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Q&A with The Amateur Gourmet

Adam Roberts was an unhappy law school student when he discovered that cooking could save him from "spiritual starvation." While legal work left him deeply unfulfilled, he blossomed on the side as a lover of food. Quickly realizing what his real passion was, he abandoned law and started The Amateur Gourmet food blog in 2004. It was immediately successful, due in no small part to his famous Janet Jackson breast cupcake post after the Super Bowl, but due in larger part to Adam's enthusiasm and winning writing style.

Adam's recently released book is just like his blog—honest, inspiring, and often hilarious, he invites us into his life of culinary conquests (and misadventures) with open arms. Beginning with his numerous failures in the kitchen, Adam takes us along on his journey of self-discovery through food, from making perfect basic tomato sauce, to cooking for his family, to dining alone at one of Paris's most exclusive restaurants. Pickled tracked him down to ask him a few questions about what he's up to next and how his Jewish roots have influenced his cooking.

Has your Jewish heritage affected/influenced your cooking in any way? Does anyone in your family keep kosher?

Not an issue for meI eat everything. My parents are weirder about it, especially my dad. He, for example, might eat bacon, but he won't eat ham. I think Jerry Seinfeld's routine about Jews eating pork at Chinese restaurants but not eating it at home is right on the nose: my parents sort of operate by those rules.

Do you ever cook for the Jewish holidays?

I've cooked a Passover meal in the past and I've made latkes on Hanukkah, but mostly, I'm afraid, the answer is no. That's not to say I won't ever cook holiday meals in the future, just haven't really done it yet.

What were the holidays like for you growing up, with your family?

I have different memories from different periods of my childhood. As a young chap, we lived on Long Island and on Passover we'd go visit my Aunt Rhoda, who had 20 cats and made a delicious home-cooked Passover dinner. I remember singing "Dayenu" and finding the afikomen. When we moved to Florida, we had less family there so I remember going to the homes of family friends or out to dinner. My mom gets mad whenever I talk about how she never cooked for us, but I do seem to recall a brisket that she made on some holiday. Or was that my grandmother?

Do you have recipes for Jewish foods you'd like to share? A favorite rugelach recipe, maybe?

Hmmm… I don't have any memorized, but if you search the archives of my site you can find my attempt at the Barefoot Contessa's rugelach (it came out really well) and a perfect chicken soup from Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America. I really recommend her book if you don't have it; and apparently Claudia Roden's book on Jewish food is pretty excellent, too.

What's your all-time favorite restaurant in New York?

That's hard to say because I love different restaurants for different reasons. I've definitely fallen for Blue Hill and Blue Hill Stone Barns: they're unpretentious but ambitious and the food is always outstanding. I also love Al Di La in Park Slope; Babbo, of course; Prune is fantastic. Hearth. August. Spotted Pig. Annisa.

What's the best meal you ever made?

Wow, another tough question! Actually, though, there's a pretty clear answer: the roast chicken I make from the Chez Panisse cookbook. Everyone loves it and it couldn't be easier. You take a chicken, wash it, dry it really well, sprinkle salt and pepper in the cavity, stuff it with fresh thyme, tie the legs together, and then sprinkle the whole thing with 1 Tbsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, lots of salt and pepper. Place it in a roasting pan and then take red potatoes, cut them in half and put them cut-side down around the chicken. Drizzle the potatoes with some olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper too, and toss around to coat. Roast at 400 degrees for one hour and you'll write me gushy thank-you notes telling me it was the best thing you ever tasted.

In your book, you talk a lot about how you grew up on processed foods. Do you eat processed foods now? Are there any in particular that you have a weakness for?

Sure, doesn't everyone? I just bought a big pack of Reese's peanut butter candies that I put in a jar on a table by the door. I like candy; I also like Ben and Jerry's ice cream, though I teased my boyfriend for buying a particularly nasty one the other day. It had raw cinnamon buns in it and they were nasty. But yes, I still eat processed food. Don't tell anyone.

So now you're writing a novel…what's it about??

It's about Boca Raton, where my parents live. That's all I'm saying!

Any other upcoming ventures besides the novel?

Lots! But I can't talk about them. They're top secret. I'd have to kill you. Sorry!

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