Cooking Dinner with Jonathan Waxman
The Obi-Wan Kenobi of chefs shares how his family cooks dinner and recipes from his new cookbook
Who do you trust to tell you if a dish is good or not?
I always listen to people when they tell me that they don’t like something, but some people are always sticklers about some things more than others. My wife doesn’t like fish that’s medium rare and my Italian partner hates when the pasta is anything more than al dente.
Your salsa verde seems to be used pretty frequently throughout your book and at the restaurant, how much do you go through at the restaurant daily you think?
Well, we use it a lot for the chicken. Do you know how many chickens we buy? We buy a minimum of 300 a week and in the summer it’s 500-700 chickens a week. I buy them from Bell & Evans, they are good quality chickens. Not entirely free range but I’ve found that during this time of year, free range doesn’t really happen.
We also go through a ton of pasta, gnocchi! Oh my god so much gnocchi, especially just with the New York Times article that came out, we probably sell any given time up to 80 orders of gnocchi a night.
What’s your favorite recipe from your cookbook?
It’s always difficult for me to choose my favorite child, and recipes are the same way. I’m really happy with this book. I wanted to write it myself and wanted it to be from the heart, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.
The original agent and I discussed the book extensively. We thought the book should be rustic but elegant, simple but not cookie cutter. It should have a distinct quality to it. We talked about doing illustrations but thought it was little hokey, and it can be difficult to get what you want from illustrators sometimes. We talked about photographs, and I’m not sure if it was her or me, but we both settled on black and white. I think it’s very earthy, sexy, and more indicative of what food really looks like. I think with color, it’s more eye candy than constructive. Black and white can be very visceral. You have an almost tactile feeling about it. It almost jumps off the page and has a dimensionality that color doesn’t have. I have a fashion photographer friend who says black and white is the only way to shoot. It’s what separates the good photographers from the best. It’s the only way to do if you can manage it.
Christopher [Hirsheimer] is great and really knows what she’s doing. She and Melissa [Hamilton] were wonderful through the whole thing. Actually, a lot of the shots were shot on the floor. I guess the depth of lighting or something? Oh I probably shouldn’t give that away. But that’s why they have such great depth in them. They really pop. I was like, what are you doing over there? And she kept doing her thing. We worked a lot with the publisher, they had all this fancy stuff on it, and we wanted something more simple. So we ended up with the red color that we hope looks like wine.
Was there anything that you wanted to put in the book that you couldn’t?
No, absolutely not. In fact, I liked the fact that we limited it to 100 and some odd recipes. We didn’t want it be some huge tabletop book. I wanted it to get grease on it and vinegar on it. Something that gets used.