Slashfood: How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Kim Severson: I was thinking about older women cooks who were really the home cooks of that generation who would research cookbooks and write them, like Marion Cunningham. An agent called me and we went out for lunch. I was telling her some funny stories and she said, "Why don't you write more about that?" So I looked at women I had written about for the San Francisco Chronicle or the New York Times and why I was attracted to them. And I realized I was interested in these women at different times because they taught me something or something was going on my life that I needed to figure out. So I decided to hang a structure on these women.
You worked in Anchorage, Alaska for seven years. What is the food scene like there?
KS: It was kind of a thrilling place to work. There is a big Korean community [in Anchorage] because there were army bases there and men had gone to Korea, met women and brought them back. There were lots of Korean restaurants. I also got to taste all species of salmon and I learned a lot about seafood.
You're a rehabilitated alcoholic, yet you ended up as the food writer and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle in San Francisco which is great wine country.
KS: Right, that's the big cosmic joke of my life. I quit drinking a couple of months before I got offered this job an hour away from some of the best wine country in the world. I guess God has a sense of humor.
Are you able to eat beef bourguignon?
KS: For me I can cook with wine in a sauce where the alcohol has been cooked for a long time and doesn't have a taste. It's not a problem for me. I think I would avoid a zabaglione which has more of a raw alcohol taste.
One of the eight cooks in your book is Rachael Ray.
KS: The EVOO and the yum-o stuff are a little obnoxious and certainly some of her recipes are easy to poke fun at, but I really felt that she was a bridge for an entire generation who were removed from the kitchen. She was a bridge back to it. She taught a lot of people how to cook and demystify it. I did a profile on her just before she got her T.V. show and it was really interesting to watch her struggle to stay her authentic self. At that time I had just started working at the Times so I could relate to the pressures when your profile jumps up a little bit. Of course my profile isn't anywhere near to hers but in my little world it was a jump to a bigger market. I learned the lesson of authenticity from her.
Do you watch the Food Network?
KS: I do. I think Ina [Garten] does a really good job and Bobby Flay. I think Iron Chef is a really interesting show.
What about Giada De Laurentiis. Do you think she relies on her breasts too much?
KS: I don't know. I don't watch it for her breasts. It just seems to me if you have really great food you don't need the T & A. Listen the New York Times used to run Nigella Lawson a lot so you know, hello pot, this is kettle.
What do you think of Paula Deen?
KS: The thing that breaks my heart is she has this whole line of packaged baked goods at Wal-Mart, full of stuff I don't want to eat. I work really hard to limit myself to ingredients I can pronounce. I'm not against the occasional Twinkie and I'm a big fan of an occasional bowl of Lipton onion soup mix and sour cream dip with potato chips -- the occasional treat is not a bad thing. But for her to put out a whole line when we have so many problems with obesity and the way we eat, I find that a little concerning. I would rather see her use her powers for good not evil.
What is your favorite meal?
KS: Sometimes it can be a really good bowl of cereal late at night if the milk hasn't made the cereal soggy yet. Some long braised pork with vegetables in their moment, probably some pasta. But you know if you have a really great grilled cheese sandwich at the right moment, it's so situational.
You joined the New York Times in 2004. What's been the best thing you've got to do?
KS: I was doing a profile of the woman who takes reservations at French Laundry and basically her whole job all day is to say no. I spent the day at the French Laundry and for dinner I got to sit on the side of the kitchen and I got to eat my French Laundry meal watching the kitchen work. That was a pretty great perk. Although I have to add I paid for my meal. We're not allowed to accept free meals.