Dorie Greenspan, the Connecticut-based author of a dozen cookbooks, was 12 years old when she burned down her family’s kitchen.
She didn’t cook again for a decade, but when she returned to the kitchen, the self-taught Greenspan turned her avocation into a career.
What prompted you to start cooking again after the fire?
“That was the first time I cooked and the last time I cooked before I got married. I made frozen french fries. Instead of putting them in the oven, I put a pot of oil up to boil and I didn’t even get to put the fries in. I put a lid on the pot which was the wrong thing to do. The flames were all around the sides of the pot almost like a sort of magic lantern. Mesmerizing, but the whole kitchen was gone. I did burn a good part of it, enough that when my mother came home and saw it after assuring herself we were all fine, burst into tears and didn’t stop for a long time.”
Did your husband know about your notorious past?
“He didn’t marry me for my culinary skills. We got married when I was in college. It was like playing house and I couldn’t wait to learn to cook. I wanted to cook. I wanted to have friends come visit and eat in our home, so I taught myself to cook. I am a truly self-taught cook. Later, when I started working in food, I was very lucky. I worked with fabulous chefs and I learned from amazing people.”
You were studying gerontology in grad school when you became a baker. How did that happen?
“I took time off to work on my dissertation and all I wanted to do was cook and bake and cook and bake. All I wanted to do was bake professionally. I got a job in a restaurant and it lasted a month. I didn’t burn down their kitchen, but I did change their signature dessert without telling anyone. I was fired for creative insubordination. I didn’t think it was so great at the time. I didn’t realize until I was older and more established what a great thing that was.
“Then I worked in another kitchen and quit before they could fire me and a friend of mine said, ‘You’re a writer.’ I had worked as a writer, writing grant proposals. She said, ‘You should write about food.’ I was very lucky. My first piece was in Food and Wine magazine, so I got off to a really good start. And I kept working until I was able to put together a proposal and had my first book published. The usual way, hard work.”
What is your favorite food pairing?
“Chocolate with chocolate, that would be my favorite pairing. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. My World Peace Cookie recipe — that has everything. Aside from the fact it’s a perfect cookie, it’s a perfect cookie for me. It has chocolate, chocolate and salt — a noticeable amount of salt. Salt and chocolate are terrific together.”
What tips do you have for novice bakers?
“This is advice that is good for baking, it’s good for cooking and it’s good for life. It’s essentially do it and keep doing it even if you are a little scared, even if you don’t succeed at first. The thing about baking and cooking is it’s so satisfying because the more you do it the better you get at it. With baking, I don’t think, except if you burn something to a crisp, even the things that aren’t perfect in baking still taste pretty good.
“The thing I love about baking is, we bake to share. Many of us cook for ourselves, but when we bake, we bake because we want to share with people. I love everything about baking. I love the ingredients. I love the way we use our hands when we bake. And I really love being able to share that. Baking is a pleasure from start to finish. Just knowing you will bake something that gives people pleasure seems like the best incentive anyone can have to get in the kitchen and bake.”