The Gannet Q&A

Sam Sifton

17th May 2017

Interview: Ebony-Renee Baker
Photograph: Melissa Hom

Sam Sifton is the food editor of The New York Times, the founding editor of nytcooking.com (the Times’s digital cookbook and recipe tool) and an “Eat” columnist for The New York Times Magazine. He has also worked as the newspaper’s national editor, culture editor and chief restaurant critic – and he wrote a cookbook, Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. Sam grew up in Brooklyn, where he still lives.

If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

That’s a difficult question. I’ve had a lot of great meals. But I had a perfect one at the end of my run as restaurant critic for The Times in the backyard of Frankies 457 Spuntino in Carroll Gardens, off the clock, with my family and one of my brothers, on a warm spring day when the children were perfectly behaved and everyone was talking and eating and laughing and the breeze kept us cool, and I thought: This is what restaurants are about, sometimes, what they ought to be about more often.

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

Again, that’s not so easy. I am a terrible cookbook flirt, a dog, a rake. I fall in love so easily. So go look at my copy of The Babbo Cookbook, Mario Batali’s greatest book. You’d think we’d been married a long, long time, and still on date nights and flowers just because. But here’s Let the Flames Begin, by Chris Schelsinger and John Willoughby. I’ve cracked the spine on that one in quite a few places. It’s dirty with the stains of pomegranate molasses, curry powder, pork fat. There’s dried coriander between the pages. Here’s Fannie Farmer, an early love, still worth consulting in times when the only shopping’s grim. Lately, the Lucky Peach cookbook, 101 Easy Asian Recipes. I’ve got to be up near 90 of them done by now. That thing is slick with sesame oil, rank with fish sauce, till death do us part.

I could go a cold navel orange on most breakfasts. But I’m a New Yorker: baconeggncheese on a toasted buttered roll. Eggs over easy. Cut it in half, please, I like the mess.

What’s the worst supposedly-good thing you ever ate?

Is a fried half cow brain served on pumpernickel with raw onion in a St. Louis diner supposed to be good? It was pretty bad.

Describe your perfect breakfast.

Depends on the day. I could go a cold navel orange on most of them. But I’m a New Yorker: baconeggncheese on a toasted buttered roll. Eggs over easy. Cut it in half, please, I like the mess.

No restaurant is perfect but which one, for you, comes closest, and why?

Nope. I’m like Imelda Marcos was with the shoes. There are perfect restaurants for every occasion in New York City, for every mood. I would never pick one. But I’ll say this: It’s always the one where you want to be, always the one you’ve been to before, where you know what you want, and where you know that it will be the same as it was the time before, and maybe the time before that. It’s the consistent one. That’s why it’s perfect.

What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

Ray Liotta dealing with the Sunday sauce in Goodfellas, ripped on cocaine and paranoia in the hours after dawn, helicopters overhead, guns in a bag in the trunk of the car. “Michael, keep an eye on the sauce.”

What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Pizza – Fascati’s on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Who is your food hero?

There are a lot of gods up there in the kitchen on Parnassus. Too many to list.

What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

It’s been gochujang, the Korean hot pepper sauce, for a while now. I’m about ready to move on to something new. Pickled jalapenos are looking strong.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

Burning Spear, “Marcus Garvey”. It begins every weekend cooking session and has for a very long time.

Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

Cast-iron pan.

Share a useful cooking tip.

Do it every day, near as you can.

What food trend really gets on your nerves?

I think I’m about done with the ramps.

To buy Thanksgiving by Sam Sifton, click here

Follow Sam: Twitter | Instagram

Photograph: Melissa Hom for New York magazine

Posted 17th May 2017

In The Gannet Q&A

 

Interview: Ebony-Renee Baker
Photograph: Melissa Hom

More from The Gannet Q&A

The Gannet Q&A: Darina Allen – The Irish food writer & teacher on an extraordinary restaurant in Mexico, her biggest food extravagance and the worst thing she's ever eaten

The Gannet Q&A: Ruby Tandoh – The baker & food writer on her filmmaking food hero, a life-affirming ice cream, and the cookbook she's engaged with more than any other

The Gannet Q&A: Sheila Dillon – The BBC Food Programme host on food heroes, the hidden value of organic food and her seven most-used cookbooks

The Gannet Q&A: Yemisi Aribisala – The Nigerian food writer on an unforgettable slice of New York pizza, roasting her own coffee for breakfast, and her biggest food hero