Serious Eats contributing editor Adam Roberts, (aka The Amateur Gourmet) has just published his first book, The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, and Table Hop Like a Pro (Almost). Although we are obviously biased here at Serious Eats, it's a damn good read. Sweet, smart, and generously spirited, the book is a funny, honest, gustatory coming-of-age saga. Most interesting, it's not just a collection of blog posts. In fact, Roberts takes his blog posts as a jumping-off point and weaves an engaging narrative. Think of it as a cozy, urban fooddunnit. Full disclosure: I wrote a blurb for the back jacket of the book because I genuinely like it.
Roberts is doing what is apparently becoming (according to the New York Times) de rigeur in publishing circles, the blog book tour, and we are first up on his dance card. We sent him some penetrating trick questions, and here are his answers. Roberts turns out to be a man of catholic tastes: He admires Nabokov, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, Bea Arthur, and R. W. Apple.
And if you have any questions you would like to ask Adam Roberts, please pose them here as comments.
In the course of writing the book do you think you lost your "amateur" status?
Nope. I think "amateur" is more about perspective than anything else. In the food world there's lots of posturing (just watch an episode of Top Chef and you'll see what I mean) and as long as I continue to treat food with the same fascination and awe, I'll always be an amateur.
Did you take anything from law school that you use in your writing?
Law school helped me organize my thinking which, inevitably, helped improve my writing. But that's not to say that legal writing is good training for food writing. The large bulk of it is, by its very nature, dry and colorlessI used to get in trouble for making my legal briefs too writerly.
In retrospect, do you regard the Janet Jackson Breast Cupcake as some kind of gentle perversion?
Perversion? The female body is a beautiful thing! (Or so I hear). The Janet Jackson Breast Cupcake is about female empowerment.
How was writing the book different from maintaining your blog?
The difference between book writing and blog writing is the difference between slow-braising a pork shoulder and grilling a pork chop. One allows for deep, concentrated flavor, the other is fast and fiery. I get great pleasure from both. I love the immediacy of blogging, and I love the worked-overness of the book. Each page of the book represents days and weeks and months of thinking and planning; each post on my blog represents, at most, 30 minutes.
If you had your druthers, would you rather just write books and not blog?
Nope, I enjoy doing both. And druthers are overrated.
You are almost compulsively creative. What is your favorite medium and why?
That's a good question. Ultimately, I love to write because of the limitless possibility. Many writers fear the blank page, but I love it. I love sitting there knowing that in just a few minutes that page will be full with thoughts and ideas and characters and stories. I also love to play the piano, to make videos with Barbie Dolls, and to cook.
You are fearless as a writer. What are your fears when it comes to your work and your life?
Thanks for saying that. Professionally, I'm afraid of critical rejection, of needlessly hurting people's feelings, of spending lots of time working on a project that won't go anywhere, of being derivative, of not being funny enough, of not being truthful enough. In personal my life, there isn't enough room on the internet to list my fears, but to name some: roller coasters, baseball games, sports in general, public humiliation, karaoke, my family, my throat getting slit (ever since I saw Die Hard II), a nuclear holocaust, and Freddy Kruger.
What won't you tackle in the kitchen?
There's not much that I won't try, but I'm hesitant to buy really expensive ingredients in case I mess them up. Also, fried chicken. I tried it once for a dinner party, and it was a disaster. I will try it again, though, so I suppose that shouldn't really make the list.
Are your parents accurately portrayed in the book?
You'd have to ask them, but I think so. My mom is a real character, and I think that comes through.
What would your last supper consist of? Who would your dining companions be? Would you cook it yourself or have someone else cook for you?
Pasta, most definitely; I love pasta. And a fruit dessert. My dining companions would be my family and friends, obviously, but also Bea Arthur, just to keep it interesting. And I'd love to cook it myself as a final act of generosity and to guilt people into saying nice things about me at my funeral.
Who's your favorite fiction writer? What do you like about him or her?
Vladimir Nabokov. Brave, funny, deeply talented, and richly imaginative. Lolita is one of the most disturbing, hilarious, thought-provoking, and entertaining books I've ever read.
Who were your inspirations as both a creative person and a food writer? How did they inspire you?
This may come as a shock, but my greatest inspirations as a creative person are rooted, I believe, in musical theater. My parents took me to see Cats as a kid and it would haunt my dreams for years to comeliterally, I would have Cats dreams on a regular basis. When I was actually in Cats in a summer camp production, I refused to talk to my parents, who came to visit before the show, because I was "getting into character." (And to think they were shocked that I was gay.) Did I just admit that my greatest creative influence was Cats? I also loved movies as a kidI was obsessed with the animated version of The Phantom Tollbooth. I loved Mary Poppins. And once I started reading, I loved Jack Kerouac, Tom Wolfe, and John Irving. As far as food writers, I love the funny onesCalvin Trillin, Jeffrey Steingartenand more recently I've fallen for M. F. K. Fisher. They all inspire me in different ways, but, clearly, I put a lot of value on being entertaining.
If you died and could come back inhabiting someone else's body and mind, who would that be?
It's funny, the people I admire most have had less than stellar lives. I guess that's the price you pay for being a great artist. So I'd come back as a jolly old soul who loves food and loves life and accomplishes an incredible amount in a short period of time. I know you knew him, so you can attest to whether it's a good choice: R.W. Apple?