A Conversation with… Sally Schneider

We’re thrilled to welcome Sally Schneider back to the The Secret Ingredient! Sally’s wonderful book, The Improvisational Cook, is in stores now and, lucky for us, she was kind enough to take a break from writing, blogging (theimprovisedlife.com), cooking, and recipe developing to answer a few of our questions. Enjoy!

Passion: Helping people find their way “in” to living and cooking improvisationally

Experience that changed her life: Waking up from a dream absolutely knowing that I should cook professionally. I quit my job and started working as a prep cook, eventually becoming a restaurant chef…running a catering business…working as a food editor… as a food stylist…magazine columnist…contributing editor….radio commentator…cookbook author (three times)…

Mantra: YES!

Works: simultaneously at three computers and a stove putting out “the improvised life”

Lives: within walking distance

Plays: with food, always wondering what is possible…

1. What’s your favorite food or meal? Buttered toast (great bread, great butter, grilled over an open fire, which I do with a rig I made for my stove top).

2. What’s your signature dish? A fried egg on anything…pasta with Parmigiano, roasted sweet onions or peppers, dandelion greens tossed with bacon…in brothy soups…there are endless possibilities. Also, a Tuscan pork roast that I learned in Italy: it’s a rosemary-sage-and-garlic-salt-rubbed, pancetta-wrapped loin…The latest iteration is the Double Pork Tenderloin Roast with Rosemary-Sage Salt in The Improvisational Cook: an improvisation made by lashing two pork tenderloins together to make a roast, and applying the same set of flavorings…

3. What’s the best culinary vacation you’ve ever taken? A spontaneous trip, without a guidebook or planning, from the South of France up to Alba, in the Piemonte region of Italy, to learn about fresh white truffles at the source. My companion and I made friends with a truffle hunter and his family, went foraging for truffles with him and his dog, and drove back through the mountains in a car reeking wonderfully of truffles (we had a big feast with our friends in France).

4. What’s your favorite movie about eating or food? Babette’s Feast and La Grande Bouffe.

5. Who are your culinary heroes? Richard Olney, author of Simple French Food. He moved from America to France to live the life he dreamed of, wrote about cooking in a way no one had ever seen before, and influenced America’s greatest cooks.

6. If you could have dinner with three people—living or dead, of course—who would they be?
Alice B. Toklas (with Gertrude Stein), John Cage, and Thomas Merton.

7. Is there any one person (aside from yourself) you think of pleasing with your cooking? I love to cook for people who are in dire straits, because I have seen how real food, cooked by someone who cares, can transform people.

8. Is there a particular ingredient, herb, or spice that’s really inspiring you right now?
Sundried peppers from Sicily.

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