Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman on Meat, Champagne, and the Secrets of QVC
by Jenni Miller
Deb Perelman of the delightful food blog Smitten Kitchen has a new book out today, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, which she’s currently touring the country to sell on QVC, and which is available at many other outlets. (On Smitten Kitchen, Deb chronicles the gorgeous meals she makes in her tiny East Village apartment, anecdotes and photographs included.) The two of us actually met in the ’00s while working at a tech publishing company, and because in addition to being a fantastic cook, Deb’s a fun, smart, warm person who hates promoting herself, I thought I’d help.
Okay, let’s start with the easy stuff. When did you start blogging and why?
I officially started blogging in a non-food capacity in 2003. I had no idea what I was doing; I was going on a lot of bad dates and thought it would be fun to write about them. (I sort of roll my eyes at myself when I tell this story.) Anyway, writing about dating didn’t really pan out, because I met my husband, who was reading and commenting on this blog of mine with four other readers, just a couple weeks after starting it. But I kept nattering on about life and being in a relationship, and that about brought me to 2006, when I was growing a little tired of only telling stories about my life and wanted to focus more on cooking. And Smitten Kitchen was born!
How did you manage to keep writing about this stuff in a fun way without being overly confessional?
I mean, there are definitely things that I have talked about that make me cringe, but I think for the most part, I’ve always understood what I was okay talking about and what I wasn’t. And it’s not like the things I wouldn’t share are so dark, I’m just more prone these days to speak about bigger things in hindsight rather than right when I’m in the middle of them. I really want the site to be about things that are authentic to my life and kitchen; I would find it exhausting to put on any other kind of charade. But I don’t think that means I need to empty the contents of my psyche every day to tell stories that are true and real. It would unravel me.
When I first met you, you were a vegetarian and, if I remember correctly, in the process of slowly widening your palate. What was the one type of food you did a 180 on?
Actually, when you met me, I was already doomed to a life of bacon and brisket, but it was a recent thing. For years, I would eat meat, but had no great craving for it. I think it shifted a bit when I was pregnant (for the first time in my life, I wanted a hamburger) and again when I worked on the cookbook, and there were a few meat dishes that I really wanted to get right, once and for all. The thing is, once I did, I wanted them, and those are definitely part of the repertoire now. But, I still think of meat as something you eat once or twice a week. It’s always more of a side dish to me. The nice thing about only eating it once or so a week is that you can make it a treat, and get a good steak or chicken from a clean, fresh source.
You were a writer in the tech industry before you went full time with SK. What’s up with the intersection of tech nerds and foodies, such as Mary Jo Foley?
Everyone has to eat, although I suppose it could be argued that people fascinated by one type of inner workings — technology, information systems — might be curious about another, such as how to construct the ideal banana bread.
Is there anything you miss about the tech industry?
I miss being more in the know about tech and tech companies. I still read Between the Lines first when I want a good take on some tech news because Larry’s still the best at breaking it down succinctly. As for the writing itself, I think that reporting skills — and mine were limited, because I only did it for a couple years — are excellent to have. Even if you choose not to, know how to write without editorializing, being able to clearly separate fact versus ideas, is important. It can keep your writing sharp.
How much can you reveal about the secrets of being on QVC?
Yes, and here it is: QVC IS AWESOME. Like most people who are not in their core demographic, I really didn’t “get” this idea of buying (what I imagined to be only) embroidered cat pillows because you saw them on TV. And I spent quite a bit of time there; they require you to “train” at home and take an exam and then do a full day of training onsite before you can even be approved to go on a show. But it totally worked its voodoo me; I am now in awe of the place. Consider this: This company made $8.3 billion in revenue in 2011 selling things to people who could not taste, smell, touch or audition them before they took them home. And usually in single 5-minute segments. I mean, even if, as an author you were like “Ew, yuck, why would I want to sell thousands of copies my book in five minutes?” (that’s what most authors are like, right?), you could still be in awe of what they manage to do.
How many times have you met Martha Stewart? Does she know you by name?
Three times, and no, I am not certain that she knows who I am. But I’m still in awe of her. This thing she’s built; it’s incredible.
Do you have any food secrets, like you eat Cheese Whiz from the nozzle or something?
I really like Pringles. I don’t make a habit of them but the few times a year that life calls for potato chips, they are what I’m hoping for. Oh, and natural peanut butter, the kind that separates, makes me fly into a rage. It never mixes. Ever! Gaaaaah. Skippy. Skippy, always.
Do you have a special snack or recipe that you could share with the audience?
I feel strongly that My Favorite Brownies can cure anything that ails you. You are basically 40 minutes from eating them right now.
[Note: This interview was conducted via email just as Hurricane Sandy was touching down, so yeah, brownies are needed!]
Do you ever amend your recipes to cook for friends who are vegan or have similar diet restrictions?
Not a whole lot, not because I am mean but because I only like to talk about recipes I’ve tested in my kitchen, and I’m neither vegan or gluten-free or really anything besides a glutton. So, I might give suggestions of things I think will work, but I can’t vouch for a change unless I’ve auditioned it.
Did you bribe yourself with anything special to get through the book? Are you planning some sort of getaway when this is all over?
I’m hardly an ascetic, I did buy myself some fancy shoes (after so much hemming and hawing) last week, but I don’t think I’m very good at the whole self-indulgence thing. Or, maybe fancy shoes aren’t something I’d be crushed enough without/motivated to work harder for. What I’d really love is to rent an apartment for a month in a foreign city; I need to live outside my comfort zone to refill the proverbial well, but it’s not something we’ve been able to pull off yet. Maybe next year?
Do you ever get recognized? I feel like the cross-section of your readers is really interesting and random.
It happens. And they’re always the NICEST PEOPLE. Like, far nicer than the average New Yorker. I wonder where NYC hides these people the rest of the time.
What’s your ultimate “Treat yourself!” meal?
A glass of champagne. Oh, did you say meal? Then, well, still champagne. I made the mistake of finding out what it was all about. I had to ask all of these pesky questions like, “Can I taste the difference between champagne and prosecco? Will cava do?” I wish I hadn’t. I think I was a better person before I knew the answers.