The Secret World of Celebrity Catering with Mary Giuliani | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 311RR
May 20, 2022

The Secret World of Celebrity Catering with Mary Giuliani

The Secret World of Celebrity Catering with Mary Giuliani

Mary Giuliani, the author of catering tell-all “Tiny Hot Dogs,” idolizes Steve Martin in "The Jerk," raises a murderous turtle and has a solution for any and every party disaster. Plus: We visit a Bhutanese Senior Lunch in Vermont; Adam Gopnik sells the role of coffee in civilization; and we dig into Soupe au Pistou from Provence.

Questions in this Episode:

“I was recently in Barcelona where I had a wonderful ricotta gelato. The flavor I had was orange-chocolate. Can you help me figure out how to recreate this at home in North Carolina?”

“Why use cast iron vs. enamel coated cast iron (Dutch oven)? Is the only advantage the buildup of flavor? I feel like there is so much care and seasoning involved with cast iron, it’s a lot easier to just grab a Dutch oven.”

“I have been using my Instant Pot and organic chicken to make hearty strong chicken stock. My issue is that the cooled stock has great gelatinous quality, but the fat does not separate into a top layer for removing. The fat seems to stay emulsified in the stock. I would think this has to do with the long cooking time under pressure, but the same thing does not happen if I duplicate the process using cheaper grocery store poultry. Any idea why this happens?”

“I make sourdough pancakes. My question is comparing the sourdough pancakes to regular pancakes. With regular pancakes (or muffins or quick breads), you do the minimum of stirring to not develop the gluten. With my sourdough pancakes, I stir the first starter mixture thoroughly and then in the morning I stir in the other ingredients with no concern about gluten. Why do I worry about gluten in regular pancakes and not in sourdough pancakes? Or should I be making my sourdough pancakes differently?”

Mary Giuliani In Kitchen 1


Christopher Kimball: Hi, this is Christopher Kimball. Thanks for downloading this week's podcast. You can go to our website 177 Milk Street.com for our recipes, culinary ideas from around the world, or our latest cookbooks. Now here's this week's show. This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. today I'm chatting with caterers to the stars Mary Giuliani. Over the last 15 years, she's become a hot caterer for the worlds of art, fashion, and entertainment. But growing up she had different ambitions she dreamed of being a famous actress and of being Jewish.

Mary Giuliani: Well, we were so Italian we couldn't have been more Italian if we tried. But I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. So, all I really wanted to be was like my friends. I wanted to be Jewish. So yes, I went to Hebrew school actively. I gave myself my very own bat mitzvah in my house by myself. And I applied to the Shabbos goy program and to push the elevators for the Orthodox Jews at the hospital on Saturdays.

CK: Also coming up, we dig into Soupe au Pistou from Provence and explain how to make your pasta water starchier. But first reporter Otis Gray recounts his trip to a senior citizen lunch in Burlington, Vermont. That brings together Bhutanese refugees and New England old timers. The lunch is hosted by a program called New Farms for New Americans. Otis how are you?

Otis Gray: I'm fantastic.

CK: You know, Vermont's an interesting place. But I don't think of it as sort of on the cutting edge of other cultures, different foods, but New Farms for New Americans is quite the opposite.

OG: That's true. The concept for New Farms for New Americans is there are refugees that are getting resettled into Vermont. So New Farms for New Americans it's a group that helps all these people coming into the state, logistically get farmland and learn how to use our soil to grow their indigenous crops on Vermont ground. So, there's, I think about six to seven different ethnicities that are within the group, but primarily Bhutanese.

CK: So, you went up to a Bhutanese senior lunch? Well, first of all, what is the Bhutanese senior lunch, why were you there and what was the like?

OG: So, the Bhutanese senior lunch, there is a senior center in Burlington that caters to both immigrants and native Vermonters they were having these lunches every Wednesday, all the seniors could come by and get a really nice discounted lunch and there's games and a lot of the folks that were going to these were Bhutanese, but Alicia Laramie, who is the coordinator at New Farms for New Americans. She was seeing that the Bhutanese seniors weren't really liking the food that was being served.

Alicia Laramie: So, at first the as the Senior Center was wanting to recruit new Americans, they were offering only food that wasn't very appealing to the Bhutanese seniors.

CK: This other food is is overcooked pork roast, mashed potatoes, Jell-O salad

OG: What you think would be served at American senior senior lunch, yeah. So, Alicia thought, we have this amazing cook in our ranks, who was a refugee that came in in 2013. And her name is Dolly Munger. And they said, why don't we have her start cooking for the senior lunches.

CK: So, tell me a little bit about Dolly.

OG: Dolly is she's about 4’10’ and you'll never see her without a smile on her face. But she was just moving around this kitchen like she owned the place. And there were a lot of other people in the kitchen using it and there was definitely a kind of respect for her. She's very generous. She was she was very happy to make me try everything that she was cooking.

Dolly Munger: Ready to go in the belly,

OG: It’s ready to go in the belly.

CK: So, the refugees who come to Vermont, they come because in their home country, there's violence, they fear for their lives. Is that why?

OG: Yep, some of them they do. And a lot of it is religious persecution and ethnic persecution. The national religion of Bhutan is Buddhism. And there are little sects of Christianity throughout the country, but they aren't really accepted by the government, and some have been forced to leave of the last 20 - 30 years. So, people like Dolly, she fled Bhutan,

Dolly: so in Nepal, I spend refugee life for 20 to 23 years that life was, you know, we have to survive depends on other people, other NGOs or something like that

CK: 23 years?

OG: 23 years and the average that people spent in these refugee camps who have fled Bhutan was 18 years, which was really shocking to hear. So, Dolly was actually doing a lot of cooking in these refugee camps. She was just kind of known as a really great cook. So, when she came here in 2013, a couple years later, when you know, Alicia Laramie saw that a lot of the Bhutanese seniors weren't loving the food that was being served. They brought her on board.

CK: So, could you just describe the fundamental flavor profile of Bhutanese food which I assume would be slightly different then Vermont fare

OG: Incredibly different. There's a lot of bitter foods. Bitter eggplant, bitter melon is a really big part of the cuisine

CK: Which is very bitter,

OG: Very bitter. Dolly had me try a bitter melon curry. And it was so so delicious.

Dolly: This taste is bitter. That's why it’s called bitter melon. So, if you have like a behavior problem angry in and the pressure is so high. People in our community, tell us take bitter melon and make him calm down.

OG: The other big part of their profile is they love their spice, and I mean, hot, hot, spicy food. One funny part was Dolly she was kind of holding some chilies to me asking me if I like spicy. Like yeah, I like spicy. And she she put a couple out for me these long, thin green chilies and she kind of nodded. You know, like, is that enough for you? And I asked what how many would you have?

Dolly: I don't know. Ten

OG: Ten. So, I can only handle three.

Dolly: Yeah, it's very hot

OG: Yeah. Then we can do three. I trust you. I trust you.

Dolly: Three, good.

OG: I can handle it.

Dolly: Hot.

CK: There’s something kind of charming about that phrase, the Bhutanese senior lunch,

OG: Right?

CK: I mean, it could be a Hollywood movie, or something isn't right,

OG: Every Wednesday in Vermont.

CK: So, the two groups the the local Vermonters and the Bhutanese. Do they sit apart? Do they sit together? Do they get along?

OG: I would say there's definitely a divide. But they get along really great. And here's what Alicia told me.

Alicia: It's awesome because you go up there and you've got Bhutanese seniors playing cards with seniors who are from Vermont, and nobody can talk to each other. But they know how to play cards and gamble a little bit.

OG: A universal language food and poker.

Alicia: Yeah. I guess so

OG: So, there's a lot of cross pollination between the Vermonters and the Bhutanese and kind of the experimenting with the food. There was one lady named Martha Ullman. She was an older woman, and she absolutely loved the Bhutanese food. That being said, she was very aware that a lot of other Vermonters would not like it as much.

Martha Ullman: I think it's much too spicy for them and they don't eat it. Because they're not Americans. You know eat meat and potatoes. I don't know why they haven't branched out into spices.

OG: And then I talked to a gentleman named __and he spent 22 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming here. And he'll say, the weather is tough.

Bhutanese Woman: I guess, every time I miss Bhutan, because the weather was really nice there. Everything was really nice. So, we didn't have to go for a doctor's visit. And then yeah, I miss every time.

CK: You know, this story of 280 refugees coming to Northwest Vermont, trying to grow the food from their homeland, recreating the cuisine from their homeland. The people, the culture, the language are different. Do you get a sense that this is just a very difficult experience or are you more hopeful?

OG: I wouldn't say that it's just it's not an easy thing that they're doing. They spent a long time in a place that they couldn't call home, and now they're in a completely foreign environment. That being said, they do have this really little community here, and there's something to be said for that.

CK: Otis, thank you very much.

OG: Thank you.

CK: That was reporter Otis Gray. It's time to answer a few of your culinary questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking One on One and the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sara, are you ready?

Sara Moulton: I am so ready, Chris. Welcome to Milk Street. Who do we have on the line?

Caller: Hi, my name is Sue and is in North Carolina.

SM: Well, hello how can we help you today?

Caller: I was recently in Barcelona.

SM; Oh nice

Caller: And we had this wonderful, wonderful ricotta gelato. And I was trying to recreate that at home. I've had some success, but not quite there yet.

SM: Tell us what you loved about this gelato.

Caller: It's light and not too sweet. The particular flavor that I had was orange chocolate, so it has orange zest and little, tiny chocolate bits.

CK: Well, we actually did a dessert we did a ricotta orange chocolate tart, based on the same concept.

Caller: Really

SM: Yeah, it's sort of like the stuffing in a canola. Orange and the chocolate

CK: I made that recently yeah, it's excellent.

SM: You've already said you've tried it and you like it. How is yours different than the one you had in Barcelona?

Caller: It's not as orangey and it's not quite as silky

SM: Creamy

Caller: Yeah.

CK: Do you use an electric ice cream maker when you do it?

Caller: Yes.

SM: Tell us the recipe.

Caller: I make the ricotta because I don't have good ricotta in the grocery stores here. So, it’s Ricotta. Well, I have a steam oven so it's pretty easy.

CK: Steam oven? That's man you’re serious

SM: This is serious.

CK: That's pretty cool.

SM: I don’t know

CK: Okay,

SM: Okay keep going

Caller: One 2/3 cup ricotta, a cup of cream, a cup of milk, two tablespoons of bourbon, and a little touch of salt. And then three ounces of cream cheese.

SM: And how much sugar?

Caller: About a cup

CK: Well, let me ask again about the ice cream maker. Is this one of those makers where you freeze the insert overnight in the freezer or is this like a very expensive unit that has the freezing unit is part of it?

Caller: No, this is put the antifreeze loaded

CK: Right into the freezer. I've used those and I've also used high end ones. And I’ve got to tell you the high-end ones make much better ice cream. I think the problem is very few there. Yeah, those less expensive put the sleeve in the freezer overnight. The problem is that they don't stay cold enough when you're making the ice cream and they just don't seem to work as well. So, my guess is they're dealing with very expensive ice cream makers. And that's why

SM: I'm sure they are

CK: They get colder, and they get more paddle action. So, the crystals end up being smaller. Now the only thing you could do is Sara asked you about the sugar up the sugar by quarter cup. The more sugar you use, the smoother the ice cream is going to be, you know, here's the trick with some of the the mixture into the ice cream machine and start to freeze it and then add the rest a few minutes later. And you get a very quick crystallization which means you get smaller crystals. The other thing is the more alcohol you use the also the smoother the ice cream, but I would try more sugar you could try more fat, try more alcohol, all those are things will give you something smoother.

SM: It might make a difference if you could find yourself source some really good quality candied citrus to put in there because that's what they probably used. And It’ll give you a nicer two little chunks of candied citrus in there would be terrific. Right, Chris? Don't you think?

CK: Yeah, there's a big difference in quality that's true. Yeah. The machine you have is really part of the problem.

SM: Yeah. Okay. Well, listen, thanks for calling.

CK: Thank you. Bye bye

Caller: Thank you Bye bye.

CK: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Brendan from Fresno, California.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: All right. Well, I it seems like everybody's using cast iron pans and pots and seems like it's the new trendy thing.

SM: You're talking to Mr. Cast iron right now. He's right there over there. You’ve came to the right place.

Caller: Okay, good. You know, I've always kind of wanted one, but I've always hesitated to pull the trigger just because it seems like so much work to maintain it to season it seems like there's so many rules surrounding it. So, my question is, how is that different than just getting an enamel coated cast iron?

CK: Well, the most useful piece of cookware in my kitchen is enamel cast iron. Le Creuset, a classic brand. There are others out there.

SM: You mean Dutch oven?

CK: Yeah, the Dutch oven and I get a seven quart if you can, not a six quart is larger. You know, I do pasta water in it. I do stews, soups, I cook almost everything in it. And it's nonreactive of course, and they're expensive. They're over 200 bucks, but they're worth buying and will last forever. You should know the enamel coating inside will look dirty over time. But that just means it's got street credits. However, cast iron a 10 or 12-inch cast iron skillet which is very inexpensive. 40 bucks is definitely worth having. And if you're going to do a steak for example, it really conducts heat very well. It's a little rougher surface which is also nice for sauteing. We also use it for lots of other things like heating up and seasoning spices like whole spices, doing them in that. So, it's good for lots of things, especially searing meat over high heat.

SM: Yeah, I would say that the thing about regular cast iron is you can sear a steak beautifully and it's not the same in the coated. No, essentially, it's good to have both. I mean, you really want a Dutch oven anyway.

CK: Well, I've cooked I used to have two cast iron Dutch ovens I used a lot too, but the reactive problem is an issue of vinegar, tomatoes, etc.

SM: Right. uncoated will react with vinegar.

CK: There's one other pan you might consider which is a 10-inch carbon steel pan. It's very smooth. If you know how to season and keep it seasoned properly. It is nonstick, I do scrambled eggs in it all the time. And they cost like 17 bucks or 20 bucks. They're very inexpensive. So, a 10-inch carbon steel I'd add so a seven-quart enameled Dutch oven, a 10-inch carbon steel and a 12-inch cast iron skillet.

SM: And Chris so you want to just take Brandon through quickly how you season a cast iron pan,

CK: You heat it up add a tablespoon run the oil, run the oil with a paper towel off surface and then we'll start smoking, take it off the heat. Rub the towels again. So, it really gets in, let it cool down. Repeat that four or five times. Every time you use it. When you're finished with it heated up, clean it out. Don't use soap or anything abrasive, dry it, heat it up, put a tablespoon oil in it, rub the oil on the inside. And when it starts to smoke, take it off the heat. If you do that every time you use it.

SM: It'll get really non-stick.

CK: It'll really get nice. And anytime you have a problem, you can always take something slightly abrasive, but I use his salt, kosher salt and oil, heat that up in the pan and then use that take off any of the rough spots. Clean it out and then heat it up, oil it.

Caller: Okay, well that makes sense. Yeah. Thank you very much. Okay, Brandon. Thanks. All right. Take care. Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are ready to solve your greatest culinary mysteries. Just give us a ring 855-426-9843 one more time slowly 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: This is Catherine calling from the mountains of North Carolina.

SM: How can we help you?

Caller: I use my instant pot about once a week to make chicken broth. But the question is really about the way the fat behaves when I'm making it in the Instant Pot. When I use organic chicken, I end up with the fat emulsified throughout the broth. But when I use nonorganic chicken, when I chill it down, it ends up making that nice layer of fat that you can take off the broth on the end. So, I tested it. I used chicken one way and chicken the other way. And it proved my point. But I'm not sure if that it wasn't a controlled study.

CK: How are you cooking the chicken, how long and etc.

Caller: I use chicken drumsticks. And I put in two packages of those. And I cook it for about 90 minutes on high pressure. And then I take it out and just maybe pull off a little bit of the meat and break it up a little bit more, put it back in maybe add a little bit more liquid and cook it for about another 90 minutes.

SM: No, I think it's too long.

CK: I think an hour under high pressure with a bunch of water obviously and the chicken whatever else you want. That'll make great stock. And if you want to concentrate stock just you know, strain it out and you can cook down stove. But you're cooking, like three hours in it may be under pressure that that fat is getting emulsified into the liquid. But an hour would be fine. You don't need to cook it for three hours.

SM: Here's another question. Do you think that organic chicken is perhaps leaner? Because it might be that the traditional chicken just has more fat?

CK: That’s actually an excellent point.

Caller: It's really just the difference of a brand name that's organic versus a brand name that's not

CK: Organic isn't necessarily leaner than non

SM: No, no not necessarily,

CK: Alright I think in our in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, whatever you want to call it is fine it and it makes very good stock I've done it. I just think that's all you need to do. I don't think you're going to extract that much more flavor after an hour under pressure.

SM: But then, if you want to concentrate it even more, just boil it down.

Caller: I think that's a good tip right there yeah

SM: Keep in mind that when you make a stock you don't add salt. So, what you can do if you've made it and you've strained it is take a little spoonful out sprinkle a little salt in it, try that and see how you like it. And it might actually be strong enough and reduced enough you might like it right then and there. But if it still tastes sort of weak and boring, then boil it down.

CK: You know the Chinese have a recipe for white cooked chicken, you take a whole chicken, cook it for roughly an hour in simmering water, take it out and use the chicken for salad or whatever you're going to do. And then you have a stock pot full of stock and that works just fine. And you can throw in some ginger and scallions and other things if you'd like, and you can just simply reduce that down.

SM: How do you know that the fat has emulsified? What does that stock look like? Is it very cloudy?

Caller: Well like if I fridge it, you know, put it chill it overnight, I'm expecting the next morning to find a good, you know, quarter inch or so

SM: But does it look any different than the other one in terms of the actual stock part of it the part that's not the fat

Caller: When it hasn't risen to the top. When I take a little scoop of it out and I let it come to room temperature and go back to being liquid. You can tell that it's greasier it has that mouthfeel where you can kind of feel like you're eating the fat.

CK: I agree with Sara I think one of the chickens is fattier than the other.

SM: Right

CK: And I think three hours in a pressure cooker somehow emulsifies the fat into the water to the point that it doesn't separate when chilled that's what I think which is not based on any kind of what I've science, but I think that's what's going on.

SM: Yeah

Caller: Yeah, I'll try just doing it for less time and see if I get as good of broth and still be able to take the fat out. Yeah, that makes sense.

CK: Good for you.

Caller: Well, thank you. Thank you okay

CK: Thanks for calling

.

SM: All right. Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: I'm Peg from Dane, Wisconsin, which is near Madison.

SM: Well, hello and welcome. How can we help you today?

Caller: Well, I make sourdough pancakes.

SM: Oh, impressive.

Caller: Usually when you make pancakes, you stir them just enough to mix the wet and the dry ingredients, so you don't develop the gluten too much. But with sourdough pancakes, you really have to stir them a lot when you mix the egg in the milk into the sourdough sponge. So why don't I worry about gluten?

SM: Well, I'm not a big sourdough aficionado, but I think I've heard that sourdough doesn't have the same sort of gluten structure. Or at least that sponge is regular flour.

CK: But she's got a starter that's already a lot of gluten has been developed. But let's go back. Let's go back. So, when you make your sourdough pancakes, and you add in the final ingredients that morning, what are you adding in and how much do you stir it?

Caller: I have a sponge that sits overnight.

CK: So, in other words, you start with a starter, you add some flour and water to that and let that sit overnight.

Caller: Yes.

CK: Okay. And then you add an eggs and egg and milk and a teaspoon of sugar. A teaspoon of oil.

SM: Well, let me ask you a question. How do you like your pancakes? I mean, are they good?

Caller: Yes. Although they're kind of thin. They aren't as big and fluffy. Like the pancakes that's you get at a restaurant.

CK: But have better flavor?

Caller: Yes,

CK: Yeah, it's all about flavor. First of all, you have a lot of fat, right in a pancake as opposed to a regular bread, like a European bread. So that's going to change the formula a little bit. And I would think if you did over mix, a sourdough pancake, you probably wouldn't get as fluffy as a pancake. Have you tried barely mixing it in at the end? Like with a whisk, but do it very slowly.

Caller: I haven't tried that. The starter itself is fairly thick, right? So, when you mix the egg and the milk in, at first it looks like it's never going to get in there

CK: So, you have to stir it a fair amount.

SM: Have you ever made a souffle, and you have the base and then you have the leavener and the leaveners really light and the base is really thick. So, you lighten the base and then you fold in the rest of the leavener. Which would be egg whites. In this case, maybe you could do the same as lighten the base with some of the liquid. And then just gently stir in the rest. Just a thought

Caller: Oh yes

CK: That’s a good idea. I think Sara was right,

SM: And give that a shot and let us know.

CK: And I would also try just really gently incorporating the final ingredients to see if you get a thicker pancake. One way to do it is to use a whisk with really big thick tines sort of a big whisk and use that to stir the ingredients together. You don't whisk it, and it does a very nice job blending in but just take it easy. That might be a good way to incorporate something thick with something thin.

Caller: Oh, nice.

CK: Yeah. Anyway, good for you.

SM: Yeah, I'm impressed.

CK: Sourdough pancakes are great

SM: I want to come to your place and have breakfast. Sounds yummy

Caller: with with elderberry syrup. That grow in my yard.

SM: Great,

CK: Thank you. I’ll give both of those a try.

SM: Yes.

Caller: Thanks. I love your podcast.

CK: Thank you. Take care

Caller: Thank you. Bye.

Caller: Bye. Bye.

CK: You know, I love it when you get a call like that. Because next time someone says, well, nobody's cooking in America anymore. You just go like, well, yeah, she's making sourdough pancakes with elderberry syrup.

SM: Yeah, when people call in, they're serious.

CK: I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next my interview with Mary Giuliani caterer to the stars and author of Tiny Hot Dogs Memoir in Small Bites. That's right after the break. This is Milk Street Radio I'm Christopher Kimball. Today it's my interview with Mary Giuliani. She's the founder of Mary Giuliani Catering and Events and also the author of Tiny Hot Dogs Memoir in Small Bites. Mary, welcome to Milk Street.

Mary Giuliani: Thank you, Christopher. I'm so happy to be here.

CK: So, you were, you were, admittedly a piece of work growing up. So, you want, you talk about you wanted to be Jewish?

MG: Yes. Oh, we were so Italian. We couldn't have been more Italian if we tried. And it was my parents, my sister, and my grandparents. You know, we're the kind of Italians that cooked all day on Saturday for Sunday dinner. But I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. So, all I really wanted to be was like my friends. I wanted to be Jewish. So yes, I went to Hebrew school actively. I gave myself my very own bat mitzvah in my house by myself. And I applied to the Shabbos Goy program to push the elevators for the Orthodox Jews at the hospital on Saturdays.

CK: Nice. Your mother is also interesting. She had lots of advice for you. Stay safe. Don't be adventurous, like the Kennedys, which I think is yes. What are the strangest things. Be a wife in public and a girlfriend in the bedroom and then she did a dance for you?

MG: Yes. I was it was the night of my wedding. Where the night before my wedding. She was actually ironing my veil in the kitchen. And I said So mom, you know, even dad, at this point, have been married for about 40 something years. I said, you know what, any advice for me the night before I get married? And she said, oh yes, Mary, and she put the iron down. She came in front of the ironing board and said, always be a lady in public, but a girlfriend in the bedroom and do a little dance and she started to sing Tina Turner's Private Dancer for me, grabbed her knees, a little choreographed routine and said, I sometimes do this for your dad. And I don't know if I needed to necessarily know that. (Know that) or see it. But yeah, she's she's a character. And she she was the big cook in our family. And so, everything I learned from life, love, sex, drugs, rock & roll, whatever it was, was from my mother while she was cooking. And in the book yeah, like you saw, there's a lot of funny things like put your socks and your panties on and

CK: which is advice that you even admitted in your book you didn't quite understand?

MG: Not at all. We I called her because I had found a mouse in my first apartment. And I was scared to go to bed with it on the loose. I couldn't trap it or anything. And then she without skipping a beat. She just said, oh, Mary just put your socks and your panties on, and you'll be fine. Again.

CK: Thanks, Mom.

MG: Yeah. Thanks, Mom. So, a lot of

CK: Good life advice. Yeah,

MG: Yeah, I guess so.

CK: So, Captain and Tinel figured into your life. And also, your sort of love letters based on Captain and Tinell and the turtles.

MG: Yes, I Ryan and I would my it's my husband and I, when we first moved to New York, we took a walk down to a street fair. And they were selling little tiny turtles, which are totally illegal now or were then I don't know. And we named them the captain and Tinel. And we came up with this whole life of who they were. And they were 70s stars, and they ate fondue and raclette and drank Dubonnet and my husband and I will leave each other notes I would leave I would be Tinel leaving the Captain notes, and vice versa. And their love grew. In our notes. They traveled to Mount Airy lodge they were learning learning Italian, they, they thought about being a mother, but concluded that Tinel was far too lazy to mother and, and then one day, 10 years later, and this is very true. They had swum harmoniously side by side. Then the captain ate Tinel killed her. And we'd gone to bed and came up and it was like a murder scene. And it was horrible. I'm not going to spare you the details, but it wasn't pretty for poor Tinel. And then this love story became this mystery for us. Like what after 10 years made him crack. You know, was it too many muskrat ___ she sang, or we weren't sure that I would do it by the way. I think so. Ended up what it was. But (um) yeah. And then we started the new narrative. He took on a new young girlfriend and got a boat called Recovery. So, he became this he became love to now a criminal and now he still floats around by himself in the tank. But I don't have the same love for him now because he's a murderer.

CK: Yeah, it's hard to love someone who killed his wife turtle. (Yeah). So, you always want to be an actress and obviously through your book you are because everything seems larger than life, but you get into catering. So, explain to me the catering business. It just sounds like the world's worst business in terms of disasters, managing people, food, anything can go wrong. How do you make a success of being a caterer?

MG: Yeah, it's it's controlled chaos. It's learning data control chaos. And yeah, I had, I had no true catering aspirations. A graduate of Georgetown English major came to the city was going to be a writer. I was going to be the next Gilda Radner. I was going to Saturday Night Live and took a job in this catering company to just pay the bills. And I was there for all of a month before I realized that, oh, no, this is actually what I want to be when I grow up. Because there's an element of theatrics in catering every every party is different, you have the ability to create environments. So, what I think makes a successful catering company is absolute number one is organization. You have to be creative; you have to keep people entertained, especially my clients are mostly in the art fashion entertainment world. So, you want to always make sure that they they're seeing something new.

CK: So, so would you say something new give me an example of a theme or a way of creating a catered event that was different for people?

MG: Yeah well, I always liked simple and special, I will just serve pigs in a blanket and martinis sometimes if you come over to my house and

CK: Pigs in a blanket being your main theme in food

MG: Being the main food and with a whole bunch of assorted toppings and things you wouldn't think to put on that, you know, so I like to test the boundaries in catering because I feel like you could make up all the rules and that's what I like. You go to a restaurant, you know what you're going to get, you're going to order a first course, an entree and a dessert with catering. You could serve it inside, you could serve it outside, you could serve it in a bathtub like there's just you can play around with the fantasy of food and beverage experiencing it in a different way.

CK: Alec Baldwin, you were thrilled he came into the kitchen, and it was a little disappointing I guess

MG: Well, I think I talked about in the book that my heroes Steve Martin’s character in the film The Jerk Nevin Johnson, who was delusionally optimistic. And so, everything I do, there's a level of delusional optimism. And I think that's also propelled me and my career big time. So, I was doing a party in the Hamptons and Alec Baldwin was there. And this was, I joke in the book, but it's true is pre- ___. This was like fat Alec Baldwin, like I liked fat Alec Baldwin, who was like a little messy and a little crazy. And this was that time. And this was just a party that every single name you knew was in the other room and no one comes into the kitchen. You're just the caterer, you don't even I don't even often sometimes see the dining room. I mean, in some of the places we cater.

CK: Wait, wait, wait as a caterer or sometimes all you see is the kitchen, you're never allowed into the rest of the house?

MG: Yes, there are clients that I have that have kitchens behind their kitchens that blew my mind.

CK: You mean a catering kitchen,

MG: A catering kitchen behind a show kitchen. It's just wild. It's just wild. So, this was one of those and Alec Baldwin was there. And he came into the kitchen, which no one was coming into the kitchen other than the waitstaff to pick up the food. And he said, you know who's in charge, and I just wow, it was those blue eyes. And my Alec was there, and he was my crush, and came in and said what's for dinner tonight? And I was like, do you like Italian (ha ha) and we weren't serving Italian but… and then he came in like he had an important and we because I felt like we were sort of hitting it off. And then he left. And then he came back in again. And by the third time he came in, I had convinced myself that we had this romance going on. And I was going to leave my worldly life behind my wonderful husband and my dog Stanley at the time. And I was going to run off with Alec Baldwin. And he came back the third time and said, can I ask you a question? And I was just ready.

CK: That was the moment

MG: I was ready. And I yes, Alec. And he said, can you give me a Diet Coke there's none available at the bar. And my captain said I poured the saddest Diet Coke he'd ever seen and handed it to him. And with that, the romance was over. And I got to go home and back to my life thankfully.

CK: Well, this is the way you like The Jerk because he's just he's optimistic for no good reason

MG: Oh, everything. He sees his name in the phonebook and things are going to start happening for me now. And I really do approach each day like that. My business partner just rolls her eyes at me. But (um) it's a fun way to go through life and it's worked for me. So, thank you, Nevin Johnson.

CK: Everyone asks you this question, but I just have to ask which is give me give me two things a worst-case scenario that is the worst experience you've had and then maybe one of the best.

MG: Okay. Worst case scenario was one time a wedding cake didn't show up and that's terrifying and

CK: Well, wait, wait, wait, wait. So, the wedding cake didn't show up on the day of the wedding

MG: On the day of the wedding

CK: And why It didn't show up?

MG: It just the baker had the wrong date on his calendar. And so that was traumatic. But thankfully, the bride and groom were amazingly kind. And we had to actually go to dare I say a Wegmans and get a cake and try to make it pretty. And that they took it with such ease. I was like, you know what, these these folks are going to be married for a while, I think,

CK: Yeah, this marriage is going to last right.

MG: And I don't know the best for me. And this is going to sound so cliche, but like, whenever at the end, when you could look out and you see you've, you've made someone happy by the food or drink you serve them, or you know how you fluff the pillows or put the table outside instead of inside. I don't know, that's, that's kind of the way you do it. It's the good stuff.

CK: Since you are in the catering business, if you went to a catered party, how would you look at the party, from your perspective it’s like, how does a restauranteur view walking into somebody else's restaurant? What do you look for?

MG: Christopher it's funny, I love being a guest, because I'm always so often not. So, you know, it's funny, people are always like, what do you think of the cake? What do you think of the the filet and I'm like, I'm just so happy. I'm not working. But you know, you look for the things like I always think, but an entrance and an exit. Those are your big like theater, you know, you catch them in the beginning, you make sure something nice happens in the middle. And hopefully they leave wanting more. So, I look for that when I'm when I'm not doing the party. You know, how was I? How are we greeted, are the drinks ready? You know, but, but I'm the easiest. I'm so easy. I just loved being invited anywhere.

CK: I think that's true of everyone in this business because we rarely get invited anywhere. So, when we are we just enjoy it

MG: No, you become it becomes lonely because people don't want to have you. They're scared. They're like, well, Christopher's coming over tonight. What can I possibly make him? So, I always when I'm invited somewhere I'm like, honestly, pizza, red wine. Pajamas. Like I'm good.

CK: Like tiny, tiny hotdogs yeah

MG: Like tiny, tiny hotdogs. That’s all.

CK: That's all you need to make Mary happy

MG: It’s all you need. It’s all you need

CK: Mary, thank you so much for being on Milk Street.

MG: Thank you so much. This was so much fun. And anytime you'd like a plate of hotdogs, I'm your girl.

CK: I'll take you up on it. That was Mary Giuliani. Her new book is called Tiny Hotdogs, A Memoir in Small Bites. Giuliani has catered her share of weddings and doing research for this interview I came across endless catering disastrous stories. A meat filled lasagna being sold to vegetarian guests as meatless, the waitstaff eating wedding cake in the kitchen before the bride was served, and wedding guests getting no dinner at all. There are times in life when we are at our worst getting married, divorced, fired, sick or even dying. Professions that cater to folks that these key moments wedding planners, caterers, nurses, psychiatrists, and members of the clergy often bear the brunt of our misery. So, for all of you, who helped us through our very worst moments, a heartfelt thank you from the rest of us. Even if you do eat the wedding cake before the bride. It’s time to chat with editorial director JM Hirsch about this week's recipe soup opie stew. JM how are you?

J M Hirsch: I'm doing great.

CK: You spent some time in Marsaille. With some luck, it was sort of hard to find a lot of recipes that you wanedt to bring back here but (yes) there was one in particular soup opie stew, (yes) Which is essentially minestrone. Yep. But not really with pesto on it with something like pesto. So, let's start with the soup is just a bean soup with veggies

JM: it is. And you know, I got to tell you, when I went to learn this dish, I was not ready to be impressed. Because, like you say, it's just a vegetable being soup. And they add a little bit of pasta to it, although that's more to give it body and to thicken it than to actually add noodles to it. But it's what they do, after they've made the soup that really got my attention. And as you know, I went to Genoa to learn how to make true Italian pesto. And I didn't realize that the South of France has its own version of this, which of course they call pisto. And they add that to the top of this very simple vegetable and bean soup. And I was expecting to not be very impressed by it because you figured well, that's going to water down all the flavor of that beautiful pesto because as we know in Italy, it's it's a construction, you know, they add very precise amounts of ingredients in a specific order so that each ingredient is treated in a particular way to get the end result and of course that pesto is then tossed with pasta, and it's not diluted very much so it's a very careful construction of flavor. Here they take a very different approach even though in the south of France, they use exactly the same ingredients. They go big on the garlic I mean so much so that when I tried the pisto by itself, it burned my tongue. I mean, that's a lot of garlic and I like. But they, they use all the same ingredients, very different proportions, and they're not at all careful about how they put them together, they just throw them in a mortar and pestle, and they bash it until it's a coarse paste. And when the soup has finished simmering, they ladle that into each bowl of soup, and you mix it in. And so, what was this almost inedible paste of garlic and basil suddenly infuses all the broth infuses the vegetables and you get these amazing aromas coming out of each bowl. And then it suddenly made sense that you need a stronger pesto in order to flavor a bowl of soup. And that's a different requirement than tossing with a bowl of pasta.

CK: So, the takeaway, I guess is how intense the sauce is depends entirely on how it's going to be used.

JM: Exactly.

CK: Not a brilliant concept but true. Well, it’s very often I've tasted a sauce this is too salty or this is too strong, right but then you use it like adding to a super stew and It's fine.

JM: Right. You know, it depends on the the intent, what are you going to do with it? What is it supposed to be flavoring and flavoring pasta is going to be much different than flavoring a bowl of soup?

CK: So, we don't use a motor & pestle here we use the food processor, any other changes we made?

JM: Yeah, it was such a simple recipe. It was wonderful for Milk Street because you know, it's just we start with dried beans and we cook them up with some vegetables. The only thing we really did differently was instead of dumping all the vegetables in at once we add them in an order so that the more tender vegetables go in last and don't get overcooked. And other than that it's a very straightforward vegetable and being soup that we then top with this amazing pisto

CK: JM thank you very much. I guess your trip to Marseille paid for itself.

JM: It did indeed. Thank you.

CK: It’s what you told me anyway

JM: You can find this recipe for soup au pisto at 177 Milk Street.com.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. I'm Christopher Kimball. Coming up Adam Gopnik shares a history lesson about coffee. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio right now it's time for this week's cooking tip. We recently got a call from Josh from Massachusetts who was asking about starch in pasta water how to use it. Well in Italy cooks use this water to help thicken pasta sauces but at Milk Street straight we wondered if we could come up with a substitute and here's why. Most Americans use too much water for boiling pasta, or they use gluten free pastas. In both cases, you're not going to have much starch in the water. So, here's the substitute at half a teaspoon of cornstarch and a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt to one cup of water. Make sure to bring that mixture to a boil that will gelatinize the starch in the water, or you can microwave it and stir it well. To use under cook your pasta by about two minutes or so. Add your sauce to your skillet. Then add some of this starchy water to the mix as the sauce and pasta cooked down together. The sauce will clean to the pasta and infuse it with flavor. For more culinary inspiration, visit us at 177 Milk Street.com. Up next, it's Adam Gopnik who's never afraid to get poetic about food. Adam, how are you?

Adam Gopnik: I am very well Christopher, how are you?

CK: I'm well and I'm ready for a word of wisdom.

AG: Did you have a cup of coffee this morning?

CK: I had a large cup of coffee. Yes

AG: I have become more and more interested. As you know coffee is one of my passions in life. My basic belief is that between coffee and wine lies our lives that we cannot make our lives without coffee and wine. But I've just finished my new book. And it's a book I set out to write in defense of and an explanation of liberalism. Now, by liberalism, I don't mean the politics of the Democratic Party or of one side or another. I mean, that broad sense of liberalism that history gives us It includes everybody who's committed to open and democratic institutions. And one of the most fascinating things I discovered in the course of researching this book and writing it is the absolutely central role of coffee, and the coffee house and the coffee shop and the cafe to the growth of liberal civilization. It's a subject that I discovered had been taken up by a great German sociologist named Juergen Habermas, and Habermas idea was that what made the Enlightenment happen, the groundwork for the French and the American Revolutions was all laid in the coffee houses of the 18th century. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Those were the first places among the first places where people could go, they were in clubs, you didn't have to win admission. They weren't a clan to find, nor were they terribly expensive. They weren't like the restaurants or eating houses or the period where cost you something to get something No, for the price of a coffee, you could sit in a public space and talk to whomever you pleased about whatever you wanted. Not only that, but the simple exercise the muscle of proximity that was being exercised in those places, taught people how to live alongside how to talk alongside how to converse with fundamentally different kinds of people. And the coffee house in that way, is the foundation so many sociologists argue for the invention, the existence, the persistence, the health, of liberal democracy. Now when the sociologists are writing about it, and this is the part that I think interests food people like you and me, Christopher, they tend to treat coffee very neutrally, as though it happened to be coffee that brought all of these many kinds together in this unplanned, open and commonplace conversation. But if you think about it further, you'll see the coffee itself is absolutely vital to the story that I'm telling now. Because what is the distinguishing feature, or features one might say, of coffee, it's first of all a stimulant, right? It's not a depressive drug. It's something that we drink in order to be more alert, more avid, more ready for conversation. It's not alcohol. It's not something that makes us sloppier and more distraught or angrier and more ready for rage. And remember, alcohol in the form of beer, particularly, it was the standard beverage of Western civilization, water being too dangerous to drink. So having coffee in a coffee house was not only a way of encouraging conversation among very different kinds, it was also a way of weaning the world off booze. It was a way in which we moved from an alcohol civilization towards a caffeinated one. And you can't walk by a coffee bar in New York, without seeing the standard, familiar panorama now, of 50 20 somethings banging away on their computers, elbow to elbow,

CK: You did say in your first book, or one of your first books that you I guess, wrote in when you were in Paris, in the 90s, you said, when you go out to dinner, you go through a period of drinking wine. And then at the end of the meal, you have an espresso to bring you back full circle to the reality. And so you do agree that alcohol and coffee actually are sort of bedfellows?

AG: I think they are and yes, and I did write that alcohol decreases our vision, so to speak, it makes us focus much more on the one person across the table from us, I'm sure you've had the experience, where when you walk into a restaurant, it seems intolerably noisy and distracting, then you have your first glass of wine. And suddenly your ability to be with your companion and focus on your companion becomes much more intense. What fascinates me and what I didn't fully understand or indeed understand at all, when I wrote in that book, The Table Comes First, about the play of alcohol and coffee is how much coffee alone and serving coffee alone in places where you didn't typically drink alcohol at all how fundamental that was to remaking what we might call conversational civilization, the places where people could meet, and converse and move on. And you're the other very peculiar thing about that which I've been brooding on and not enough of the scholars I think have pointed out. And it's something again, that's obvious in every coffee bar, and every coffee and espresso chain that we patronize now. And that's that that's a very good business to be in, you'd think it wouldn't be a good business, right? All you're doing is selling coffee and renting space. But in exchange for the rather limited monies in that you get, you have very limited labor costs. You just have very limited and controllable ingredients costs, and you have enormous consumer loyalty. The same people come over and over to the same coffee house. It's why we become exasperated because we can't find a seat and a place to put our computer. It turns out that that model of business of selling coffee for a small price to extremely loyal customers is a very good business model. So, coffee transformed our civilization in terms of encouraging conversation, and also as a way of commodifying space.

CK: I have just one question, which is don't fascists drink coffee?

AG: I am willing to say two things are generally true. You find very few fascists in jazz clubs and coffee bars.

CK: Okay the great enlightenment started out in coffee houses and continues to this day. Adam Gopnik, thank you very much.

AG: Thank you, Chris.

CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer for the New Yorker. That's it for this week's show. If you tuned in too late or want to binge listen every episode, you can download Milk Street Radio on your favorite podcast app. To learn more about Milk Street, please go to 177 Milk Street.com You can find each week's recipe we watch our TV show order our latest cookbook, Milk Street Tuesday Nights. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks of course for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with WGBH. Executive producer Melissa Baldino. Senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Annie Sensabaugh. Associate Producer Jackie Novak, production assistant Stephanie Cohn and production help from Debby Paddock. Senior audio engineer Douglas Sugars, additional editing from Vicki Merrick, Sidney Lewis and Haley Fager, and audio mixing from Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX