from the minute it came out, if I was working on a second book. I’m like, “Are you crazy?” That’s one of those things that I re-hear as an adult now, and I’m like, “That’s kind of rude, Deb. You should pay more respect.” So, I don’t talk that way anymore, but at the time I was like, that was horrible, because it was very difficult, and I saw no need to do it again. Plus, it was only going to be downhill from there.
EL: Yes, well, you know what they … There was an old saying in the music business, when I was in the record business, when there was such a thing as the record business, that you had 25 or 30 years to make your first album, and then six months to make your second.
DP: That sounds about right, except I took five years to write the second. And again, I was … I thought it would be easier the second time, but I was immediately back in that place. This time, the fear was that that was going to have been the only good thing I ever wrote, and I was really paralyzed with this idea that this was just going to be the sinker that took me down with it. Because I believe that, even if it isn’t a sophomore slump, people believe it to be, especially if you should have such luck as I did to have success with the first book. It’s always going to be, “Well, I liked the first book more.”
DP: I could have written every negative Amazon review before I even wrote the book.
EL: That’s hilarious.
DP: “I like the first book better.” This is what happens with second books.
EL: Yes, it’s true.
DP: I tried to find evidence of authors who had written second books that people liked more, and they absolutely exist, but there aren’t … It’s far more common for people to dislike the second book.
EL: No, it’s true. Let’s talk about social media, which I think you utilize really, really well. It’s hard to do, and I would say that there are a lot of food bloggers who use social media as an end unto itself, because they’re more marketers than writers. And you’ve always been very good at sort of separating what you will do and what you won’t do, in terms of sponsored posts. And yet, you utilize Instagram, and all those kinds of vehicles really well.
DP: Well, thank you. I really like Instagram. I spend more time than I should on social media, like everybody else. But I also am like, I’m not making money on social media. It’s not purely a money thing, but my product is the recipes on the site, and if people aren’t coming to the site, which of course is harder and harder to get people to do, I can’t actually earn a living and continue doing what I’m doing. So, I try … I’ve never really put recipes up on social media. I’d like you to come and be able to read the long format. That was just the basic economic 101 of it.
EL: Right. And so, did you start by utilizing all, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and then your strategy sort of evolved as you saw what was working and what you liked doing?
DP: A little bit. I try not to let … I definitely see bloggers and other people where it becomes their whole life, and then they kind of don’t like it, and so I always thought, it comes second. You have to know what you’re selling, I guess. For me, it’s the stories, it’s the recipes. So, I always felt social media has to meet people where they are. If you want to find out about my site on Facebook, let me show up on Facebook and be there. If you want to get your news on Twitter, I will be in all those places. I will meet you there. But I’m still going to tell you what I’m doing, where I’m doing it, if that makes sense.
EL: Yeah, that makes sense. There are many other food bloggers who do a lot more sponsored content. Hellman’s mayonnaise. Not that there’s anything wrong. I love Hellman’s mayonnaise.
DP: Me too!
EL: Saying, hey, would you do six recipes using Hellman’s mayonnaise, that’s not what you do. Is that just a philosophical decision?
DP: It’s a philosophical thing for me. And it’s not a judgment. I mean, who am I to tell anyone how they should make money? I am lucky that I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve been able to make a living through ads, which is so rare on the web, these days. It’s so rare. So, I get that. This is not … It’s hard to talk about it without sounding like you’re passing judgment on people, but this is a little bit the journalism background, where you just don’t want to muddy your ads and your content. But I also felt like I’m really concerned about survival, because once I made this leap to make this my full-time job, and I felt like if the only way I’m able to break even is by chasing these advertisers, at some point, we’re just haggling over the price.
DP: Because if I can’t find a buyer, I’m just going to have to keep lowering my prices, and I’m not going to be able to sustain what I’m doing. So, it was philosophical where it felt wrong to me, but also I didn’t know how it was really going to economically sort out.
EL: And what’s interesting about you, and this is different than Ree Drummond, Pioneer Woman, is that you’re still basically a one-man band, as far as I can tell.
DP: I am. It’s not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It’s not making me feel younger. Every year, I’m like, I’m literally working on my editor job ad now. I’m working on hiring an editor. I have some part-time help who helps me, like Sarah, who helped coordinate this. But, yeah, no, I’ve been doing my own social media. I do my own everything. And part of it is that I … You could say I’m a control freak, but it’s more that who else … How are you going to answer email for me? How are you going to write for me? How are you going to edit photos? It’s all my vision.
EL: It’s true.
DP: You couldn’t write the recipe for me.
EL: Even at Serious Eats, when Stella writes a recipe, they don’t want to her my response to a question they have about Stella. Trust me, they want to hear from Stella, or they want to hear from Daniel, or they want to hear from Sola. Just like when I write a piece, they’re going to say, “Hey, Ed,” and they don’t want a social media person to answer that. They want you.
DP: I feel like I would damage what I’m going, and also not do as good of a job of it, and also, I can’t clone myself. It does limit how much you can do. You can’t go as far. You can’t take on … I’ve been a notoriously terrible freelancer over the years, because I can’t be in two places at once. So, yeah, it really limits it, but at the same time, I feel like if people want to hear from you, it doesn’t work for somebody else to do the talking.
EL: Yeah. And I guess it all depends on what your definition of success is. You are limiting the upside. You’re building the brand of Smitten Kitchen in your own image, in a way that you’re comfortable with. Even though any MBA would tell you that you are not maximizing your revenue opportunities.
DP: My husband is an MBA. We don’t work at home together on the site. He has his own job. Yeah, he is an MBA, and he would say exactly that. He’s tried. But I guess I feel like this is my … I’m not looking to diversify the site. I want to do this. There are times when I’m like, I really wish I had time to do more video, and I wish I had more time to some more of these Instagram lives. And then I go, okay. Then I start looking at what am I doing, and does this actually have to be done by me? And that was one of these things, scheduling.
DP: Very nice, invitations. I don’t actually have to be the person that responds, and that was a very useful thing. And I actually, that happened when I did my first book tour, where the publishers had a publicist handling all of it, and I was like, “This is kind of … Yeah, I don’t need to schedule my own stuff.” And I stole the publicist, is basically what happened.
EL: And has anyone else ever had a byline at Smitten Kitchen?
DP: No. I’ve had some friends, in the very early days when we thought no one was reading, do some guest posting, and we have a little post in there from my dad. But I never felt like it worked as well. I would much rather you contribute a paragraph. I would rather interview you. But I think it needs to be me, and what I want to tell you about it.
EL: Right. For you, and that’s what’s interesting. For me, at Serious Eats, again, when I saw the success of recipe and technique posts that Kenji was doing, that’s just not what I do, right?
EL: So, I was like, I could either be stubborn and stupid and unsuccessful, or I could say, hey, this is what people are responding to. No one can ever take away the founder description. It’s like, somebody had to bring these people together, but it’s a different kind of thing than what you’re doing at Smitten Kitchen.
DP: You had started out with, it was not just Ed Levine’s voice, and I think that’s good. I think it’s always been a little harder for me when I love a blog and they bring in a bunch of writers. Very few do this in a way where I feel like I’m as equally invested in the writers. I can think of a couple of examples where they brought them in slowly, introduced them, and then this is what they’re into, and you very much knew it was their post, and you get to know their personality. But it has to kind of go slowly. When all of the sudden, five additional authors show up, I’m like, who am I talking to? Can you just tell me who the original persons were?
DP: I mean, that’s a very intelligent way, by the way, to grow a site, is to diversify and become more of a web magazine, and I’ve often wondered if I should, but I’m so busy doing what I do, it’s never really gone anywhere with that.
EL: Yeah, and Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, who’s been doing it even longer than you …
DP: She’s so … Talk about business smarts.
EL: I mean, there were people who occasionally wrote pieces, but basically, she wrote everything until she sold the site. I mean, Hank Shaw did some stuff.
DP: I always think of that, and Eric McCourt. I’m thinking of two people who, to me, that they became a name by writing for her, even though they were doing their own thing. Yeah, I thought, so she was very smart about it.
EL: Yeah. So, let’s talk about the second book, which is called “Smitten Kitchen: Everyday Triumph and Unfussy New Favorites.” How is it different? I read the introduction. You’re like, you had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to this book, as far as I can tell.
DP: No, it wasn’t. This one was a little bit … As I’ve said, I’ve expressed to you all of my angst and stress over … I really just thought it was doomed to failure, and it was also that I was so much busier, and I was trying to find a way to talk about what it meant to cook every day, versus everyday cooking, which can be kind of boring. Because we all just whip up a chicken breast and a salad sometimes, and that’s fine, but I didn’t want to write a cookbook of stuff that everybody already knew how to make. I wanted to focus on the stuff that sort of uplifted a day, that was inspired. These were the ones that were surprisingly great. These were the best parts of our day recipes.
EL: And you were also writing it within the context of having two children.
DP: Which was like, it felt like … There’s this New Yorker thing where it’s life with two kids. One kid, you’ve just got your little buddy. Two kids, they’re everywhere, and they are always hungry. It was such a change.
EL: And what’s interesting, it’s not a 30-minute gourmet kind of book, even though it is an everyday kind of book. But what you say in the book, which I think is really interesting, is, “I want these recipes to be good enough, and sound delicious enough so that they’re worth 30-45 minutes, or an hour of your time.”
DP: That’s because when I hear that something is a seven-ingredient recipe, I’m like, “What was the eighth, though? Could you tell me what it is? I might have it.” It’s like this obsession where I’m like, I don’t mind if it takes a little bit longer if I know why I’m spending the time on it. Let me tell you how … We could make this quicker. You could probably skip the step. But here’s why I think you might not want to, because I might think that what you do in the last five, 10 minutes, it should be the best part of the recipe, actually, or why did you add it?
EL: Right. So, name three recipes from the second book that reflect sort of how your cooking has evolved, that you think people should make.
DP: I love the sheet pan halloumi. And I know some people were like, what is this, I don’t even have this cheese. But it’s this Greek …
EL: It’s a Greek cheese.
DP: It’s a Greek cheese. I feel it is, but there are versions of it in a couple of other countries. It’s a grilling cheese, and it’s really just wonderful warm. It tastes like it’s a hard, solid feta. It’s also kind of expensive, a block of it, and I’m always like, how am I going to take this $8 block of cheese, there are plenty of recipes that use it, and use it for more than an appetizer? How can I turn this into a meal? And for me, that meant adding it to a tray of vegetables, which have this great lemon …
EL: Right, it almost made it like a fondue.
DP: Yeah, exactly. The pieces stay together, but they become one with the vegetables in the roast, and they get crispy, and you get to enjoy all of it while actually turning it into a meal. A lot of it, a lot in this book is about me taking something small that I love and trying to figure out how to turn it into dinner. Because I didn’t want to change what I ate, and my taste, because there were four people in my family. There’s another one that’s, there’s an artichoke galette, and I’m not even pretending it has … It’s like a love letter to those baked artichoke dips we grew up with, with the mayo and the Parmesan and stuff. I wanted to make it, how can I turn it into dinner, that is not with a jar of mayo in it?
EL: All right.
DP: And I basically made this quiche-y galette that we eat with a salad. It’s got the artichokes in it, and a tiny smidge of mayo, but mostly it’s eggs and milk. And it’s so good, and it’s definitely rich, and you wouldn’t eat it every day.
EL: Do you think you have become a better cook over time?
DP: So much. Yes. I really …
EL: And a confident cook?
DP: Yes. I feel like I know how to make so many more things, and therefore I can make the changes that I want. I can say, how do I turn this great appetizer into a meal? How do I turn this dip into a meal? How do I turn this meal back into a dip? I feel like I’m able to expand and contract, and use things, and kind of take this biscuit technique, and I apply it to a dinner roll, or something like that.
EL: Yeah. It’s a very cool book. So, you wrote something on Food52 that I want to see if I can say it fast enough, and then I’d love you to react to it, because I thought it was so interesting.
“So let’s say the year is 2016 and you like to cook and write and always thought it would be nice to do something with this somehow, but nobody is exactly knocking down your door inviting you to. Would you start a blog?
This is where I long-sigh, take a drag off some imaginary cigarette, hoping with enough filters you’ll mistake me for an old-school French movie starlet, and say “Honey, why are you asking me?” This is where I—basically a grandma in blogging years and still at it—am supposed to say it mattered or it didn’t or it still matters or perhaps everyone else is just doing it wrong. I am sorry, but I have no such wisdom/arrogance to impart.
But I do know this: Almost everyone I knew in the early days who was rather good at it and wanted to stick with it has turned it into something else—either hired to write, cook or edit full-time by a bigger outlet, has a mini-empire of their own (see Pioneer woman) or has opened a restaurant or catering company, or is a professional food photographer or cookbook ghostwriter. The field may be more crowded now than it has ever been, but as long as people are reading about food and hungry to cook dinner, not the same dinner they always cook, an “in” exists. There’s a way for someone who doesn’t want to do things the way they’ve always been done, and who is eager to sharpen their skills, to put themselves out there and find people who will listen.”
And I thought that was so wise, because people ask me the same question, and of course I couldn’t start Serious Eats in 2018.
DP: Maybe it wouldn’t look the same.
EL: Right. It wouldn’t look the same, and maybe it would be an Instagram account, or I don’t know. I just know it would have the same values, and that the path to success, or whatever my definition of success was, was not going to be linear. But there’s a fascinating optimism in what I just read that you said in that Food52 piece, that you still think the air is pregnant with possibility for people who are …
DP: I hope so.
DP: I also think, I’ve always just thought of blogs as just one format. It’s just one way to express yourself. And so maybe, to say that blogs are … It’s a publishing format, so to say that they’re over or they’re not, I’m like, have we stopped publishing? I mean, I use WordPress. That’s what a lot of major websites use, which nobody would call a blog.
EL: That’s the typewriter.
DP: Yeah. It’s just your typewriter. It’s your … What am I thinking of? Your word processor. So, I just think, if you think of it that way … We all have things to say, and we all want to read things, so don’t get so stuck on how you do it. If you have something to say, find a way to say it.
EL: Yeah. So, what’s next for you?
DP: I’m going to write a third book.
DP: I can’t believe I just said that. Look how grown up I am. And I’m not going to whine about it. I’m kind of excited about it. I’m just starting to get ideas together. But I felt, actually, much sooner this time, a readiness for it. I really enjoy being out there, and I think of things that went right and wrong, and I’m hoping to free myself from this terror of every moment. I mean, I am obviously going to be terrified. But just to write it in the present, and not just in terror that this is going to be the last thing that I ever do, and see if that comes from a better place.
EL: But I don’t get the feeling that you’re ever going to give up Smitten Kitchen, the blog.
DP: I don’t want to. I mean, I hope that there’s always a reason for people to come there. I hope there’s always something that people want. I also never want it to be so tied to one format that I felt like it constrained me, but I also have not yet wanted to change it. But, yeah, I’ve always thought, it could change, that’s fine, I’m all right with it changing, but I haven’t really wanted to change it. Redesign it, maybe, but not change it.
EL: Yeah, exactly. So, now it’s time for the Special Sauce All You Can Answer Buffet.
EL: The first question is, who’s at your Last Supper, no family allowed?
DP: Eleanor Roosevelt.
DP: Got to have Eleanor Roosevelt. I’m trying to stay out of politics. Deb, stay out of politics.
EL: You don’t have to.
DP: I want Jackie O there. I do. I feel like she might just look down at us, but I just need to … I want Julia Child there, because I think she would have a couple, one too many, and say the best things.
EL: And she’s incredibly charming, and so not full of herself. I only met her once, but she was just so normal.
DP: Yeah. I think that’s why. I think she would be a great conversationalist. I wonder how she and Jackie O would bang into each other.
EL: All right. One more. One more.
DP: Oh, god. I’ve got to have Michelle Obama there. I’ve got to have her there. She’s just amazing.
EL: Wow, what a table! Michelle Obama, Eleanor Roosevelt …
DP: That’s two First Ladies!
EL: That’s so cool. I love this table.
DP: Okay. I mean, yeah, I think this is going to work. Are there no men allowed? What’s going on there?
EL: I’ll be the server, okay? I’ll be the server. So, what are you eating?
DP: Oh, my goodness. I feel like I really love … I’ve gotten so into in the last few years, and this is definitely a … Sometimes we have four people at the table, sometimes it’s eight, but I’ve gotten really into these assemble-your-own type things. Oh, god, the street cart chicken in this book. But I always set it out as, here’s the chicken, here’s the rice, here’s the salad, here’s the stuff, and you kind of put it together. I do that all summer. I do this, I have a chicken gyro salad. I have a Cobb salad I do that way. But I love doing that kind of thing. Maybe it’s a little bit casual, but I like the idea of everybody can kind of make it …
EL: That’s okay.
DP: And if you’re off carbs …
EL: It’s your Last Supper.
DP: Oh, Last Supper? French fries and champagne. What are we even talking about? Sorry, I missed the last part. French fries, oysters, and champagne.
EL: That’s it?
DP: That’s it. Maybe some artichokes. They’re like my favorite food. I thought you were thinking, what am I going to cook for them? I’m like, we’re going to make it casual. No. Last Supper? Oh, no. Duck fat fries. Ice cold champagne. Ice cold. It has to be so cold. Sweet, small oysters. And maybe some sort of crispy artichokes, Roman style.
EL: That sounds awesome. So, what are you listening to? Is there music?
DP: I guess we would definitely have to have some music. I was listening to Lorde on the way here, but I feel like we should shake it up a little bit.
EL: All right, so let’s shake it up. No Lorde.
DP: Okay. No Lorde. I feel like we need to have some good jazz in there, and we need to have …
EL: Miles Davis, Charlie Parker?
DP: I feel like definitely some Charlie Parker. I guess we’ll put on some Rolling Stones, too. Everyone likes the Rolling Stones.
EL: All right, one more. One more band. You’ve got the Rolling Stones.
DP: Rolling Stones.
EL: Charlie Parker.
DP: Charlie Parker. I want to put on … I want to put on the Afro-Cuban All-Stars.
EL: Oh, I love the Afro-Cuban All-Stars.
DP: It makes people so happy to listen to.
EL: Do you know that I have a T-shirt from the original Buena Vista Social Club concert at Carnegie Hall. My wife said, “You know, that T-shirt should be retired. It’s from 2000.” I said, “But it’s the coolest T-shirt ever!”
DP: I was working at Tower Records back then, and it was like the biggest thing, all of those, and all of the artists that spun off it, and I just thought, I will listen to this music forever. This is such great music.
EL: And that was such a magical moment, and I had the worst seats in the house at Carnegie Hall, but the feeling coming from the stage, from those musicians, who had never been out of Cuba, to be in a place where they were getting all this love from the audience, and where they felt free for the first time, the feeling was overwhelming. It’s like, everyone was in tears in the audience.
DP: It’s really, it’s such happy music, and it’s such … I want to say, I had at least eight CDs that came out of that same network of people, and all their side projects that are like completely …
EL: Chucho Valdes.
DP: Yeah, all of it, and it’s just really great. That would be, I’m going to bust that out for dinner party music. We need to. I’m going to do it.
EL: All right. Three books that have influenced your life.
DP: I don’t know why, but I always … I just read “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” probably 10 or 15 years ago. I love that. I love Roxanne Gay’s “Bad Feminist,” because how could you not?
EL: I’ve heard it’s awesome.
DP: It was just, I was like, she gets me. And I’m like, what am I reading? My favorite thing is the last thing I cooked, and my favorite book is the last book I’m reading, and I’m reading “Little Fires Everywhere” right now. I’m like the last person …
EL: Celeste Ng? How do you say it?
DP: Yes. I’m going to get myself in trouble, because I know that her Twitter handle is “pronounced_ing.”
EL: Ng. Got it.
DP: I had to picture her Twitter … It’s Ng, I think.
EL: Three things in your kitchen that you can’t do without.
DP: Small offset spatula.
DP: Flexible fish spatula.
DP: And Y-shaped peeler.
EL: All right. I like that. They’re all sort of multi-use.
DP: Mm-hmm. Just the tools that, no, I don’t want to use the other peeler, and I don’t want to have to try to separate my halloumi roast from the pan with a thudding, thick spatula.
EL: Yeah. Kenji always, he imparted this wisdom that he really didn’t like single-use implements in the kitchen, except on rare occasions.
DP: That was my MO for the first 10 years, and then in the last couple, I’m like, but there’s a couple very specific things that I love.
EL: So, what do you cook when there’s nothing in the house to eat?
DP: I would say, over the last couple of years … I’ve always been a, well, there’s pasta. Isn’t there pasta? We can make something with pasta. But I’ve gotten much more into just trying to look at the post. I love carbs, obviously, and gluten. I’m gluten-ful. But I love taking a can of beans, and treating it the way you would have pasta. Maybe you use a spicy tomato sauce. Maybe you use an herby pesto. Maybe you use …
EL: Or you saute some garlic.
DP: Exactly. Maybe you steam some clams, and you toss them with chickpeas and lemon, instead of linguini. I love using chickpeas or white beans as sort of the place where … And it’s closer to the earth, and probably more wholesome. It’s probably even more economical, because you always have a can of beans around. And I think there’s some great innovation there. Maybe you throw an egg on top of it. But I love the idea of taking your …
EL: Starting with a can of beans.
DP: What you might do with your … Exactly.
EL: Got it. I love it. It’s just been declared Deb Perelman Day all over the world. What’s happening on that day?
DP: Oh, my goodness. This is the kind of thing where I feel like my husband would be like, “You forgot to mention the artichokes.” We’re all eating artichokes. We’re eating artichokes. We’re eating them alla giudia. We’re eating them alla romana, okay? We’re doing carciofi everywhere.
EL: So, it’s artichokes.
DP: Because I love artichokes.
DP: Most people do not. I will eat artichokes for you. There’s definitely cold champagne everywhere. Is this just about food? Of course it’s just about food.
EL: No. It can be …
DP: All right, we’re going to go see the Afro-Cuban All-Stars.
EL: All right.
DP: All right, we’re going to see a good show. We’re going to go on the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. You’ve got to have some Coney Island in there.
EL: I love this.
DP: We’re going to eat funnel cake. I love old carnival stuff. I haven’t figured out how this is all going to fit into a day. What are all of Deb’s favorite … I love a good carnival.
EL: I love it! It’s a carnival. It’s Deb Perelman Carnival Day.
DP: We’re going to do some sunset meal on the beach. I feel like these are the big things. We got the major things.
EL: Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us, Deb Perelman. Check out Smitten Kitchen on the web, and also pick up a copy of “Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites.” It has really been a pleasure to have you here.
DP: Thank you. Thanks for having me on. So long, Serious Eaters. We’ll see you next time.