125: Melissa Clark
If Melissa Clark is in your life already, then she needs little introduction. Maybe you have one of the 40+ cookbooks that she has authored. Maybe you’ve made one of the recipes from her New York Times column “A Good Appetite”, watched one of her cooking videos online, seen her on the Today Show, as a guest judge on Iron Chef America, or heard her as a guest host on The Splendid Table radio show. If you’re one of these people, then you may already consider Melissa Clark to be a kind of honorary member of your family already, someone who helps you decide what to eat (and when), how to prepare it, and why you should feel good about it..because you can do it.
Or maybe, like me, you don’t really cook very much. Maybe, like me, you only recently discovered the creativity, assurance and enthusiasm of Melissa Clark when your wife went to India for three weeks and left you in charge of feeding yourself and your child. Maybe you had a small breakthrough while watching Melissa demonstrate one of her recipes in an online video and it helped you understand that cooking is a true act of creation.
After having such a breakthrough maybe you, like me, started to think about how cooking is like making music. Rhythm & balance, tradition & innovation, style & concept, practice & intuition, intention, improvisation… it’s all there. A recipe is a kind of composition, and a meal is a kind of concert. And maybe, just maybe, in that small moment of catharsis, you reached out to Melissa Clark for an interview to explore this idea.
Whichever kind of person you are, Melissa Clark is there for you.
She started out hoping to be a writer of “early modern female focussed romance novels” but discovered that all of her best images were about food. She says, “Every story, every color, every simile was about food.” As she tells it, Melissa had the good fortune of starting out as a writer on the internet before anyone was actually reading on the internet. “There were no food writers when I started out. No one was talking about the experience of cooking.”
We got together to talk about managing the commercial realities of writing and marketing recipes (“I feel like I am constantly walking on that line”), making friends with your ingredients (“the anchovy is my bad boyfriend”), dealing with anxiety (“my way of coping with it is to be very very busy”), falling in love with your teachers, what makes food a way that we can change the social structure of the world, why deadlines are lifelines, how much of her personal experiences to reveal in her writing, and when to walk away from the cookie dough.