1. Despite the name of the book, The Sophisticated Gourmet has a relaxed and playful feel to it. Is it fair to say that this was a labor of love?
I don’t claim to be a supersonic professional in the kitchen! But cooking for me is an important show of creativity—menu selection, efficiency, timing, presentation, and delightful conversation. Eating together affords a beautiful closeness at the end of any day. Doing it well creates memories. I’m a romantic, and it is fair to say that my cooking and this book are expressions of love.
2. As you mention in your book, it seems that every poet, pundit, painter, and essayist has sooner or later realized how the preparation and sharing of food is a prime requirement for the good life. Why do you think that is? Are they artists looking for another medium to express themselves?
Just think—who hasn’t gotten a great idea while talking at dinner? That’s when we trust ourselves; our guards are down; we are with our ‘significant other;’ we can create so much in reflection of each other, and the great meal helps that process. Cooking and eating are artistic; we enjoy life all the more with a good meal before us.
3. You’re best known for your work in astrology , yet there’s not a lick of astrology in your cookbook. Was that intentional?
Yes. My astrology is deep, serious, decidedly therapeutically professional, and I didn’t want to lighten it to fit into recipes, to be cute and entertaining. Cooking and sharing food have an existential aura of their own; they can glow in their own light, and I tried to capture that pleasure. After preparing and enjoying a good meal, our moods change. Usually, we are at our best at this time. Cooking technique and panache create those changes in us. For that time being, we have to put other things aside, including our work.
4. It’s nice to see perch get its due recognition in your recipe, "Finding Your Sole through Perch." How did you come up with these delicious and creative feasts? What sets this cookbook apart from the others?
Over the years I have tried to be economical in the kitchen, to use middle to low market costs for food selection. Then, I tried to dress up everything simply and strongly. Everyone appreciates a strong taste, for the most part. I aimed for those values. That’s why you see jams used in sauces, and peanut butter here and there. There is nothing as nice as ‘clean’ food, sparkling under the spritz of a lemon taken off the tree just outside your kitchen. This cookbook is simple, swift, and the instructions are crystal clear.
5. Who would you say influenced you the most in the kitchen?
I think Julia Child, in her celebrated years on television, made cooking accessible to so many people. The half-hour format of the broadcasts suggested that good meals could be done in short times, if preparation technique was first class. Efficiency became a prime attraction for me as I familiarized myself with the best culinary operations. Jacques Pepin has taken over that role today, I think.
6. What is the most important tip you would give to first time cooks who really want to impress their guests?
Make the simple meal well. Plan ahead and prepare carefully. Trust clear distinct tastes and beautiful plate presentations.
7. What would you say is your signature dish, the one that best describes your cooking style and taste?
I feel that I am very, very good with fish: salmon, shrimp, and scallops. They cook quickly, they can be presented colorfully, and the simple sauces they support can be singularly compelling. But then nothing tops my “Eat-Your-Heart-Out, Belgium” Chocolate Sauce on frozen yogurt for dessert.
8. What’s for dinner tonight?
Broiled chicken thighs with a bit of pesto sauce, some beautiful sliced vine-fresh tomatoes with oregano and a touch of sugar, crusty bread, and Pinot Grigio.