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Rose Levy Beranbaum
Rose Knows Best

 

 

Interview

Liz O’Connor: When did you start baking? Did your childhood influence your chosen profession or did inspiration come later on?

Rose Levy Beranbaum: I didn’t grow up baking. My mother was a dentist! My grandmother, I remember, once made a homebaked apple pie. I said, “This is great!” She said, “This, I’m never making again.” For some people, baking isn’t pleasurable. For me it’s not an effort, but a joy. I started baking when I was 17 in home economics at college. I learned on my own first, then I studied with the greats. When you’re studying with others, it’s more theory. People are telling you how it should be. But when you're working on your own, you see more what is happening and why.

L.O’C: You have a reputation for being very meticulous in your cookbooks. What type of work goes into this scientific method of instruction (which, of course, is a great benefit to your readers) and why do you think it’s important to be so thorough?

R.L.B: Some people think of me as a food scientist. In college we were trying out a lemon meringue pie at my friend’s house that we’d done in home economics class and, after adding about ¾ of a box of cornstarch, the filling still wouldn’t thicken. I think that’s when my scientific mind kicked in. I started thinking along the lines of, “Why didn’t it thicken?” So I had the water tested and found out it was very hard—a pH of 7 or 8. I saw that chemistry applied to food and found it fascinating. I have a need to get to the bottom of things. With the “bibles,” I wanted to lay the groundwork for a definitive source. Getting to bottom of things takes incredible capacity to focus. I’m fairly intensely focused, wanting to do one thing until I get it right. I’m setting the standard: the tolerance for human error. Some scientists say there isn’t a reason for every thing—that some things remain unexplained. But I think there is a reason for everything.

L.O’C: Your baking and pastry bibles truly are definitive and all encompassing sources. Where can you go from there?

R. L. B: I’ve now done three bibles and I think I’ve laid a groundwork for understanding all the ingredients and components. I’m doing a new cake book, but not another bible. No more bibles. I worked on the Cake Bible for ten years and the Bread Bible for five. I’m using what I learned and doing new things. I’m trying to be simpler and now that I’ve explained it all in the bibles, I just want to create great cake recipes.

L.O’C: Do you prefer working in front of the camera for your TV series to books? What medium do you think allows for better communication with an audience?

R. L. B: I always loved show-and-tell growing up. When it comes to explaining what you’re sharing, it’s a lot easier to talk about it. Explaining things is harder to do in written word. Books are more telling, whereas the TV-series is more showing and telling. My shows have a theme and lesson, but they’re also for those who just like to watch for entertainment.

L.O’C: You’ve accomplished so much. The Cake Bible is in its 38th printing and has recently been picked up in the Czech Republic. What else is on your plate right now?

R.L.B: Actually, right now I’ve got some beets roasting in the oven! I love home cooking and other people’s home cooking. Sometimes I’m inspired by restaurants, but you don’t get exactly what you want. A lot of people think because I’m a pastry chef that I prefer sweets. But, actually, I like savory food better than sweet. I just like baking better than preparing savory foods.

But, new things are always happening. I’m about to launch a product line, working with a prototype for a porcelain pie plate. It creates its own decorative border, which is a problem area for a lot of people when baking pies. I’m working with an artist right now, and think it’s going to be called Rose Levy Bakeware.

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  •    Published: August 2005
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