Cookbook author, pastry chef, and writer Klancy Miller has taken anything but a linear path to where she is today. After doing international development research in French Polynesia, and then apprenticing at a small restaurant in Philadelphia, Klancy moved on to experience what some might only dream about – living and working in Paris to study pastry at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and interning at the Michelin-starred Taillevant. This past spring, she published her first cookbook: Cooking Solo: The Fun of Cooking for Yourself. Her food is equally reflective of her travels and personality, with recipes including Parisian Mini Chestnut Cakes, and Beef Tacos (Inspired by Aziz Ansari).
Klancy will be teaching Lessons on Cooking Solo here at Haven’s Kitchen on Thursday, September 8 at 7pm.
What were the various career paths you took before deciding to go to Paris to study pastry at Le Cordon Bleu? What prompted that decision?
I had, and continue to have, a lot of interests after college. I studied history, French, Arabic and film (and more) at Columbia University. I wanted to figure out how to apply some of what I learned and thought international development could be a good area. After graduating, I worked at American Friends Service Committee and worked on a research project focused on Palestinian refugees. At the same time, I took film editing, acting, dance and cooking classes on the weekend or after work. My goal was to follow all of my interests and figure out what most excited me so that I could pursue that area. I eventually ended up working with a program at AFSC that sent me to Tahiti to do research on the socio-economic effects of nuclear testing in French Polynesia.
Meanwhile, cooking had become really interesting to me. When I came back from Tahiti, I applied for a job at Fork restaurant in Philadelphia. The chef said I didn't have enough experience, but could apprentice and do prep work on the weekend. I absolutely loved apprenticing at Fork. It was fully engaging on every level and made me start to think seriously about going to cooking school. The chef said that I didn’t need to go to cooking school to become a chef, but she did recommend it for pastry. I had studied in France and wanted to figure out how to fit France into my life, so going to Le Cordon Bleu to study French pastry arts seemed like a good idea.
How was your experience living and working in Paris?
I absolutely loved living in Paris and my first year there was a dream come true. I felt truly empowered because I had worked a couple of jobs and saved money to get there. I loved going to Le Cordon Bleu and being surrounded by amazing food. I had a cute, tiny studio in the 13th arrondisement that was near the supermarket Tang Frères, not far from the beautiful market on rue Mouffetard, and the awesome neighborhood outdoor market near Place d’Italie.
Things changed a bit when I started working. After I earned my Diplôme de Patisserie I began a ‘stage,’ or internship, at a salon de thé (tea salon) in the posh neighborhood of the 16th arrondisement. The place where I worked was great on the outside — if you were there for tea and cakes — but the kitchen was kind of bleak and morale was low. Then a friend invited me to ‘stage’ for a day at Taillevent — at the time a Michelin three-star restaurant — and the pastry chef said I could come back and do a stage there for an extended period. Taillevent was amazing and made me feel really excited in terms of the beauty and taste of the desserts and standards of excellence. I learned a huge amount about working in a three star restaurant, making pastry at the highest level. I also learned how hard kitchen life can be on they body, and I started to think about other ways to explore the world of food outside of the kitchen. I was offered a job at Le Cordon Bleu on their recipe development team and started writing about food. One of things I learned — and continue to learn — is that there are so many different things to do, professionally, in the food world.
What was that “aha” moment when you realized that solo cooking was under-represented and this was a gap you wanted to fill?
There was an article in the New York Times about sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. The stats about single people were astonishing. There are over 100 million single adults (aged 18 and older) in the U.S. While I was writing my cookbook, I learned that single people now outnumber married people in this country. I began cooking for myself while living in Paris, and continued to when I moved back to New York. I figured there must be a lot of people like me who could use a cookbook for one.
What’s the stigma attached to cooking for yourself — and being alone in general?
I think generally people associate being in a relationship with happiness. Maybe there’s some half-baked logic that leads people to think that if you’re single you must be unhappy. I think we’re trained — through pop culture, etc. — to think we should always be surrounded by people and that’s better than being alone or enjoying occasional moments of solitude. I do think there’s a stigma attached to cooking for yourself, but it has more to do with people thinking, “Why bother if it’s just me?” I think of solo cooking as an opportunity to indulge yourself without the pressure of pleasing someone else. You can cook and mess up and no one has to know. You can practice recipes on yourself so that when you make them for other people, you already know what you’re doing. Or, you can just enjoy your own company and the process of cooking every now and then.
You wrote an article for The Lonely Hour about an experience cooking alone while listening to Prince’s album. What role does music play in your cooking?
Music plays a big role in my cooking. Listening to music makes cooking that much more relaxing and enjoyable. I’m also a writer, so I spend a big part of each day in front of the computer, and I can’t listen to music and write at the same time. Going into the kitchen to prepare a meal is a break for me and music helps me unwind. Depending on who I’m listening to, music makes dinner prep feel more like playtime.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a cookbook or pursue cooking, but doesn’t know where to start?
Read the acknowledgment section of your favorite cookbooks and note who the agents are. You need a good literary agent to sell your proposed cookbook to a publisher. The first step though is to have a clear idea, write a book proposal, and include sample recipes. Find an agent and, with their help, refine your proposal, and your agent will pursue a publishing deal. Your work is to make the recipes great and write compelling stories or head notes. Mostly, you need to be really committed to your idea because it will take a lot of time, patience, imagination and stamina to complete your project, and that’s only the first part.
Once the book is published, you have to become really great at marketing and promotion, event planning and general publicity for your book. Your publisher will be extraordinarily helpful, but you have to learn that skill set — so start early! I would highly suggest reaching out to cookbook authors you admire and asking about their experiences and for advice. I also recommend just starting the cookbook proposal writing process to test how clear and excited you are about your idea, and then take it from there.
Any new projects on the horizon?
I’m thinking about what cookbook I’d like to write next, which will probably be something focused solely on desserts. I’m also in talks with a friend to do a series of dinners with a theme of community building and social justice in the face of a summer of sobering news. I used to have a supper club with a friend, and we had dinners throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. I miss that and am hoping this new dinner series will have a similar vibe.
What was the first cookbook you ever owned?
The first cookbook I remember really enjoying as a kid was The Silver Palate Cookbook. My mom made a lot of delicious things from that cookbook in the 80s or 90s, and I remember baking a pie from that book and feeling accomplished. The first cookbook that I recall owning was a Caribbean cookbook that I really liked for the corn pone recipe and ginger beer recipe. I was really into Jamaican food and wanted to learn more.
What’s the one thing in your kitchen you can’t live without?
I like good knives. A good knife is the quintessential tool for food prep — not sure what I’d do without one.
What are your top three favorite places to visit when you’re in Paris?
Each time I go to Paris, I add new places to my list of favorites and find that I have a different mood or theme for each visit. My most recent trip this summer was all about catching up with friends over great meals, relaxing by myself in a park or café, and seeing the amazing Seydou Keita exhibit at le Grand Palais.
Here are three places I recently enjoyed:
Caffe dei Cioppi
7, rue Dahomey 75011 Paris.
It’s an amazing Italian restaurant/café in a cool area. Everything is delicious.
11, rue Payenne 75003
It’s great little gallery with a cute café and lovely garden, and entry is free.
10, rue Saint-Florentin 75001
Chic Japanese tea salon in the 1st arrondisement right around the corner from Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Garden.
Where do you want to travel next?
I love to travel and have a long list of places I’d like to visit or re-visit. My short list of next trips includes: Sicily, Hungary, Tokyo, Ethiopia, Big Sur.
Photos Courtesy of Davis Thompson-Moss, Tara Donne, and Klancy Miller
There was no CSA pickup last week, because of the July 4th holiday. I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend at a friend’s home on the shore – earning my keep by cooking meals, along with the other guests – everyone pitching in wherever possible. After a decade of cooking professionally, the importance of a well-stocked home pantry becomes more and more apparent, the less intentional the meal.
Having a small store of shelf-stable items for cooking and seasoning allows you to bring home fruits and vegetables, or meat and fish, from the greenmarket, and cook without recipes or a shopping list – which saves time on planning and allows you the freedom to cook and entertain with little or no notice.
Most urban kitchens are small, which forces you to get creative with space and clever with timing. Resourcefulness is a virtue for any cook, but especially a city cook, who has limited space for ingredients and equipment. In light of my recent kitchen hopping, I thought I would share my list of basic pantry items that are excellent to have on hand, whether you already cook often or would like to cook more. Just add your CSA share and enjoy.
I also love these cookbooks – arranged by season, then by vegetable – for quick reference when you’re feeling stumped by those plentiful summer greens:
Also, The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers (Norton, 2002) – an excellent reference for basic cooking techniques.
Only three weeks into my pledge to home cooking, and I have never enjoyed a resolution more. A few suppers with friends, and plenty of vegetable odds and ends later, our CSA has already proven a blessing beyond fresh produce.
This week, our tote bags arrived filled with kale, collard greens, spinach, scallions, scapes, summer squash, zucchini, parsley, lettuce, and radishes. I had ten dinner guests around my table on Wednesday night. Among them, Erin Fairbanks, executive producer of Heritage Radio Network, and Ian, my share partner, who I met in college. Everyone else at the table had some connection to Ian or me – elementary school friends, camp friends, friends from the city – and inevitably, new connections surfaced as we cooked and made conversation. This happens in New York and is always a nice reminder that the world is still small.
Erin, who has an interesting background cooking at Savoy and Gramercy Tavern before making her foray into talk radio, took the lead in the kitchen. Doling out tasks of cutting and slicing, she collected bowls of cut vegetables and improvised dishes, throwing together a green salad with vinaigrette, sautéed squash with scapes, basil, almonds, and parmesan, and roast chicken with a quick pesto.
Others cut strawberries and peaches for my favorite cobbler recipe. The recipe is one my family made growing up. If we made it at home in Tennessee we would use fresh, tart blackberries. If we made at the beach in South Carolina, we would use sweet local peaches. A bit different from your typical, Southern biscuit top, and a far cry from any sort of crumble or streusel you might find in the Northeast, this cobbler has a sweet and cakelike top that resembles a golden-brown tortoise shell when finished. (Recipe below!)
Putting the cobbler in the oven, we sat down to eat and someone made a comment about saying grace. I remembered that it struck me recently, since moving away from home, I rarely hear someone say grace at the table. My mother said grace every night, as soon as we took our seats – bless this food to our use and us to your service – succinct and non-denominational, to placate her three children. In some of my circles, there is quite a lot of gratitude, for food and the people who grow and cook it, but rarely a formal blessing.
At dinner that evening, we joined hands and Ian delivered a lighthearted grace. If you read through the lines, the gratitude was there – for food, for farmers, for friends, and for a time and place to gather.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, another welcome occasion to celebrate with friends. I hope everyone has a festive holiday – a chance to twirl a sparkler, catch a lightening bug, or bake a cobbler – and if you’re feeling it, stop to give thanks or make a toast along the way.
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 cups strawberries, rinsed, drained
3 cups peaches, pitted and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup AP flour
1 tsp double acting baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold, unsalted butter
In a bowl, stir together the cornstarch and ¼ c cold water until the cornstarch is dissolved; add 1 c of the sugar, the lemon juice, and fruit. Combine the mixture gently but thoroughly.
Transfer the mixture to an 8-inch cast iron skillet or 8-inch square baking pan.
In a bowl combine the flour, remaining ½ c sugar, baking powder, and salt; blend in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add ¼ c boiling water and stir the mixture until it just forms dough.
Bring the blackberry mixture to a boil on top of stove; drop spoonfuls of the dough carefully on the boiling mixture, and bake the cobbler in middle of preheated 400°F oven for 20-25 min, until golden brown and baked through.
The second week of our CSA brought summer squash, zucchini, radishes, spinach, tatsoi, cabbage, and parsley. Alex Weiss from Caledonia Spirits crafted cocktails with greenmarket strawberries and Barr Hill Gin.
Last Friday marked the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, also called midsummer. The solstice has long been celebrated by various world cultures and is a benchmark in the growing season for farmers. For cooks, this tipping point, marked by salad greens, radishes, and strawberries, signifies the relished onslaught of tomatoes, corn, and stone fruits that lies just beyond the horizon.
To celebrate the summer solstice, my lovely and generous friend, Shaina, hosted a backyard supper at her home in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. I brought my CSA share and some strawberries from the Union Square Greenmarket. Shaina brought her own CSA share, from Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, New York. Shaina hosted seven of us, including a hardworking, inquisitive little girl named Berry and her mother Anna Bella (who works with Shaina at the farm store). Berry brought juneberries she foraged in a nearby park.
When everyone arrived, we set to work cleaning and cutting sugar snap peas, slicing radishes, tearing mint leaves, and trimming strawberries. I made a tart dough from flour, butter, water, a bit of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Shaina lit the grill and we seasoned the meat and vegetables for cooking. The contingent of cooks in the crowd awed over blood red beets and tender kohlrabi, while Shaina’s brother, the Harvard medical student, and his guests talked academia in the corner.
While Shaina finished grilling, Berry and I rolled out the pastry dough, filled it with strawberries, and shaped a rustic crostata. The chicken came off the grill and the crostata went on. We sat, we passed, we served, and we ate. The beautiful setting and great company harkened back to a post I wrote, almost two years ago, when we were still in the throws of construction at Haven’s Kitchen. What a remarkable thing to see our hard work come to fruition, just the way we envisioned it – honoring summer, friends, and local food around the table.