In which the founders of Sel de la Terre interview each other, and even though Suzanne is a professional journalist, Luke complains that her questions lack depth…
Here are some of their answers, alternating, so you can see their varying styles.
Suzanne: Where did you grow up?
Luke: When people ask me this question I’m never quite sure how to answer. I was born in Princeton Massachusetts, a town just outside of Worcester, but through my childhood I’ve also lived in New York, Maine, and Connecticut… but when I think of those places, I don’t remember “growing up” there. My parents met as counselors at a summer camp and when my twin brother and I were born we spent every summer, all summer, at camp. And although my parents didn’t always work at the same camp, each one represented the same thing; a place away from school, away from chores, away from construction on the house… a place like Neverland, where campers and staff alike were all just kids. Camp is where I learned to play team sports, where I confronted my fears of asking a girl to dance, where I learned to stick up for myself when my parents weren’t around, where I threw (and took) my first punch, where I fell in love with 90’s R&B music my counselor would play for us at night, and where I tried Spanish ham that my friend had smuggled in his luggage from Madrid. That’s where, for better or worse, I learned about life, and became the person I’m living with today.
Luke: What’s your earliest memory of falling in love with food?
Suzanne: My parents and I lived in Brooklyn until I was five, at which point we moved to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. While in the city, we frequently visited Brighton Beach — which has a big Russian population. We'd ride the subway — I'd be in my bathing suit and sun hat with a pail and spade — and would disembark right near the Russian market with a whole cold bar filled with different types of smoked fish. Once we were at the beach I’d look for jellyfish, make sand castles, and would have a tantrum if nobody bought me a potato knish. That was the first food I fell in love with: a pocket of dough wrapped around a salty, savory potato filling. These days I don't eat many knish, but I do love to make pierogi, which is another kind of dough with a potato filling, so pretty similar. I also remember being entranced by candies from Chinatown that were wrapped in edible rice paper, and by gold coins made of chocolate at Hanukkah. Pretty much all of my positive memories from New York City are food related.
Suzanne: What is the first food you remember eating? Why do you remember it?
Luke: Blueberry muffins: A Norbert Auger specialty. My father would make them for us on only the most special occasions; like lazy Sunday mornings, times my older brother would come to visit, and Christmas day. Interestingly enough, I remember I didn’t enjoy them very much (maybe they were just too filling for that little kid) but I loved them for what they represented, family. Something about the way frozen blueberries thawed in the batter, made them bleed and turn each muffin a beautiful purple and blue and I loved watching them come out of the oven, steaming, and everyone would gather and eat for some time. I’ve grown to love the taste since then, and they continue to be one of my favorite breakfast treats.
Luke: What is your favorite cook book? What makes it your favorite?
Suzanne: It's not a cookbook, per se, but the book that I never want to cook without is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. It's a reference guide to flavor pairing, and it's brilliant, and serves to get me over pretty much any case of recipe developer's block. As far as cookbooks are concerned, I love the aspirational ones that come out of the world's finest restaurants, such as The French Laundry, Alinea, Eleven Madison Park, and Noma. Those books make my culinary dreams bigger and more colorful.
Suzanne: When did you realize that you wanted cooking to be a significant part of your life? Why?
Luke: It seems like yesterday that I knew how to cook three mediocre dishes, just enough to keep myself alive and impress to occasional dinner date. I just had to make sure I didn’t promise to cook for them again, since I had a stunning repertoire of one date-worthy dish. The night I fell in love with cooking in a serious way was helping Suzanne with a Zodiac-themed pop-up dinner. It was the first time I’d experienced cooking for a dining room full of paying customers. It was the first time that plating something beautifully had actually mattered. And it was the first time I felt the sense of pride that one feels when looking at the smiling faces of people feasting on your creations. Since then I’ve allowed myself to embrace creativity in designing recipes for our future pop-up dinners, where my visions and ideas about what’s possible with food can be challenged and realized.
Luke: What is an unusual habit (around food, cooking, eating, etc.) that you love about yourself?
Suzanne: I'm obsessed with cheese, and you'll hardly ever catch me without some close to my person. I keep cheese in my car, often have a block or a wedge in my purse, I stop short of taking cheese into the shower with me, but only just. I would easily give up chocolate before I would give up cheese. As cheesemonger extraordinaire Rory Stamp once pointed out to me, it's remarkable what variety comes from a beginning as humble as milk and salt. I will also drive pretty far out of my way to get a great meal, so that's another thing. Especially if that meal is going to include cheese, of course.
Suzanne: Describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten: where was it? Who were you with? What stood out the most?
Luke: Without a doubt the best meal was at Toqué in Montreal with Suzanne (of course.) It was the first time I experienced the kind of cooking that makes one feel inspired, and allowed me to begin looking at cooking as an art form with incredible discipline. What stood out the most was the mid-meal tour of the kitchen. The only voice that could be heard was that of the expeditor. Everyone was completely focused and committed to the task at hand. After seeing the kitchen and staff, the food that followed could finally be explained. Before seeing how things worked in the kitchen, each dish had me wondering … how? How is something like this possible? Since then I’ve been inspired to create the same feelings I had, in the people I cook for. I think of food as not just an art form, but as a science.
Luke: What is the most underrated ingredient? And how can you use it?
Suzanne: Salt. It's the key to making food taste good, and when someone has learned the skill of seasoning properly, they have a great deal of power to make food taste incredible. You don't want too much, you don't want too little, but when you hit the sweet spot, the salinity brings out and enhances all of the other flavors of the food. It's the magical fairy dust of the food world.
To be continued…