When a Stranger Cooks Your Food

I lost my virginity to Ron Leal. It happened recently, in the waning weeks of my fourth decade. The One was there, watching every move, every nuance on my face, as were four others, including Joseph Montebello, Ron’s partner. It wasn’t weird or freaky. In fact, it was one of the sweetest moments in memory: It was the first time someone—a virtual stranger, no less—cooked my food and served it to me and others at a dinner party.

Well, that’s not exactly true. There have been a few times that chefs have cooked from my book—most notably at the Quail Valley Country Club, in Vero Beach, FL. Chef Joe Faria whipped up a three-course dinner from The New Portuguese Table for 70 people. And it was exceptional, extraordinary. But the thing is: I expected it to be exceptional and extraordinary. He’s a chef, after all. But Ron is an ordinary guy of Portuguese descent whom I’ve met just once before, and he had the cojones to invited us over for an intimate evening of food, fun, gossip—all based upon my book.

From what I’ve been told, this is, without a doubt, an experience a cookbook author assiduously wants to avoid. Think about it: What if the cook can’t cook? What if there isn’t a dog I can surreptitiously feed my food to—or there is, but I do so too quickly and unwittingly encourage a heaping pile of seconds? What if the food just plain sucks? I’m no good at lying—blame it on Momma and Poppa Leite. In fact, I’m pathologically predisposed to creating astoundingly awkward moments as I tell you you’re falling out of your dress, you’re marrying the wrong woman, or you have a booger hanging from your nose—all of which I’ve done. (Note to self: Maybe that’s why we have so few friends.) No, this is a situation best avoided. Read more »

Mussel Bound

It’s not my custom to contemplate mussels. In fact, I don’t think about them at all, except when I see them on a menu, preferably steamed in a light white-wine broth. So on a recent trip to Nova Scotia, I was surprised to find myself so seduced and intrigued by these ancient bivalves as I followed them from a National Geographic-perfect inlet to my empty plate, in fewer than eight hours.

It began when The One and I boarded the “barge with no name,” the crown jewel of the one-vessel Indian Point Marine Farms fleet, co-owned by Peter Darnell. “We tried to name her,” Darnell said offhandedly, “but it didn’t take.” Wasn’t it tempting fate to ride in an unchristened boat, I wondered. To be on the safe side, I silently baptized her Nova Lox, a tribute to my morning breakfast. Read more »

Okay, It’s Not All About Me

This is perfect. Just perfect. Right when I finally caved to friends and family and accepted their choruses of “David, it’s always about you” that were being pounded into my head, I won the IACP’s First Book: Julia Child Award for The New Portuguese Table. Don’t get me wrong for a second: I’m utterly and totally thrilled about it. It’s an amazing honor that I’ll always cherish.

But come on people. How can I possibly make this about me?

I guess if I were an ordinary, self-centered, look-at-me-I’m-Sandra-Dee kind of  braggart, I could allow myself carte blanche to take hostages in the Kingdom of Moi and talk endlessly about me. But the truth is, I’m an embarrassment to my species (and my tagline), because all I was thinking about as I obsessively trawled Twitter on awards night were the people who were part of this journey. A decade is a long time to ruminate on, research, reject, pick up, reject again, pick up again, and—finally—complete a book. Along the way, a lot of people have proffered words of encouragement, a simple meal when I was traveling through Portugal, and threats involving substantial bodily harm if I didn’t follow through.

So here, in no particular order, are beijinhos to many who made a difference. Read more »

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