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Interview: Mike Desimone & Jeff Jenssen

by TT September 12th, 2012 | Chef Interviews
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Once upon a time when I wanted to cook something, I would go to the bookshelf and grab a cookbook.  At first, it was my mother’s bookshelf, and I would read her notes in the margins of the page.  With the passage of time, it became my own bookshelf and my own cookbooks.  Although I still spend a great amount of time in the kitchen, I find that I don’t reach for cookbooks as frequently.  This is partly due to the resources on the internet, and it is partly due to my own level of comfort in creating my own recipes from a blank slate.  However, I still love the feel of a book in my hands.  I enjoy spending time in libraries and bookstores, perusing their cooking sections.  If a friend or family member is uncertain as to what gift to give, a cookbook is handy.  While I may not reach for it as frequently as in the past, it still is a tool that I reference as needed.

Recently, I was able to speak with Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, possibly better known as the World Wine Guys.  You may know them from their roles as Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, or you may know them as the authors of The Fire Island Cookbook.  Having received a preview copy of this cookbook (which will be one of the cookbooks I peruse for inspiration), I was able to spend the interview learning more about the story behind the book.

TT: What inspired you to create The Fire Island Cookbook?

M&J: We’re food wine and travel writers.  We also are known in our circle of friends as people who throw a really good dinner party. We wanted to be able to combine our love for travel with the idea of bringing cooking you discovered to your home.

TT: Is this your first cookbook?

M&J: It is our first cookbook.  We have a wine book coming out any minute now.  October 2nd is the tentative release date.

TT: Mykonos by Torchlight is my favorite menu in the cookbook.  What are yours?

M&J: I, Jeff, like the Rainy Day French menu.  I got five flats riding through France.  After a day of being in the rain, biking with five flats, sitting down for a hearty, stick to the bones dinner was wonderful.  I love cooking it because it is more labor intensive.  I, Mike, like Peak Summer Produce.  The food in that, such as the asparagus, really is what summer meals all about.

TT: Do each of you have a preferred wine region?

M&J: I, Jeff, really love Burgundian wine from France.  I, Mike, find it hard to narrow it down to a region.  Where it’s summer, I really love an aromatic white. Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, they’re wonderful wines for summer.

TT: You are the Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors for Wine Enthusiast Magazine.  How did you become the World Wine Guys?

M&J: We’re both in our 40s.  We’re getting to the point where we’re wondering what do we want to do with the rest of our lives?  I, Jeff, was going to grad school and was a sommelier. Mike studied journalism at NYU, was writing and had a love of wine.  We combined our talents. We pitched Wine Spectator with our first article, which ended up being a 7-page cover article.  That was crazy!  It would have been difficult as established writers to get that.

Wine is a pleasurable thing but to understand wine, it is easier to explain it in context.  Instead of a dry tasting note, it is good to explain what it goes well with; to explain that the wine was discovered on vacation in Italy; that it is on the wine list at this restaurant; that it should be ordered with this, this, and this.  People can relate to that more.  We wound up doing entertainment and lifestyle: how can people drink at home and a restaurant, how can you live a life that involves wine.

TT: Do each of you have a simple tip for home entertaining?

M&J: One simple tip is if it grows together, it goes together.  If you are eating Italian food that is tomato-based, have a San Genovese grape.

TT: Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?

M&J: Basically, we’ve gotten such great press for the book.  Most important thing about the book, you don’t need to be a gastro-nuclear physicist to cook our recipes.  There are no special foods or wines; no crazy ingredients or equipment.  A lot of cookbooks don’t consider that home cooks don’t have staff, space, and special equipment.  We are good home cooks. Our recipes are written from the perspective of good home cook.  The recipes are going to come out the way it says it will on the page.

(Note: The interviewer received a free copy of the cookbook.)

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