Melissa Clark has written 38(!) cookbooks and is staff reporter for the New York Times, writing the weekly “The Good Appetite” column. We are obsessed with her newest book, “Dinner: Changing the Game” . It is brimming with inventive dishes that are comprised of only a few steps and perfect flavor combinations, which is why our personal copies are all earmarked within an inch of their lives. Melissa’s writing voice and recipe titles lure you in while her genius tips will keep you returning whenever you need dinner inspiration. Here, we’ve asked Melissa our 11 questions and learned a bit about her inspirations, her history with purple cake and where she gets her writing done.
What is your earliest food memory?
Eating a jelly doughnut on my grandmother’s lap. Licking the powdered sugar and red jam from my fingers, watching the crumbs fall onto her shiny patterned dress.
What’s the first dish you learned to cook by yourself?
I remember making a purple cake when I was a kid – purple from food coloring, with tons of sprinkles on the top. I know my friend and I made it ourselves without grownups because we forgot to put the baking powder in and it was flat as a pancake. But we ate it anyway (sprinkles!).
Who were your early cooking influences?
My parents were committed and accomplished cooks, and they were there to teach me the basics from an early age – things like how to cut celery (the long way, then crosswise), how to make waffles, how to make a proper ham sandwich (rye bread, mustard). My first cookbook was the Enchanted Broccoli Forest and I probably made almost everything in it in my teenage years.
Whose work do you admire now?
So many people! The list would go on and on, but here are 20 (random but manageable number) and this doesn’t count any of my amazing colleagues at the Times, but they are definitely huge influences (Julia Moskin, Kim Severson, Frank Bruni, Pete Wells, Sam Sifton, Tejal Rao, David Tanis)
Anya Von Bremzen
What do you eat when you’re alone?
Various forms for toast: with blue cheese and honey; butter and anchovies; avocados and marmite; marmalade
What’s your favorite food city or place?
The place I haven’t been yet! I always want to explore the new.
Where do you write?
On the couch, laptop on my lap. I’m here now!
What food terms or buzzwords do you wish would go away?
Gourmand – or at least it should be used correctly. It means glutton, over eater, and is often erroneously used interchangeably with gourmet.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
Ack, see question 4! but I’ll choose 5 more here. This changes! But right now, I often turn to:
Prune Cookbook by Gabrielle Hamilton – I love seeing the wonderfully bizarre inner workings of her brain.
The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum – taught me so much about baking.
Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi – because it’s a wonderful deep dive into a culture
Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking – I’m learning so much about Korean cooking from it.
Taste of Persia By Najmieh Batmanglij – a wonderfully authoritative look at Persian Cuisine
What do you hope cooks learn from your current book?
To find joy in the making of their nightly meal. And that’s it’s okay to eat toast for dinner, or dip. Eat what you love and enjoy making it yourself.
3 question speed round
Writing: pleasure or torture?
Both! More pain though. The pleasure is when it’s over.
End of the meal: Dessert or cheese?
Both! But I guess dessert.
When cooking: Cups or Scales?
Both! But scales, really, if only American would embrace weight measures.