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Challenging Collaborations, what did you learn?


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Welcome to this eG Spotlight Conversation with Dorie Greenspan.

We are all looking forward to the next few days with you, Dorie. I'd like to kick this eG Conversation off with a question I have been thinking about. Looking back at your collaboration with prominent chefs, who would you say was most challenging to work with

a-Julia Child ?

b-Pierre Herme?

On the other hand, what was the most valuble thing you learned from each of them?

Thanks so much for taking the time to engage with us in this eG Conversation.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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First, many thanks to you, Elie, and to your colleagues for doing this Spotlight Conversation with me. I'm so looking forward to talking to my fellow food lovers on egullet.

To answer your question -- probably with way more information than you wanted:

Before I wrote my first book, I was thinking of collaborating with a chef and my agent said, “Collaborations are hell!” She dissuaded me from doing the project and it was only years later that I did my first collaboration – it was in 1995 and it was with Julia Child – and realized how wrong she was. At least, she was wrong for me and wrong for me with the people I ended up collaborating with. (Not such a grammatically correct sentence – but you get the idea.)

For me, the greatest challenge in a collaboration is the responsibility you have as a writer to do justice to the chefs’ work. This was the supreme challenge with both Julia and Pierre Herme, but, in each case, the reason it was so challenging was different.

I just about lived with Julia in Cambridge during the 8 weeks we shot the Baking with Julia tv series. I was there as each chef prepared his or her dish with Julia and I collected extra recipes from the chefs so I could fill out the book.

I had always expected that when the shooting was over and I’d go back to NY to write the book, that I’d be in daily consultation with Julia and that we’d figure everything out together – from the structure of the book to how the recipes would be presented, to the best information to give in the headnotes. But no! On our last night in Cambridge, when I started to lay out how I thought we could work together over the coming months, she stopped me and said, “Go home and write the book. It’s your book. I’ll read it when it’s published.” And, she was true to her word.

Julia and I spoke on the phone almost daily, but she wouldn’t work with me on the book and she didn’t read it until she had a bound galley. It was an extraordinary vote of confidence, but it was also a huge burden for me. I was responsible for presenting the recipes of 26 of the country’s best bakers and pastry chefs as well as Julia – and I knew that the world would see the book as Julia’s, making the pressure even greater.

For these reasons, I think that Baking with Julia was the most difficult project I’ve ever done.

Working with Pierre Herme brought different challenges – but again, the challenges revolved around trust and responsibility.

When Pierre and I started working together in 1996, Pierre’s English wasn’t very good and, while he could manage a conversation in English if he had to, it would have been very difficult for him to sit down and read an entire book in English under a publishing deadline, so, once again, I was pretty much on my own to write the book.

Pierre and I worked in a very unusual way. Because he was so wildly busy – when we started working together, he was the executive pastry chef at Fauchon – we laid out the book’s contents during his vacation. He and his former wife and my husband and I tucked into a beach house in Arcachon and spent a week, from sun-up to sundown, reviewing hundreds of recipes that Pierre had brought from Paris in milk crates. (Of course, we stopped for fabulous meals three times a day.)

During that week, we chose the recipes we wanted from what he had and came up with ideas for new recipes that he would create for the book. At the end of this working vacation, I returned to New York with a sheaf of recipes and my work cut out for me – I was to turn these French recipes into recipes Americans could bake at home.

I worked on the recipes in my New York kitchen, called Pierre in Paris every time I had a problem or an urgent question, and froze bits of things so that he could taste them when he came to New York or I went to Paris. Then, every few months, Pierre would come to New York and we’d work together in my narrow NY kitchen (the one in the eG Spotlight picture), so that Pierre could demonstrate specific techniques for me or work out kinks in specific recipes. Those were the best, best cooking lessons I’ve ever had!

When all the recipes were written and I had all the headnotes, I spent days with Pierre explaining to him what I’d said about each recipe and asking him for a “quote” for each recipe.

With each collaboration, I learned an incredible amount about how to work, about myself and what I was capable of, and about friendship and colleagueship. And I learned a ton about baking – especially from Pierre.

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Hi Dorie,

I echo what everyone else has already said...what a pleasure to have you here! Not only do you post on the threads related to your books, now you make yourself available to the rabid eGullet masses :laugh: . Thank you so much.

With regard to the collaboration with Pierre Herme, did you ever have the opportunity to work in his professional kitchen (Fauchon, I think, at the time)? If so, what was that experience like?

In addition, have you ever worked in a professional kitchen for any length of time? If so, how has this shaped your food/recipe writing? If not, why not?

I just finished reading "Heat" by Bill Buford and I guess my line of questioning comes from my own desire (or more my past desire) to work in Europe at obscure but fabulous patisseries to learn more about my trade. Have you ever had the desire to do this? Have you ever done so during the time you spend in Paris?

As an aside, I used to work with Frannie Rabin. If you talk to her, tell her Alana says hello!

Thanks again for your tireless contributions to eGullet and specifically the Baking and Pastry Forum.

Best,

Alana

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Alana, It's been 25 years since I worked in a professional kitchen in a capacity where someone actually had to depend on me to get desserts out. However, since that time, I've worked in many professional kitchens, but always with a chef and on a specific project.

I was in the Fauchon kitchens, but, again, to work on recipes with Pierre Herme, not to actually do anything that was needed for production.

I, too, recently read Heat, so I can really understand your desire to head off to some small wonderful place and work alongside someone who will teach you secrets. I've never had the opportunity to do this for any extended period of time, but I have had the good luck to be in many great kitchens and to learn from the chefs, if only for stretches of a few days at a time. If you can make a "Heat-dream" come true -- don't let the chance get away. Anytime you can learn new things from deeply talented people, it's a gift.

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