SC : What do you think are the new trends in cooking?

MO: Mediterranean. Its umbrella has moved beyond Italy
to include Southern France, Israel, Spain, Lebanon and middle
eastern. On the horizon, I think its going to be Indochinese.
(Witnessed at Le Cirque with lemon grass on the menu)

SC : How are you able to conjure up all those recipes
for the New York Times magazine section week
after week after week?

MO: I have two chefs that work here (in the test kitchen).
They stay way far ahead. They're never panic stricken.
I'd be dead meat if it werenÕt for them. We work Mondays,
Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Three long days. I act as an executive
chef would in a kitchen. We do 10-12 recipes per week
and close six weeks in the summer.
We are on summer's issue already.

SC : Where does your inspiration come from?

MO: I travel alot. Cook alot. Entertain alot.
I hang out with chefs. It's an evolution. I've never been inspired
by a single cook. The best thing that happens is when
people get together and just sort of start jamming.
I go to the countryside of Italy and share a house
with Paula Wolfert, Nancy Jenkins, Suzanne Hamlin
and Faith Willenger. Faith is the Julia Child of Italy-
she's an exuberant cook, an indefatigable gatherer of
information and tastes.

[As I sat in Molly's kitchen, she took some dried
bread cubes from the oven and remarked "These look nice
& stale, did I do a bread soup recipe in my book?"
after quickly skimming through her book and not finding
one, she looked up at me in answer to my question]

SC : What are your secrets?

MO: People are looking to me to put out a
decent meal. Very little cooking requires a high level
of skill. it requires confidence, taste and organization.
I learned this working in restaurants. you don't get
a second chance in restaurants. very quickly you find out
that if you're not organized you're dead.
Later, when I was an executive chef I learned
how to organize other people. One person could throw
off an entire kitchen.

SC : So it's about team work?

MO: Yes, the team will always let you know.
If someone wasn't carrying their weight....they'd leave.
in the 10 or 20 years, I never had to fire somebody.
They know. If I made mistakes in hiring
they'd know, they'd leave.

SC : Everyone has a favorite ingredient. What is yours?

MO: Rosemary.

SC : Who has inspired you most in your career?

MO:Lillian Hellman, I assisted her on her last book
in her life. Also a fabulous editor, Don Forest taught me
how to be a reporter. And terrific editors at the New York Times
teach me every week.

SC : Who are your favorite chefs? Other cookbook authors?

MO: The best cooks I've worked with you'd never know.
They don't have PR people or do the charity circuit.
I am, however, looking forward to Faith Willinger's new cookbook.
It will do to Italian Cooking what Mastering the French Cook
did for French cooking.

SC:If you weren't involved with food, what would you have done?

MO : Cooking was a way to support my writing. I'm mostly known
for my weekly NY Times magazine column. If I weren't involved
in food I would be involved in another aspect of journalism.
I would probably write about religion or psychology or folk art.

SC: What has been your most exciting professional moment?

MO : When I got my first front page in the NY Times
on (page) A1 of the Sunday paper. I was 35 yrs old.

SC: Is the food industry in danger of becoming
as pretentious as the Hollywood industry?

MO : They wish. There is not as much money involved.
However, the restaurant industry has always been grandiose.
It's about fantasy. If you are willing to work hard
and have a little talent, you can control
your own destiny.

SC: What three tools should a kitchen never be without?

MO : A rubber spatula. A wooden spoon. And a cast
iron skillet, they give off even heat and you don't need
to use alot of oil. I use it for stove top roasting.
You can roast a chicken in them.

SC: What do you think of the cookbook industry today?

MO : An awful lot get published every year.
I get 100's of books every year. Maybe out of all those one dozen
are keepers. Many ideas are recycled...same idea but directed
towards different audiences.

Molly O'Neill's: [ Home Page ][ Biography ][ Interview ][ Recipes ][ Cookbook ]

Published: 1997