Alison Cayne started Haven’s Kitchen, a New York based cooking school, cafe, event space and more, in 2012. Her first cookbook, The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School was published this April and it is basically a cooking school in book form. We are loving the format, lessons and stellar recipes along with the step-by-step instructions that are ideal for beginners and even experienced cooks. The book is designed to empower people to learn the necessary skills to invent and create dishes in their own kitchens. We asked Alison our 11 questions and learn about her love for Ina, her writing process and how she feels about the word “clean”.
What is your earliest food memory?
My mom used to make a spaghetti pancake with leftover noodles and cottage cheese. She would melt down the cottage cheese combined with torn little pieces of Swiss, then add in the spaghetti and get it super crispy on the outsides and gooey in the middle. It was 70’s heaven.
What’s the first dish you learned to cook by yourself?
I used to “roast” corn over the flames of the stove. My parents had these fondue forks that I would (not so safely) stab into the corn and pretend the burner was a fire and I was camping.
Who were your early cooking influences?
Graham Kerr, Alice from the Brady Bunch, and of course Julia.
Whose work do you admire now?
I think Ina is pretty amazing – all of her recipes are so well-tested, you can’t really go wrong. I also love Heidi Swanson’s approach; she writes recipes the way I cook so it’s very comforting.
What do you eat when you’re alone?
I like to clean out the fridge when I’m alone, so I either make soup, a bowl of some sort or a fried rice type of thing.
What’s your favorite food city or place?
Well I live in NYC where you can literally have a taste of regions around the world every night of the week. I was in Tulum last week drinking tequila and eating guacamole and ceviche all day and that was pretty dreamy.
Where do you write?
We have a kitchen table at Haven’s – it’s where we eat staff meal and where all the cooking classes eat the fruits of their labor. It’s also my happy place and where I do the majority of my work. I like to write around my team – I ask questions, blurt things out, take chat and snack breaks. I am not a lone wolf type of writer.
What food terms or buzzwords do you wish would go away?
Oh my. There are so many. “Clean” eating bugs me. It connotes an implicit moral judgment which bothers me.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
Deborah Madison – Vegetable Literacy- she writes about vegetables with such romance but without it sounding too precious. She refers to radishes, leeks, and butter as “good companions.” I mean, it doesn’t get better.
Edward Espe Brown – The Tassajara Bread Book- I am not a bread baker, but it’s his writing and his love that moves me. I read it when I need something soothing.
Anything Ottolenghi – I am one of the legions of people he has wooed with his flavors and techniques, but also really appreciate how he’s taken a region and cuisine riddled with conflict and ownership issues and made it beautiful. He’s honest and aware and the recipes are highly cookable for home cooks.
Silver Palate – the mac daddy for me – my first and most worn and torn cookbook – those two women got me started in the kitchen, they truly made cooking feel like a joy on every page of that book (with illustrations!! No photos!!)
What do you hope cooks learn from your current book?
That there isn’t some secret code that they aren’t privy to. I hope people learn that cooking, like anything else can be a pleasure or a chore depending on how you approach it and feel about it. I hope they are inspired to cook but not intimidated and that this book helps them take those first steps in the kitchen or reignites a passion – that it helps people find their groove in cooking. I want to demystify it and make it approachable and fun again. Ultimately I hope it brings people together around the table.
3 question speed round
Writing: pleasure or torture? both
End of the meal: Dessert or cheese? cheese
When cooking: Cups or Scales? Cups!