This year's Miami Book Fair International was a star-studded affair with over 600 authors appearing at various readings, book signings, and panels. From Bravo-lebrity Andy Cohen to vampire queen Anne Rice, there was something for every taste -- be it champagne or blood.
But, the surprise breakout session turned out to be in a classroom at Miami Dade College, where three culinary professionals shared their insights for an hour.
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink's Hedy Goldsmith moderated the panel, which consisted of Dana Cowin (Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen), Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune), and Lee Schrager (Fried & True).
The talk was both insightful and fun, with Schrager breaking the ice to introduce his first assistant, who was in the audience to see him. She, in turn, shared a story about how Schrager, clearly fried chicken-obsessed, would forsake all the beautiful lobster and steak at fancy dinners, only to stop at Popeye's on the way home to devour a few pieces of their golden thighs and breasts.
Schrager, best known as the mastermind behind the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, is also a learned chef in his own right, as moderator Goldsmith points out that he studied at the prestigious CIA. Schrager said his love affair with fried chicken started in childhood, when his parents would order a weekly meal from Chicken Delight. The young Schrager would look forward to the warm chicken delivered in a VW with a giant chicken strapped to it. "I could swear that chicken talked to me." Apparently the chicken did speak to Schrager, who would up compiling recipes from some of the best names in the culinary world for his book. Schrager's next endeavor? A book about breakfast, which will feature his mother's famous German breakfast recipe, another childhood obsession.
Gabrielle Hamilton's latest book, Prune, was recently called a "fucking masterpiece" by Anthony Bourdain. And, indeed, this pink tome, is. Cracking open my copy, I first though someone has already ruined by book by spilling all manner of liquids and animal juices on it. But then the chef describes the book as the actual notes she gives to her kitchen crew at her Manhattan restaurant. The pictures in the book are as no-nonsense as the recipes. "There was no food styling. We have no gleaming wall of copper pans -- only battered pots with mismatched lids. No one is going to read this book with any kind of envy, and if you do, you're clearly twisted and we are hiring." Hamilton explains that her new book works as a companion piece to her NY Times bestselling memoir, Blood, Bones, & Butter in that many of the recipes in Prune, like the sardine dish, were mentioned in her first book.
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For nearly two decades, Dana Cowin has served as editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine. But, she realized she was screwing up a lot of dishes. A bit afraid of owning up to the fact that she had much to learn, Cowin says, "it took me a really long time to say I didn't know how to cook." Of course, having access to culinary geniuses helps, and her lessons in cooking turned into a full-fledged book (with a foreward by Thomas Keller, no less). When Cowin describes her lobster lesson with Eric Ripert, you really sort of feel for the poor crustacean. Mimicking the chef, Cowin recalls that she thought the best way to cook a lobster would be to throw it in a vat of boiling water, but Ripert replies, "Daaaaana, if you do that, you will come back as a lobster." The James Beard-winning chef says the only way is a sharp, quick knife to the spinal cord. Cowin manages to dispatch the lobster, but not without spraying lobster blood all over Ripert. That story and more (including exploding formica and blender incidents) is covered in Cowin's book -- along with solutions to all those disasters..and more.