Amanda Hesser.

“As you can see, I like an ordered and spare, but not sterile, space. I can OCD-up a desk like nobody’s business, arranging the position of a stapler or my stationery until they are just so, but I also like color and texture. My desk at our new food52 office near Union Square is all white, which I like because any color I add is my own to choose, but it also means I have to be more prudent. I’m a devotee of the cherry-red Swingline stapler, which I’ve had in every office for the past decade. The teapot and ceramics are from Pearl River. The photos are of my husband and twin son and daughter.

I adore this large food52 photo by Sarah Shatz — she took it as a theme shot for a “Holiday Breakfast” contest theme. Everything in the photo is from my house and many are beloved tabletop objects. For instance, the egg holder is actually a wood-paper napkin ring my mother bought for me in Germany. The chocolate pot comes from my husband Tad’s family. The plate and cup are from Heath Ceramics in California.

On the far left of my desk is my fur hat, which I wear pretty much nonstop from November through March. It was gift from my husband, who bought it from (seriously).

My desk at home is a little more cluttered than I’d like it to be. I’m a warring combination of pack-rat and minimalist. The desk itself is an outdoor patio table given to us by my mother-in-law. Its marble top reminds me of blue cheese, and although I love the look and worn matte texture, marble tops are cool and I find that after working for a while, the chill seeps into my arm bones! Next time: more forgiving wood.

You’ll notice the Swingline stapler again. And maybe you’ve seen that Italian tape dispenser which I saved up money for and bought at Moss. To the right is a moon cake mold, given to me by my father-in-law (cool gift, right?), a bread stamp from Italy (that’s the wood item with the fish handle), and a photo of my mother-in-law and husband, Tad.

The train is from my kids — they like to deliver tiny objects to me when I’m in my study, and I keep them either displayed or collected in a special dish. The chair was given to us by Tad’s parents, and they were scandalized when they saw that we’d recovered the drab needlepoint seat with that bright pink-and-white print! I love being surrounded by cooking objects like the sieve, the mortar-and-pestle, and the blanc-mange mold. The paintings are by Tad’s great grandmother.”

Amanda Hesser has designed a seventeenth-century-style herb garden at a French château, developed the Twitter app Plodt, and appeared in Julie & Julia, playing herself. She began her career as a kitchen runner and bread truck driver in college, then picked grapes in France, made pretzels in Germany, and cleaned rabbits in Italy. As a longtime staffer at the New York Times, Hesser has written more than 750 stories, created the columns Food Diary and Recipe Redux, and was the food editor at the Times Magazine, where she launched T Living. She has written the award-winning books  Cooking for Mr. Latte and The Cook and the Gardener, and edited the essay collection, Eat, Memory, based on a column she conceived for the Times Magazine. Her latest book is The Essential New York Times Cookbook. She is also the cofounder of Hesser lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Tad Friend, and their two children.

  • Flavor: Meyer lemon
  • Tool: bone-handled fork
  • Apron: No
  • Desert island meal: mangosteens and a stiff drink
  • Would like to have dinner with: Tina Fey
  • Doesn’t like: caviar
  • Kitchen store: Rose and Radish, San Francisco
  • Place: Blue Bottle on Linden Street in San Francisco
  • Book: Cooking in Ten Minutes by Eduard de Pomiane
FROM YOUR DESKS: On your desk, is that a MZ Wallace bag I spy? I’m a huge fan of their totes. 
AMANDA HESSER: Yes, my Christmas gift from Tad. I’ve been waiting for them to come out with a grey color and at last they did. I love it.
FYD: How do you work?  Does being orderly help you accomplish the tasks your job requires?
AH: An orderly desk makes me feel calm and gives me the sense, however illusory, that I can think straight. Piles and clutter remind me of all the things I haven’t yet done.
FYD: Is your food52 more of a collaborative process than editing your Essential New York Times Cookbook?
AH: The Essential New York Times Cookbook was also collaborative but more in fits and starts. I reached out to readers in the beginning to find out what their favorite recipes were, and their recommendations informed which recipes I tested. Later, as the book was being designed, I reached out to friends and followers on Twitter for feedback on the title, on issues like dust jacket vs. no dust jacket, and also on what events should be included in the timelines that are sprinkled throughout the book. Food52 ramps up this kind of collaboration. While the recipe creation isn’t collaborative (we believe in personal voice and individual creativity), the process of deciding which recipes are truly great and deserve to be elevated on the site, is very much so — we depend on our community to vet the recipes and vote on the best ones. They also collaborate on food and cooking questions, voting up the best responses.
I’m a warring combination of pack-rat and minimalist.
FYD: Your Essential NYT Cookbook took six years to complete.  Was there an era of strongly inventive recipes and which years weren’t so great?
AH: The past decade has been a great period for cooking. The 1970’s were the decade of new and inventive desserts. And the 1950s, while a terrific cookware design period, where a dark, dark period for home cooking. No herbs! No spices! No flavor! And no fun.
I grew up knowing what good food is, and I later realized this was very lucky.
FYD: You studied finance before your current livelihood, yet most “foodies” I know had a mother or grandmother who loved cooking. Did the same hold true for you?
AH: Yes, my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother were all good cooks — solid, American home cooks who shopped seasonally before it was fashionable to do so, and who made everything from scratch. So I grew up knowing what good food is, and I later realized this was very lucky.
FYD: I would love to see a picture of your mom or grandmother at work.
AH: Here’s a photo of my mother in the house I grew up in — she’s baking. Her name is Judy Hesser. (see above right).
FYD: I loved Gabrielle Hamilton’s recent New Yorker piece The Lamb Roast and anxiously await her Blood, Bones and Butter. In the current boom of food literature, is there anything you look forward to reading?
AH: I’m also a huge fan of Gabrielle Hamilton’s writing. She wrote a terrific piece about hiring a blind cook when I was the food editor at the Times Magazine, and she has twice been a judge for The Piglet/Tournament of Cookbooks on food52. Here’s her latest.
The 1970’s were the decade of new and inventive desserts.
FYD: In New York, current food trends borderline overkill are cupcakes, truffle salt, braised everything, communal tables,  taxidermy…anything you could do without?
AH: I could definitely use a break from cupcakes.
FYD: What did you make of Mimi Sheraton’s recent (and quite candid) thoughts on food in Brooklyn – any validity?  
AH: Mimi was being cranky and I think intentionally so. What’s not to like about collective enthusiasm around eating well? The best take on Brooklyn (and the NYT’s approach to food in Brooklyn) came from newsman Brian Williams in this video clip:


(All photos of Amanda’s workspace and headshot courtesy of Sarah Shatz. Six empty paper cupcake cases by Anthony Harvie)

Follow Amanda on Twitter: @amandahesser

1 Comment For “Amanda Hesser.”

  1. She’s a cool chick, no question. And she seems to have a bit of the Midas touch.

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