October 3, 2010

Author Q&A: Someone's in the kitchen with Marjorie

Acclaimed chef Melissa Kelly lends a ham -- make that Pork Saltimbocca -- and more for the reissuing of Marjorie's Standish's classic 'Cooking Down East.'

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Chef Melissa Kelly

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Marjorie Standish

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WHAT: Book launch for "Cooking Down East" and "Good Maine Food"

WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 20

WHERE: The Danforth, 163 Danforth St., Portland


INFO: www.downeast.com/danforth

And it's funny, because I feel like it's probably not how she grew up. Her mom and grandmother probably cooked everything from scratch, but in her generation, all of these things were new and exciting and trendy, and so that's what she did. And then in my generation, we're trying to go back to the basics and the roots.

It's just interesting to see how it's a generational thing. A lot of her recipes are really old-fashioned, classic Maine-New England recipes, and then in some of them she's telling you, "Well, you're going to be a working mom or you're on the go, so use this. This is a good way to do this faster." And I'm taking it back to the other side: You can still do it fast, but let's do it a little healthier.

Q: Did you find things that you two had in common?

A: Oh, absolutely. She loved food, and the same as me, she loved tying food and people together. And she talks about experiences of time and place, celebrating with friends and family, and how food plays such an important role in traditional things. All of that we have in common. 

Q: As you mentioned, some of the recipes are definitely Maine classics, like a lot of the seafood stews and chowders. They're very simple, and kind of retro in a good way. But there are some others that modern cooks would definitely find puzzling. Were there any that struck you as strange? I'm thinking of the things like cooking chicken with Rice Krispies.

A: The cereal crusts were interesting, although, you know what? Honestly, a very famous chef in New York, one time I worked in his kitchen and he crusted a fish with cream of wheat. That's more of a grain than a processed cereal, but it's getting creative too, with what you have. 

Q: Were there some recipes that were such classics -- I'm thinking about heritage dishes such as the salt cod dinner -- that you just didn't want to tinker with them?

A: You know, some of her recipes, I just really like the simplicity of it. Most of them were the seafood recipes, like you said, the stews and the chowders and the salt cod dinners and all of that. You can't really mess with her quahog stew, you know? It's just perfect. You make that, and it's just the way it should be. There's not too much to do. 

Q: Can you talk a little about the process of working on the book? Many of your margin notes suggested making a few simple substitutions, such as using tomato paste instead of ketchup. Were you trying to find a balance between keeping Marjorie's simple recipes simple and updating them without making them too complicated?

A: Yeah, they're her recipes. They're definitely not my recipes. I did add a few recipes to the book, but I was just trying, like I said, to bring them into the next phase of how you could take a good idea and maybe make it a little healthier or make it a little tastier, a little more intense or something, but not change her recipe.

I didn't really want to change her recipes. I was trying to keep her fresh style and her philosophy because I think that was good, but bring it into today. 

Q: Do you have plans to write a cookbook someday?

A: I have a book out which I did a couple of years ago, and it has recipes in it. It's called "Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too," and it's kind of a retort to "French Women Don't Get Fat." It's more about the lifestyle of food and eating and traditions, and how for me food is just such an important part of our life, and all of my memories are connected with food. I think a lot of people, when they have a bite of something, that transports them back to their childhood, to a special moment that they had, a celebration. Or even some are bittersweet memories too. But I think food can just take you and transport you back to that place. And so my book is more about talking about that.

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