I spend a lot of time with Stefano.
We often cook into the evenings, side by side. He makes me more adventurous, urging me to cook with new ingredients and techniques. Stefano has taught me everything I know about Italian cooking.
But I’m not sure if I should call him by his first name. Because despite how well I feel I know him, we’ve never met. Stefano Manfredi is the author of the bible of regional Italian cooking, Stefano Manfredi’s Italian Cooking. Should I call him Mr Manfredi? Just Manfredi, as is the academic convention for an author?
‘Manfredi’ just won’t do, though. Stefano and I have been through too much together to resort to such formality.
Thankfully, I’m not alone in feeling overly-familiar with cookbook authors. Recently I recieved an informal lesson in Jewish cooking from my friend C. As we rolled kibbeh, she told me different methods for making the dish that she had received from her mother and from ‘Claudia’. From C’s comments, I pictured Claudia as a perfectionist maiden aunt who had enough time to beat eggs before combining them with matzo meal. It turned out that she was in fact famed Jewish food historian Claudia Rodan (who is an egg-white beating perfectionist, but unfortunately not C’s maiden aunt).
Even the most tersely written cookbook is an incredibly intimate text. We learn about the life of the author from the headnote. We take advice from cookbook authors about something that is deeply personal – the food we prepare for our friends and family. At a physical level, we perform actions exactly the way the cookbook author has done before us. The relationship between cook and recipe writer involves emotional, mental and physical intimacy.
Hmm. Putting it like that, perhaps it isn’t seem so strange to use someone’s first name.
Readers, do you refer to your favorite food writers by their first name? How well do you feel you know them?