Four books at once?
It’s been a busy year. I used to tell people I was the Leonard Zelig of food writers. That was how I sold myself.
How do you prepare?
It depends on the chef. Michael Lomonaco is a walking encyclopedia. You’ll say to Michael, Why do you like artichokes? and he’ll talk for 45 minutes. He’ll tell you about Castroville, he’ll tell you about the Italian-American immigrants, he’ll tell you about the seasons.
Did you ever get caught up in someone’s persona?
I think I went a little overboard writing for Pino [Luongo]. I would go home—this sounds stupid—and actually put on opera. I wrote that book, like, half-drunk on red wine.
You were hired to rework the Da Silvano book after someone else had written it, which must have have been tough on you and Silvano Marchetto both.
The publisher thought it was going to be real celebrity-laden—“This is what Gwyneth Paltrow eats when she comes in, and this is what . . . ”—and he just didn’t want to talk about that stuff. A lot of recipes in that book are basic Italian dishes.
Which was your favorite?
Are you trying to kill me? I think Tom [Valenti] is a funny guy. Writing for him was like being a joke writer for a late-night comic. If George Carlin were a chef, he’d be Tom Valenti. And Alfred Portale is an amazing editor. He can be tough. He’ll turn a page and you’ll see there’s more pencil than ink.
If you wrote your own book, what would it be like?
I actually would love to do a book that is sort of the antithesis of 30-minute meals. Slightly more involved cooking. Slightly more ambitious cooking. People who want to spend, I don’t know, 60 minutes in the kitchen.