Everyday Cooking

How Amanda Hesser Changed the Way We Cook

The Food52 community shares the most important lessons from our founder.

December  6, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

I was somewhat of a late bloomer in media. I didn’t know I wanted to work in magazines until my sophomore year of college, and even then, I was hesitant. The idea of being a food writer intrigued me, but I didn’t really understand what that meant or how to get there; I knew it wasn’t the same thing as being a restaurant critic, nor was it someone who developed recipes (at least not entirely).

It wasn’t until I read Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte that I found a new type of food writing that appealed to me. It was warm and funny. Food was a thread in the book, but so was friendship and romance. It was also the first time I was reading recipes that sounded like they had been written by an actual person, not a robot. Amanda Hesser taught me that food and writing are at their best when they’re not perfect—when you acknowledge that mistakes are as much a part of cooking as they are life. You loosen your apron ties, maybe accidentally drop a pie crust on the floor, get messy over and over again, and have fun with it—that’s the best kind of relationship a home cook (or writer) can have with their craft.

There are hundreds of anecdotes like mine about the influence that Hesser has had on home cooks. “Amanda has a way of making notoriously fussy things, well, unfussy—like when she admits to taking the lazy route and not peeling the peaches for her beloved peach tart,” says Maurine Hainsworth, a copywriter for Food52. Hainsworth not only religiously follows Hesser’s guidance when baking her peach tart; she also follows her quick and easy method for poaching an egg, a technique that never seems quick or easy. That is, until Hesser demonstrated how to do it.

Earlier this year, Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook was revised and republished with more than 120 new recipes. Hesser was a food editor at The New York Times before launching Food52 with Merrill Stubbs in 2009. The cookbook was formative for so many home cooks. Just ask our community: “Amanda's Essential NYT Cookbook…is so peppered with Post-it notes that I can never hope to cook all I've marked,” says Kayb.

"It's clear Amanda appreciates the inspiration of other great cooks. I was just getting really into food around the time the first edition of The Essential New York Times Cookbook came out—I discovered Food52 shortly after and dived in deep! Her work opened my eyes to the wide, wide world of chefs, cookbook authors, and home cooks whose recipes and kitchen tips I may not have otherwise become familiar with,” says Food52’s Assigning Editor Rebecca Firkser.

Hesser’s approach to cooking may be unfussy, but her impact on cooking cannot be overstated. She has quite literally changed the way so many of us cook. “Amanda’s recipes—like her general approach to everyday cooking—speak to those of us who, like her, have limited time in the kitchen, yet want to eat well. Two recipes I’ve made so many times and for so long, it seems, that I cannot remember not making them are the pickled red onions from Amanda’s “low-maintenance taco” recipe and her peach tart. Both require simple ingredients and just a few simple steps—unfussy, yet altogether delicious,” says Helen Leah Conroy (aka AntoniaJames), a Food52 member since its earliest days.

Above all, Conroy says she has always felt that Hesser values home cooks’ time, as well as their intelligence in the kitchen. She never speaks down to her audience, but she also never assumes what ingredients and techniques they have access to.

“She has shown me (us, everyone) over and over that recipes and cooking don’t need to be overly fancy, fussy, or laden with a zillion fancy ingredients. Thoughtful selection of a few components is the key to most of her recipes and such a great lesson for any cook,” says Abbie Argersinger.

Hesser may be an influential figure in food media, but she’s still approachable. She does it all without an exaggerated emphasis on the sort of techniques you'd learn only in culinary school, or in the back of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Some of her most poignant lessons are the simplest ones: “Alternate dry and liquid ingredients when making cake batter. A good knife is worth paying for. Good ingredients are also worth it. Tapenade isn’t tapenade unless it has capers. Every meal should end with dessert,” says Food52 community member Barbara Reiss. That last point may be Hesser’s most important lesson. Take note.

And now Hesser’s lessons have reached the next generation, including Food52’s Food Editor Emma Laperruque, who, following in Hesser’s footsteps, just published her first cookbook, Big Little Recipes. “Amanda taught me a million things about food and publishing and food publishing, but the thing that stuck with me the most is her commitment to approachability. Like Baking Sheet Macaroni & Cheese that's little more than macaroni and cheese. And Broccoli Rabe in Lemon Cream that's little more than, well, you get it. All of these recipes are flavor-forward, technique-savvy, and to the point. They're brashly simple. That totally changed the way I develop and edit recipes. And it also totally changed the way I make dinner,” says Laperruque.

Hesser continues to foster creativity and community as she leads Food52. On our cooking Hotline, you’ll find multiple discussions from our community members asking for guidance as they cook through The Essential New York Times Cookbook. User John was concerned that the caramel sauce for Amanda’s Chocolate Caramel Tart was too thin, and other home bakers were quick to come to his rescue, offering speedy solutions to his conundrum. I can’t peek inside Amanda’s head (I wish I could, because I’d be a far better writer), but I think this is exactly what she envisioned for Food52—a community-oriented space for home cooks and bakers to come together, sharing and workshopping recipes and passing along generations' worth of cooking wisdom.

What did Amanda Hesser teach you about cooking? Tell us in the comments below!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • v i.
    v i.
  • Panfusine
  • Jane Eyrehead
    Jane Eyrehead
  • AlainB
  • Veuve13
Former Food52 Staff Editor


v I. December 22, 2022
I've been such a fan ever since I read Cooking for Mr. Latte many years ago! I loved (and still make) the white bolognese pasta dish & discovered grains of paradise thanks to this book. Over the years, I've valued & appreciated Food52 and its numerous publications too. Much admiration & gratitude to you, Amanda! Thank you for being a wonderful inspiration for this fellow Mom & home cook :)
Panfusine December 18, 2022
Taking pride in Home cooking, learning to savor flavor with the simplest of ingredients, appreciation for good quality cookware & kitchen necessities, old world and modern.
Helping me cook unforgettable , unique homemade school lunches continuously for over a decade and consequently inculcating a love for all thing culinary for the next generation.. - PRICELESS!
Thank you Amanda!

PS: bonus - a recipe for fabulous Kouign Amman.
Amanda H. December 19, 2022
Thank you Panfusine -- it makes me so happy that you've been a community member for so many years, contributing your own great talents, wisdom, and love for cooking. Thank you for making Food52 a better place. xx
Jane E. December 18, 2022
Peach tart, chocolate dump cake with the sour cream chocolate icing, and lemon posset. Oh, and Marie Helene’s French apple cake. You don’t need to know how to make anything else for dessert. Thanks for these!
Amanda H. December 19, 2022
I haven't made Marie Helene's French apple cake or the lemon posset in a while -- thanks for the reminder! And for your nice comment!
Jane E. December 19, 2022
I made it for guest Saturday night. No whipped cream, just a dusting of powdered sugar. Everyone loved it. It’s good to have a few recipes that are fast, foolproof, and popular. Thanks again.
AlainB December 23, 2021
I had the pleasure of working with Amanda in the early days of food52, and she has achieved remarkable things. She has not only changed the way we eat, but also the way we consume media and now, with the Shop, Dansk, and Schoolhouse, how we buy products. Startups are not easy and Amanda's relentless work ethic, amazing esthetic, and overall vision has made food52 into a huge success. Congrats to her and her team, I expect even bigger and greater things to come.

Though that peach tart is hard to beat. :)
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
Alain, you are the best! Thanks so much for your note, which made my day. I'm so glad we shared those early days at Dogpatch, and am really grateful for your support over all these years! Very best wishes for a happy holiday with your family! xxo A
Veuve13 December 19, 2021
I am new to Ms. Hesser's writing, but she sounds so much like one of my favorite food writers ever, Laurie Colwin, that I will check it out and definitely try the peach tart!
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
What a lovely comparison -- thank you!
JohnCorlett December 19, 2021
I feel like I grew up with "Cooking for Mr. Latte," and I remember looking forward to its regular appearance in the NYT, but it's Amanda Hesser's 1999 "climbing mount cassoulet" recipe that has been at the center of many of my most important celebrations for over 20 years. It never disappoints and friends still clamor for me to make it. Thanks for making cooking fun Ms. Hesser!
GSnediker December 22, 2021
I feel the same way John. And btw, it’s about time for that cassoulet.
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
Wow, so happy to hear this! I remember working on that story and trying to source Tarbais beans for it, which wasn't so easy in 1999. Thanks for letting me know this!
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
Thank you -- glad to be on cooking journeys together.
Susan B. December 19, 2021
Amanda Hesser is one of those people who I would love to have as a next door neighbor. We would be best friends. It would be even better if, along with being her neighbor, I could work at Food 52. A big fan since it’s very beginning, there are so many small bits of knowledge I have accumulated over the years. She is one of a kind.
Amanda H. December 26, 2021
Thank you Susan for your kinds words -- and glad to be your digital neighbor at least!
Pam December 19, 2021
Was fortunate to get the full Amanda experience *in person* in the basement kitchen of Macy’s Herald Square way back in 2003, before Food52 was even conceived. The title of the event was “Stress-Free Cooking,” which amuses me now, having watched countless episodes of “Amanda Messes Up in the Kitchen.”She was charming and approachable then, as she is now. Congratulations on your success, Amanda!
Amanda H. December 26, 2021
Wow -- how funny! That was a LONG time ago, indeed!
Wsondon December 19, 2021
She isn’t afraid to show that she is having fun with her ‘oops’ and to enjoy the process regardless.
Amanda H. December 26, 2021
I grew up around a lot of great cooks, so it was hard to measure up but I kept at it. Figure I might as well enjoy it. :)
Victoria C. December 19, 2021
I followed Food Diary when Amanda Hesser was writing it in the NYT and looked forward to each "episode," and, of course, I got Cooking for Mr. Latte as soon as it came out (Amanda, PLEASE record it for Audible!). One of the recipes I clipped from the Times - and then noted again in the book - was the recipe for Rigatoni with White Bolognese. I never got around to making it, that is, until 2020. It was the best new recipe I made during that pandemic year and has been added to my cooking rotation; I send links to it to everyone I know who likes to cook. Try it immediately - it will (as Julia Reed used to say) bring down the. house. Thanks, Amanda, for that and for the new cookbook, which was an early Christmas present!
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
Thanks so much Victoria! Tad asks for White Bolognese every year on his birthday, so it's remained in our rotation as well. Thanks for reminding me of Julia Reed -- there are a number of her great recipes in the Times Cookbook!
jpriddy December 19, 2021

I love sweets and I am a very good cook and baker, but ending every meal with dessert is just one reason I spent the last 14 months dropping 45 pounds. I ate my biggest meal midday, went to bed a little bit hungry, and had desserts (really, I did) weekly, not daily.
ksevans13 December 18, 2022
Is this a helpful tribute to Amanda Hesser? Read the room, friend.
Melinda December 19, 2021
I fell for Ms Hesser when she fell for Mr Latte. That column was such a gift. And then she brought us Food52 — a gift that keeps on giving!
Dia S. December 19, 2021
My thoughts exactly! Thank you, Amanda!
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
Thanks for letting me know, Melinda.
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
Thanks, Dia!
Nadia H. December 19, 2021
In addition to everything mentioned in this wonderful tribute, I credit Amanda Hesser’s book “The Cook and the Gardener” for being a major inspiration in making me a gardener. I read the book in the summer of 2003, two years after moving to rural Pennsylvania where there were almost no farms where I could get fresh produce during different seasons, let alone more unusual or organic produce. I started a garden the year after and I fill a large freezer every year with homegrown produce and preserve well over 100 jars filled with jams and jellies from our own fruit trees and berries, tomato sauce, chutneys etc. And today I am making part two of the Cassis from homegrown black currants. Even in years when I only had a meager black currant harvest, I used whatever I had to make cassis, it’s a must and a yearly tradition. The recipes have not only become staples for me; I gave my mother the recipe for the Apple-Thyme Chutney from the book many years ago and she tells me every fall or winter when she makes it to accompany any type of roast or bird how fabulous it is. Many other of Amanda's recipes have also become staples, including that famous peach tart and the Chicken Roasted with Sour Cream from “Cooking for Mr. Latte”. - When we have people visit for the first time and show them the garden, my husband (who has never read the book but has clearly benefitted from it) always says that I am “his cook and his gardener”. I doubt that many people get the reference to the book but it makes me realize each time the influence it had on me.
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
Nadia, I really appreciate you sharing your story here. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to know you're still making the Cassis. Your garden sounds amazing!
Mkgold December 19, 2021
I worked in publicity at Clarkson Potter twenty years ago and had the pleasure of interacting with Amanda when promoting a few of my authors. She was always kind and easy with me, and this was incredibly rare with big food writers, especially someone who worked at NYT. Thank you, Amanda, for being nice and down to earth to a kid who was fresh out of college and was learning to navigate the food world. I’ve never forgotten it and I was thrilled when I found out about this community you started up. Happy holidays! Missy Kay Goldstein
Amanda H. December 23, 2021
Missy -- I'm glad we've been reconnected! Very best wishes for a happy, healthy holiday!
lindamc December 8, 2021
I was a huge fan of Amanda's when she was writing for the Times, and I routinely clipped her recipes from the hard-copy paper (yes, I'm an Old). Once I was making cassoulet for the first time, following her recipe. When I was flummoxed by one of the steps, I tried multiple iterations of email addresses (this was before the cooking app, before writers' emails were published, and I think even before the digital Times?!) until I hit on the correct one. To my great surprise and enduring gratitude, she responded, and seemed gratified that I would have hung on to the recipe (which had appeared a couple of years before this) for as long as I did. Since then, I've felt that we are cooking "friends" (!), and "A New Way To Dinner" is probably my most-used cookbook. I'll probably get the update of the Times one as well. Thank you, Amanda!
Amanda H. December 26, 2021
We ARE cooking friends! Thanks so much for sharing this story. The Food52 Hotline grew out of my experience of getting so many calls/texts/emails from people needing help with recipes -- so your outreach was certainly one of the inspirations. Thank you.
luvcookbooks December 8, 2021
Cooking with a community inspired me to try new things. I used to read every new recipe as it posted. When I tried a recipe I could comment to the creator. More than a recipe or a cooking style, that is what Ms. Hesser means to me.
Amanda H. December 26, 2021
I just spent some time looking through the 72 -- 72! -- recipes you've contributed to Food52. Thank you so much for being with us for all these years -- truly grateful.
luvcookbooks December 27, 2021
So funny! A comment above lead me to Climbing Mt Cassoulet and it happens that I have a jar of duck fat and duck stock from a Christmas roast duck. I work New Year’s weekend but will celebrate the following weekend with cassoulet. Also miss Telepan restaurant (chef Telepan was your tutor for the cassoulet). This is just the inspiration that I find from Food52.
TXExpatInBKK December 7, 2021
I loved reading this article! Food52 meant so much to me at a time I was living overseas and feeling a bit disconnected from home. Now I have a whole folder of recipes I've pulled just from F52 so that I can quickly pick one for a dinner or occasion and know for sure it'll be fantastic in its delicious simplicity. It was fun to see quotes from people I've followed on this website since the beginning. Thank you Amanda and Merrill for creating this wonderful community!
Amanda H. December 26, 2021
So glad you're a part of the community, and what makes it great!
mcs3000 December 7, 2021
This post wonderfully captures Amanda's genius and humor. Prior to F52, I had a bunch of cookbooks from professional chefs that I leafed through but rarely cooked from. The recipes were onerous with mostly meh results. My joy of cooking came from recipes/tips I learned here: from Amanda, Merrill and the F52 community.

If I had to pick one recipe that reflects Amanda/F52, it would be: Lazy Mary's Lemon Tart by community member, @dymnyno. Simple ingredients, requiring few steps. Good ingredients are also worth it = Meyer lemons make the best lemon tarts.

This recipe checks all the boxes mentioned in the tribute to Amanda:

1. "Above all, Conroy says she has always felt that Hesser values home cooks’ time." - Helen Conroy

2. "She has shown me (us, everyone) over and over that recipes and cooking don’t need to be overly fancy, fussy, or laden with a zillion fancy ingredients. Thoughtful selection of a few components is the key to most of her recipes and such a great lesson for any cook." - Abbie Argersinger.

3. "Every meal should end with dessert." - Barbara Reiss.

Amanda H. December 26, 2021
Thanks so much -- it's been such a joy getting to know you through Food52!
witloof December 6, 2021
That peach tart!!! I have made it dozens of times and shared the recipe over and over.
Amanda H. December 25, 2021
Love hearing this -- will let my mom know!
AntoniaJames December 6, 2021
This is such a lovely tribute. I'm honored to have my observations included. ;o)
Kelly V. December 23, 2021
Thank you so much for your contribution!
Amanda H. December 26, 2021
Thank you so much for your thoughts, AJ!