Sheila Lukins is one of America's most prolific cookbook authors. More than 25 years ago, she published The Silver Palate Cookbook, which introduced the boomer generation to upscale at-home cuisine. In addition to publishing other blockbuster cookbooks, Lukins has edited the food pages of Parade magazine for over 20 years.
I had a chance to enjoy breakfast with Sheila on a sunny Saturday morning, while she was on tour for Ten, her latest (and seventh!) cookbook. Over coffee, she offered her best tips for home cooks, and talked about the ever-so-controversial seasonality issue. To see more of what she had to say,
YumSugar: Why did you come out with Ten?
Sheila Lukins: My editor [Peter Workman], and I were talking about all the foods we craved. Everybody really has the same favorite foods; we all love noodles, ribs, Italian food. He said, there's a book in that — you could have 10 recipes for each of your favorite foods.
YS: You've got whole chapters dedicated to tomatoes, corn, asparagus. Should home cooks use seasonal vegetables year-round?
SL: I believe in eating seasonally; there's nothing like going to the farmers market and getting Silver Queen corn, but you get certain things year-round these days. It's not like I want to eat hard or yellow strawberries, but . . . certain tomatoes, let them ripen on the counter, and they're okay. I'm not going to say I'm never going to eat [an out-of-season] tomato.
YS: Why do you think your books resonate with people?
SL: The recipes are so clearly written; they are so specific. I make up every recipe, first with a yellow pad at the stove, at home, in my own kitchen — and they work. We go over it and over it and over it. You can't do bad recipes, and then have people spend money on ingredients and get a recipe that doesn't work well. That's so horrible.
YS: What were some of your most memorable moments in the kitchen?
SL: I got almost electrocuted by an eggplant. I wrapped it in aluminum foil and was baking it so I could make baba ghanoush. I opened the foil and got a horrible shock!
YS: What's your advice for the home cook?
SL: Find a couple things you enjoy making. Try them ahead of time, then make them when you're having people over. Don't feel like you have to make every dish in a cookbook. Most people don't; they have their favorites. Read recipes through, and be sure you have your ingredients. Make sure you check your cabinets, and keep things in stock so you don't have to keep shopping from scratch every time you want to cook.
YS: Where are your favorite places to eat out?
SL: In New York, I used to go downtown a lot, but now I go a lot less because there are such good places on the Upper West Side. I love Tom Valenti and his restaurants — that would be Ouest, and a new one, West Branch. Craft is very good for special occasions. Love Balthazar. I always get Chinese food from Shun Lee West, and I get pizza from Patsy's because they deliver, and it's near my house. Because I've lived on the Upper West Side, these are places that are very convenient to me, and also very delicious. We used to have no good food on the Upper West Side. Daniel Boulud just opened Bar Boulud, and I go there a lot.
Photo Courtesy of Francesco Scavullo