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.

First are my amazing, talented, strict, unmoving recipe testers. I know some authors have a person or two who test their recipes after perfecting them, but I had 14. I made every recipe at least three times, and then it was unleashed unto this great rabble of testers in two countries to see if what I imagined could be assembled from ingredients found in their local stores and cooked in their kitchens. Not only did they fill out the enormous questionnaires I created, they also took pictures of the dishes. And it was there, amid piles of paper and slideshows filled with images—from the scary to the sublime—that I chose what recipes would finally make it into the book.

But it wasn’t always such a simple, glitchless process. Sometimes a recipe had to be made over and over again, which was the case with the ultra-popular Orange-Olive Cake. Translating the recipe to English and the ingredients to American foodstuffs was tough. I think Cindi Kruth and I made it 13 times before unleashing it. And then there was the maionese de leite, or milk “mayonnaise,” which has made the rounds of blogs and Web sites, not to mention print publications. In trying to find the exact timing for the emulsion to take hold, tester Patton Conner and I were on the phone, blenders at the ready: “Okay, on the count of three,” I’d say right before we both flipped the “on” switches. We waited in silence until we saw the mixture thickening and the first burps of mayo spattering in the canister. “Time?!” I’d shout over the whirring of the Oster. Inevitably, we were never exactly in sync, but after going through gallons of milk, we finally were able to get a range that worked for the home cook. Then we moved on to the variations—a whole other science project.

Most recipes, though, worked the first time they were sent out and the comments from all 14 testers helped to polish them to a high-glass sheen, because each tester has his or her cooking bête noir. Cindi doesn’t like dirtying more pans than needed. Dan Kraan dislikes having to use measuring spoons for liquids before dry ingredients, as the dry would stick. Janet Boileau, who has become a Portuguese culinary expert, refuses to cook with any substitution. Her solution? She scoured D.C., where she lived, and New Jersey’s Portuguese Ironbound section, where I would accompany her, until she found the precise type of sausage, the exact type of pepper, the recommended  vinegar. (My kind of gal.) The others were no less obsessive: Leanne Abe, Duane DeMello, Tran Doan, Susan Hillery, Susan Bingaman, Adrienne Lee, Elie W. Nassar, Maria Peplowski, Vicki Ventura, and Dede Eran.

Nuno Correia, my photographer, and I must have signed our contract during Mercury Retrograde, because everything we agreed upon fell through. The biggest blow was when I had to tell him I couldn’t shoot in Portugal, the original plan, because  the meat butchery system is different; Portuguese flour, butter, and sugar act differently, hell, just about everything acts differently. As a result, nothing would behave like it would in an American kitchen. Undaunted, Nuno simply said, “I’ll come to New York.” He bunked with me in my apartment for two weeks while we shot the entire book. During that time he went from colleague to friend, and he will be the first person I’ll turn to for my next book. (More on that later.)

The list goes on and on—from everyone at Clarkson Potter to my agent, David Black, to Jaden Hair, who I understand screamed loudly when I won (but still was coherent enough to shoot these pictures) to Dianne Jacob (that’s her accepting the award for me and subduing Judith Jones, who was trying to grab the mike) to my parents (if it weren’t for them I’d have written abook on croissants, or something) to, natch, The One. He put up with me everyday for a decade as I blathered on about “the book, the book, the book.” Truly, thank you all.

And we now return to our regularly scheduled program of narcissism already in progress.

David Leite's signature



  1. David! Congrats on your award- tis well-deserved. You are far too modest. Savour every moment. I look forward to purchasing your next book.

    Ate cualquer dia.

    Catarina :):)

    1. Cara Catarina, obrigado. I must admit modesty isn’t my forté, but in this case, so many people were a part of they process, they deserved a top ‘o the hat.

  2. Congratulations, David!

    Well deserved acknowledgement of a gracious guy. What about a West Coast recipe testing corps for the next book? Sign me up!



  3. Hi David,

    I was delighted to hear your name called out at the IACP awards-and your fabulous book winning the Julia Child award for first book. I was disappointed that you weren’t there! We need to get you out to Portland!!

  4. Parabéns David!

    I am absolutely delighted about your win! So well-deserved! The Portuguese Table is gorgeous. Your articles – – charming! Your website is one of my favourite sources for recipes and articles. So why shouldn’t it be about you?!

    Quite a few of the recipes in your book are familiar to me being a mutt (mom is from S. Miguel and dad from Alentejo). I love that you’ve added new twists to old favourites. I couldn’t wait until this book came out (mom got a copy too!) and cannot wait until your next book. Just let The One know that his sacrifices are appreciated by many of your foodie fans.

    Beijos e abraços,
    Beth Pereira

    1. Beth, much appreciated! I’m always so happy when a Portuguese cook enjoys the recipes.

      I hope you won’t have to wait too long for the next book. Just have to get the proposal written and get the publisher to buy it! (Thank God for agents.)

      I’ll pass on your kind words to The One!

  5. Congratulations again, David! It was a well deserved honor. There’s a saying in Hebrew that translates “may you go from strength to strength.” I look forward to the next book.


    1. Thank you, Sue. You won’t believe this: That’s exactly what my agent said to me when we discusses what to do next, which is why I’m working on a proposal for another cookbook!

  6. Congratulations, David – you’ve really earned it with your wonderful book – hope I’m around for the next one.

  7. What a coup! Congratulations! I am thrilled for you, really. And of course, my husband was pleased that you decided to celebrate by posting a picture of his “ideal woman”, Sandra Dee. Now I won’t be getting any for the next few days–thanks a lot, David…lol…

  8. Oh David, will the well-deserved kudos never end? Should (or rather when) another book come to fruition, I’m hereby volunteering as a recipe tester. It’s the least I can do for my fiancé. lol

  9. Heartfelt congratulations! What an amazing feeling that must have been. And how wonderful to be able to share it with all those who had a hand in making the book a success. Bravo!

    If you are in need of another recipe tester for your next book, I’m available. :)

  10. David, you won because you are a beautiful writer. That’s in addition to good recipes that work, and good timing on the subject matter.

    I remember visiting you in Connecticut and helping you cook and test a few recipes. So much fun, and a lesson in your devotion to perfection.

    I hope to continue as your good luck charm at IACP. You didn’t mention that I also accepted for you when you won your IACP award for magazine writing. Got a link to that somewhere on the site?

    Happy to accept for you anytime, bud. XO

    1. Yes, you are my good luck charm. In fact, if I ever get audited, you’re going in my place. Same for any kind of surgery, too. The “Tales of a Super Taster” article isn’t up. Somehow I must have forgotten to repost. Will do soon.

    1. But then if I spill the beans, how to I keep making it all about me? It’s the suspense that’ll keep you hooked. (When, and if, I get the contract, you be one of the first to know…for many reasons.) Hmmm, was that a clue?

  11. Dear David:
    The book is fantastic, and every congratulation–even the self-inflicted–is well deserved. Hooray!

  12. David – I am so proud of you and that book! It still holds the place of honor on our bookshelf and if you let it fall open, it would fall to either the goat cheese appetizers or the olive dip! The maionese de leite I’ve made enough to whip up by heart.

    Please tell me there won’t be any whole squid to deal with in your next book.

    1. Leanne, for me: the olive dip, and I’m not even a big olive guy.

      Can’t promise there won’t be squid in the next book, but I can promise you won’t have to test it. How’s that?

  13. I offered my congratulations in a comment to a different post, but I just wanted to say it again! Congratulations! Even though I’ve never met you, nor had any personal contact, I was very happy for you when I saw you had won. I hope your next book is just as good, if not better! :-)

    1. Rona, thank you, that’s very kind of you! Keep an eye peeled here, and you’ll see little hints about the new book—which is still in the proposal stage. (Think first trimester….)

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