Maria Zizka came to us on a short list of recommended recipe testers from our editor, Judy Pray. For the Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook, we were looking for someone who was meticulous and smart; that wouldn’t be deterred by our meddlesome methods of working; and who we could prod into giving us brutal feedback about our recipes. And, we were intrigued that she had worked on one of our favorite cookbooks: Suzanne Goin’s The A.O.C. Cookbook. We never got our brutal feedback, but we did find ourselves delighting in her detailed notes about each recipe she tested.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I am a cookbook writer, and I live and work in Brooklyn, New York. I studied biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where I spent a great deal of time in the botanical garden, learning how plants grow and memorizing their medicinal uses. I also earned a master’s degree in food culture and communications from L’Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche in northern Italy. My thesis focused on American cookbooks and the introduction of e-books. Before I finished graduate school, I jumped right in and started working with Suzanne Goin on The A.O.C. Cookbook.
Maria with Jessica Koslow of Sqirl (left) and Chad Robertson of Tartine and Tartine Manufactory.
How did you decide to work in food as an occupation?
For as long as I can remember, I have loved cookbooks. My parents tell me that when I was a little girl, they would come pick me up from friends’ houses and find me sprawled out on the kitchen floor reading stacks of cookbooks. At first, the idea that working on cookbooks could be my job seemed too good to be true. But once I learned that it was possible, I pursued the career wholeheartedly. I studied Italian for a year before applying to graduate school in Italy. The craziest part to me is that from the first book I’ve worked on, to now, my love of cookbooks has only grown.
What do you find the most interesting part of your job?
Lately, I’ve been interested in bridging the gap between restaurant cuisine and home cooking. Although they’re quite different, they mutually influence one another, and I’m curious about that intersection.
What’s your morning routine?
I sleep a lot, and I wake up with breakfast on my mind! Wednesdays are the best day of the week because my fiancé, Graham, comes home from the gym with apple cider donuts he buys from our neighborhood’s farmers market. We always get four donuts: two sugared for me, one sugared and one plain for him. I make each of us a macchiato, and then we dip the donuts in the coffee. On other days of the week, I might have a croissant for breakfast, maybe with some jam, or I might make oatmeal, or a fried egg and buttered toast. I shower, get dressed, and then sit down at my desk and hop to it!
Where magic happens: Maria’s writing desk.
Where do you find serenity and inspiration when you’re in a rut?
I take a long walk. It miraculously gets me out of a funk every single time. I am lucky to live near Prospect Park, so most days—even if I’m not in a funk—I’ll go for a walk. This sounds nerdy, but I always bring a little notebook in my pocket because my best ideas come to me on those walks. I love seeing how the park changes from day to day, season to season.
What was the last book you read?
I’m the kind of person that likes to read a few books at the same time. Currently, I’m reading a book on the history of Ireland (because we’re getting ready to travel there for our honeymoon), as well as a compilation of selected essays by Betty Fussell titled, Eat, Live, Love, Die. I just finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri. And I’ve been reading and cooking from Cal Peternell’s A Recipe For Cooking.
Recipe testing and editing — ensuring consistency through persistence.
What was the last recipe you cooked?
I’m writing a cookbook of my own and I’ve been testing recipes for it. The last one I worked on was whole-wheat crêpes, which I like to fill with jam, then fold like handkerchiefs and dust generously with powdered sugar.
Can you tell us more about your cookbook?
By coincidence, my book will also be published by Artisan and, you’ll never believe this, Judy Pray is the editor! I’ve admired Judy and her work for years, so it is such an honor to have the chance to work with her. I am writing the book now, and it will be published in 2019.