LL: I've noticed that so many professionals in the food business wear many hats. You're no exception culinary editor at New York magazine, food columnist for Marie Claire, contributor to other magazines and now cookbook author of Hors d'Oeuvres. Would you describe a typical work day in the life of Gillian Duffy?
GD: I don't check into an office and no two of my work days are ever the same. When I'm working on a New York magazine food issue, for example, my day is filled with doing research on the telephone, primarily calling chefs. On a normal basis, I may be in the city two or three times a week visiting new restaurants, attending food-related activities, seeing what's going on. My days vary. Some days I'm working in my kitchen testing recipes for the column I write for MarieClaire. Of course, before my new book, Hors d'Oeuvres, went to press I spent a great deal of time testing recipes and writing the book.
SC: Before we talk more about your new book, I'm sure people are interested in knowing a little bit about your background and about all the wonderful places you've lived in around the world, including the Spanish island of Ibiza. How does your international background influence how you think about and write about food?
GD: I've lived in the United States for twenty years of which I'm very proud. I grew up in England and as a child spent summers in France which is when and where I developed my love of food. Although today I also realize that I was lucky to grow up in England where I was exposed to wonderful food at an early age fresh produce, organically grown.
As an adult, I lived in Germany for two years and traveled a great deal. Every weekend I went somewhere different, from Sweden down to Yugoslavia. Then I lived in Spain in Ibiza. My husband and I ran a 70 foot charter yacht. I was the cook. We'd tour six people at a time and my responsibility was to prepare breakfast and lunch. Very often though, our passengers would want me to make them dinner as well so I'd prepare great big filling lunches so that I didn't have to fuss too much with dinners. After our stint in Ibiza, it was back to London for awhile where I worked in advertising and design. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the now notables in the business Peter Mayle, Ridley Scott, Ron Holland, Tony Palladino and others.
When we came to the U.S., in 1978, I couldn't get any work for two years and didn't really know what I wanted to be doing. One year, I made Christmas puddings to sell, but nobody seemed to want to buy English plum pudding. I think I sold one. Then in 1980, I started working on a temporary basis at New York magazine. I worked on the Cue Listings and worked with Barbara Costigian learning all about the food issues and using my photography and art background.
I've always loved food and cooking. I like giving dinner parties and when I lived in Germany I got great training because we entertained all the time. All the experiences which I have had traveling have broadened my palate and allowed me to develop a taste for all the different cuisines. For example, when we lived in Ibiza we traveled all around Gibraltar, Morocco and The Canary Islands. It was great fun living there and food shopping at the local markets. In Ibiza, it was actually a "primitive" way of life. There was wonderful pork and limited local produce and delicious, wonderful pork. We did run out of things on the island, though, and had to make do with what we had as most foodstuffs came from the mainland.
SC: Why did you decide to write your newly published Hors d'Oeuvres and who were you targeting as readers and users of the book?
GD: Actually Morrow Publishing approached me about the possibility of writing a cookbook. I had a lunch meeting with them and discussed my ideas for writing a simple book on hors d'oeuvres. I had realized that whenever I was planning and preparing a dinner party, I was challenged by the question of what to serve with cocktails. I didn't want to spend huge amounts of time on fixing hors d'oeuvres and knew that other people out there probably felt the same way. I wanted a book like this and set out to deliberately create one that would be fairly simple, but that offers choices beyond the traditional cheese and peanut offerings.
My goal was to produce a book that is not too complicated, where the photos show what the food should look like to make home preparation easy. I directed the photography myself and worked very closely with Melanie Acevedo who did such a beautiful job of photographing the dishes. It was important to me that people would have a clear idea of what they would be making when using my book and be able to choose from a variety of colors, textures and tastes when planning their menus.
SC: In the book, you include your own recipes as well as ones from New York City star chefs and caterers such as Bobby Flay, Matthew Kenney, Wayne Nish and Pamela Morgan. How did you decide whose recipes to include in the book and which recipes you wanted to use from each of these talented chefs?
GD: When I chose the recipes to be considered for the book, I tested them all and then selected the ones that I thought would work together well. The recipes were always the main thing, not which chefs had created them. Some caterers and chefs don't have recipes which are suitable for a book like this one. Hors d'Oeuvres was recipe-driven rather than celebrity- driven. I chose my favorite recipes and worked hard to achieve the right balance so many meat dishes, so many egg, so many fish.
SC: Recently, there has been a great deal of talk about "nesting" and the return to home cooking and entertaining. What do you see as the trends for the next few years in the arena of entertaining?
GD: What will go on in the world of home entertaining is partially dependent on what's going to happen with the stock market. Who knows? If there's a recession, we'll see more nesting and entertaining at home. People just won't have the disposable income to go out to eat as frequently. I must say that I'm a bit distressed at the lack of home cooking and growing dependence on prepared foods that I see. Supermarkets even offering prepared mashed potatoes to shoppers! I do think that the trend of little bites or tastings will become more prevalent. For example, more restaurants will offer tasting menus such as the one offered at Union Pacific, a fairly new restaurant in Manhattan. There will be more tapas bars also. Further, as far as food trends are concerned, there will continue to be an infusion of food influences from Asia and I'm glad to see Indian fusion cooking with its special seasoning and flavors arriving in our restaurants and food consciousness.
But, I also think that we are going to see a whole group of young professionals who want to start cooking. They will become interested in making simple one pot dishes which is really the way chefs entertain when they are cooking and eating at home. Unfortunately, so many young people have become unfamiliar with the purpose and pleasures connected with a dining room and the dining room table. The recipes in Hors d'Oeuvres may cater in some ways to this recent practice of grazing or "eating on the hoof". In this fast moving world, it would nice for us to spend more time "catching up with the family" as we share simple, delicious food.
SC: We know that the proverbial cocktail hour is the favorite part of the meal for many of us. What is your philosophy about hors d'oeuvres? For my edification and interest and maybe there are others who want to know, what is the derivation of the word hors d'oeuvres and what is the controversy over the two spellings hors d'oeuvres and hors d'oeuvre?
GD: Actually, the way the word appears on my book was not the title I selected. Technically, the correct spelling is "hor d'oeuvre" which is French for "outside the meal" and it is singular. In France, the term remains in the singular, but it is usually written as hors d'oeuvres in this country. According to James Beard, hor d'oeuvres is "a right, rather than a course", "a duty to enhance the eye and please the palate and excite the flow of the gastric juices".
When entertaining, remember that hors d'oeuvres are the first introduction to the dining experience. They are the very first impression given to your guests about what's to follow thus setting the mood for the evening.
SC: What are your favorite kind of recipes in general? Would you give StarChef readers a short list of some of the more unusual hors d'oeuvres recipes found in your book?
GD: I am a fan of many different cuisines. French food -- I adore Provence and love the food. We spend a month there every summer and I'm continually thrilled with the simplicity of the way vegetables are prepared. Of course, I do a little English cooking. In fact, I just made steak and kidney pie for the opening of "the season" for friends two weeks ago. I do that every year. I also love Indian food and do cook it quite a lot. My late father-in-law, who was born in India, jokingly says that I must have been Indian in a previous life.
I simply love cooking and try to cook something from any cookbook that comes my way. My husband often asks me if I could ever make the same thing twice. When I test for " Food in 15 Minutes", the column I write for Marie Claire, I am racing against the clock definitely a different kind of cooking. The foods which I like are full-flavored and bold which explains my preference for Provencal and Indian cooking.
Recipes in the book which I love to serve with drinks before dinner are: Spicy Almonds and Ginger Roulade made with tangy, mouth-watering pickled ginger and watercress. Some of my favorite hors d'oeuvres are made using wonton wrappers which are available in supermarkets. These are Spicy Potato Samosa Wontons with Fresh Coriander Chutney which are easy to make and are a great vegetarian dish and Chevre Tartlets with Provencal Peppers. I've included one really typical English dish Scotch Eggs. One finds them in British pubs, but they are often quite tired- looking. They must be cooked really well to be good and I've updated the recipe by using panko, Japanese bread crumbs. I like the idea of serving hors d'oeuvres that are "containers" themselves. I also like the Mini Beef Fillets With Horseradish Cream spicy little morsels which are made using a technique of cutting beef fillets lengthwise into 4 equal pieces to form 4 mini fillets which are then each sliced into 1/2-inch slices.
SC: What is the secret in throwing a successful hors d'oeuvres party?
GD: In order to throw the perfect party, planning and preparation are key. You should try to have everything more or less finished by the time the guests arrive. If you don't enjoy your own party, it's not worth having it at all.
SC: What are the special features of Hors d'Oeuvres, the book? Which menu or combination of menus would recommend for a New Year's Eve party to usher in 1999 or the year 2000?
GD: For this special event, I recommend an extravagant menu the Martini Party combined with the Wedding Party Terrine of Caviar and Smoked Shrimp, Seared Shrimp Marinated in Lemon and Ginger (Everyone loves shrimp.), Thai Duck Rolls which are healthy, Mini Beef Fillets with Horseradish Cream and more.
SC: What pantry items do you recommend keeping on hand for unexpected cocktail guests?
GD: There's a page of suggestions in my book. It includes hard cheeses but I also think that goat's cheese is good to have on hand and sun-dried tomatoes, cracked pepper and chives and cans of beans as well as wonton wrappers which keep well in the fridge or freezer.
SC: I particularly enjoyed reading the Presentation Tips section of the Introduction. Could you please talk about some of your suggestions?
GD: As I've mentioned in the introduction, "Presentation is everything...This is where you can be creative it is not only what you serve but how you serve it that makes a difference". One tip is to add a little pattern and color to your serving platter by lightly greasing the rim, then dusting it with colorful spices such as five-spice powder, turmeric or paprika. Another neat tip is to cover trays or serving platters with a bed of whole spices, dried lentils, beans, peas or rice before placing the hors d'oeuvres on the bed of organic color. This allows the host or hostess or serving people to replenish food trays without having to wash the serving receptacle each time it needs to be refilled.
SC: Can you tell us about some of the future projects which you have in the works?
GD: I'm working on new stories for New York magazine and researching the summer food issue. I'm putting together ideas for another book and I'm excited about promoting this book. And, of course I'm constantly on the lookout for new restaurants, people and trends in the food world.
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