Posts Tagged ‘Marlena Spieler’

Enjoyment of Food as Gratitude

February 22, 2010

“Enjoying food, really enjoying food, is a meditation. A prayer. A thank you to nature and our higher power.”
Marlena Spieler

Meeting My Muse

January 19, 2010

I should be writing about various products I saw today at the Fancy Food Show here in San Francisco but I’m far too brain dead to think objectively – or at all, for that matter – about any of the roughly 2.7 zillion products which were being promoted at me from all directions. What I’m not too tired to write about, however, is who I spent the day roaming the aisles of the show with: Marlena Spieler and Marcy Smothers.

I have admired Marlena Spieler, the author of something along the line of 70 cookbooks and, though she lives in Great Britain, a food columnist for San Francisco Chronicle. In particular, my admiration for her work really arose through my repeated use of her encyclopedic “The Complete Guide to Traditional Jewish Cooking” when I was head cook for an upscale deli here in the city.

Marlena Spieler and I after she's signed my copy of her cookbook.

Full of great recipes, many of which were traditional shabbos meals, they were ideal for the deli where they would need to hold up well for two to three days at a time. Many of them I cooked repeatedly; others were handy last minute replacements when ingredients for our standards had fallen through.

The soups – well, what can I say about the soups except, like everything else in the book, they were wonderful, homey recipes that stick to the ribs and transport the diner with rich combinations of spices and down-to-earth ingredients. The recipes were clearly and concisely written; the end results, almost always perfect (I’m not the only one who thinks so. A group in Sacramento, Calif., has committed themselves to cooking their way through the book and blogging about the experience).

So, who was this woman with whom I spent so much time in the kitchen? As it turns out, she’s also friends with an old editor of mine from my days as a reporter at Anchorage Daily News. I finally took advantage of that connection – through Facebook – to write Marlena a gushy fan letter and she actually wrote back. Through a few more exchanges, she suggested meeting on her next trip to San Francisco which, happily, happened to be for the Fancy Food Show.

“I’m with my friend Marcy Smothers”, she told me on the phone as we discussed plans to connect. “She’s a radio producer.”

Marcy, as it happened, is far more than that and knows, apparently, everyone (“I love to drop names,” she stated quite unapologetically at one point, but she never dropped a name without a solid story to back it up).

We had agreed to meet at booth 1749 in the organic foods pavilion where, as it happened, Tyler Florence was on hand to promote his new restaurant and sign autographs. Marcy, of course, knew him but gushed along with all the other fans there to meet him. I took photos of the two of them together including one of them embracing (“It looks as if he’s greeting me after I returned from the war,” she said). Of course, this didn’t happen until after I pulled my well-worn and greasy copy of Marlena’s book from my knapsack along with a thick black marker and asked her to autograph it. Flattered and amused, she did just that and Marcy took a photo of me, smiling broadly alongside one of my culinary muses.

The rest of the day was spent following the two women along. Curious and knowledgeable about everything, they interviewed everyone and sampled and tasted their way through the show with enthusiasm. They graciously introduced me to everyone they knew, shared stories and gossip with me, directed me to the more notable exhibitors, and were patient and generous with a guy really only now breaking into a world they’ve occupied confidently and enthusiastically for quite some time already.

“Wow” is really the only word I can think of. And, of course, “Thanks.”