You're nominated for a Beard Award for writing about continuing a relationship with your Italian mother-in-law as you head for divorce. Is she still alive?
She is! She's 86. I was so excited to see her last August. She's in good physical shape but she has memory loss.
Is she your ex-mother-in-law now?
We are divorcing, we've filed the paperwork, and the lawyers are doing what they do. Am I ever going to stop calling her my mother-in-law? I can't imagine it. She's my mother-in-law. That's all there is to it, whether she likes it or not. Actually, she does. We have a super-fond affection for each other.
You won a Beard Award last year for Best Chef New York City and this year you're up for two writing awards. What's that like?
When too many good things happen to one person, you know, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia -- I don't want to be the kind of person people want to hate. As much as I like my job cooking, I never found it as moving as being recognized for my writing. Words really matter to me. Books are what I esteem in life above all else. The nominations are great and it could end right there. I'm getting embarrassed. I'm in that sweet spot where I could die and I'm still good.
What books have you read lately?
My pile that I haven't gotten to? You're asking me what I'm not reading? I still have not read Patti Smith's Just Kids. I've also got the new Michael Ondaatje, Jeffrey Eugenides' book The Marriage Plot, the new Cheryl Strayed...
Your book recently came out in softcover. How long was your book tour?
What was supposed to be thirty days turned into a full year. It started with the hardback and I got invited to many more interesting things, speaking engagements at universities, and I said yes to everything. I don't know when this is ever coming again. This is my eleven minutes and then it will be over.
What did you notice while you were out on the road?
No one wears a uniform anymore. Cooks don't wear cook clothes except in fine dining. They'll be in T-shirts and cargo pants and may or may not have their hair pulled back. It's casual Friday at the office. I appreciate the idea of relaxing a little bit, but I have a Henny Penny fear of the sky falling. Let's not lose all tradition.
What bothers you about restaurant workers not being in uniform?
In San Francisco there was a server in a sleeveless shirt with her armpits out. Had she perhaps been practicing better hygiene I wouldn't have noticed. She was slightly unshowered.
Had she shaved?
Not enough. I like that look but maybe not in my server.
What about chefs not in uniform?
I was struck by how so many have short sleeves. The purpose of long sleeves is to protect your arms from burners. But if you wear long sleeves how can you show off your tattoos? At Prune we wear chef coats and chef pants and bib aprons and baker's caps. The front of the house wears dark blue bottoms and an apron and have their hair pulled back. They can't wear perfume or nail polish, unless it's 'ballet slippers' or 'nude,' something subtle. At some restaurants when I was traveling I wasn't sure who was the server and who was the customer or the delivery guy. Everyone blends in.
Did you get good questions on the road?
Almost everywhere -- in Chapel Hill, Tulsa, St. Louis, Louisville -- people were very forthright and intelligent. In New York the questions are more like, 'How do I get a reservation at Prune?'
Can you talk about the shop you're planning that will sell ready-to-cook foods?
It's just an idea but pretty soon I have to move on it. I'm waiting for the perfect piece of real estate to show up.
Do you work brunches at Prune anymore? They're always so crazy.
I did last weekend and was kind of dreading it. I got out of bed at 6:45 and thought, 'Why did I say yes to this?' But ten minutes in I was in the highest mood. It's like being on a basketball team, the high of passing the ball back and forth and getting it in the basket. It's killer. It's only bad if someone's the weak link and right now I'm the weak link. My day is so grossly punctuated by urgent emails and phone calls that I long for the day when all I have to do is show up at two o'clock and cook. It's so simple and straightforward. I like to still include those kind of days in my life but I wouldn't want to do it seven days a week anymore.