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
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.
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