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We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
Today: We catch up with Meredith Erickson, co-author of Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird, about the book, the restaurant, and how it's all changed the way she cooks at home. Plus, we're giving away 3 copies of the book!
As home cooks, most of us approach making a meal at home and eating out in our favorite restaurants very differently. The first we do for the ritual of it, to feel full and whole; the second, because we love the atmosphere, or the food, enough to let go of that for a night.
So what happens when the restaurants of your dreams publish cookbooks?
They can be over-produced, full of lengthy, unapproachable recipes with four sauces per dish -- coffee table books destined to stay exactly there. But if you're Gabriel Rucker, Andrew and Lauren Fortgang, and Meredith Erickson of Le Pigeon's first cookbook, you know better than to do any of this. You make a well-loved restaurant's recipes accessible, usable for the home cook. You make them clear and able to be recreated. You throw in wine recommendations, because you know that even though your readers aren't aware of it yet, they'll want them when dinner is served.
We chatted with Meredith Erickson about navigating this balance, and about co-creating the cookbook that already has so many of us inspired to get in the kitchen.
Let's talk about the ghost-writing process. JJ Goode has compared it to dating -- what was your experience?
Well, this wasn't ghosting per se, as I'm credited as a co-author, but I can relate to JJ's sentiment. In the beginning, as with any collaboration, there is that stage of feeling one another out. And it's intuitive. You're about to spend hundreds of hours together, so actually liking one another is a must!
At the beginning it's always a bit wobbly -- you're still getting into the groove of developing and writing recipes and recounting stories for headnotes and the other narrative bits. From my experience, it gets better and better as you go. And this is why I always write the introductions at the very end. This one took me only a couple of hours; I just channeled my inner Gabriel and out it came. And I think Andy and Gabe were quite happy with the result.
That's the most rewarding aspect: That you've helped someone complete a project that they're very proud of. And that you've done a successful job of being an extension of who they are and an epitome of their restaurant.
For those of us that don't know, what is it like to eat at Le Pigeon? And how does that ethos translate into the pages of the book?
It's a complete joy! And totally unassuming from the outside. Like most spots, sitting at the bar is the way to go; it's dimly lit with beautiful copper surroundings, and Gabriel is almost always there behind the stove -- really refreshing considering how much success he has had. I've had magical nights, wedged between a baker from Shanghai on one side and an Oregonian farmer on the other. The wine list at LP is really eclectic and I love that you can have a burger and a glass of champagne for $20, or a 5 course menu and a premier cru Burgundy for $200. Chad Crowe (an illustrator we worked with) really nailed it with the Le Pigeon "scene" on the book's endpapers. I also think the "Pigeon Pours," which are Andy's unpretentious thoughts and comments on wine, translated really well to the page -- they're one of my favorite parts of the book.
How many times did you have to eat there to get a sense of their food and what they do?
Not enough! I had dinner about 8 or 10 times at LP. I also ate at Little Bird quite a bit, which I love. I remember trying the smoked rabbit pie with cheddar and mustard ice cream. That was my holy shit moment. But most of the time Gabriel, Andy, David Reamer (our photographer), and I were at Gabe's house writing, creating, and shooting dishes. So come the end of day, I was too exhausted, not to mention full, to go out.
Gabriel is known for, pun intended, winging it in the kitchen when he cooks. Was it hard to transcribe everything into cups and teaspoons and a language that home cooks could understand?
It was. As much as I appreciate all those gorgeous restaurant cookbooks, for me, a cookbook has to have home application. I'm a home cook and I rely on recipes. I am far from the intuitive genius that is Gabriel Rucker in the kitchen. And this was the biggest push and pull. He, for obvious reasons, wanted to include some of his showstoppers from the past 6 years at Le Pigeon. And I wanted the home runs for the home cook. With 160+ recipes in the book, I think (hope?) we were able to hit the sweet spot of balance.
How has writing this book changed the way you cook?
It's given me a new vocabulary of ingredients. I had never used black bean paste before making the Fermented Black Bean Muffins. Now, those muffins, served warm with a bit of butter (or on a special occasion foie gras) and a glass of Maderia or Sherry…I mean, it doesn't get better than that. I'm also more comfortable cooking with sweetbreads. In the book there's a recipe for Buffalo Sweetbreads, and a Blue Cheese Dressing that goes with. Thats the hook, that blue cheese dressing -- it sinks its claws into you and there's no turning back.
We're giving away 3 copies of Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird! To win a copy, tell us in the comments: What's your favorite restaurant recipe or concept that you cook at home? We'll pick winners at random at the end of the week! (Unfortunately, we can only ship domestically.)
Second photo by Jennifer May