“When it comes to kitchen smarts, Dorothy Kalins, a founder and the former editor in chief of Saveur magazine, and the editor of several cookbooks, deserves bragging rights. “The Kitchen Whisperers,” her new kitchen memoir is populated with many of the culinary names she worked with over the decades, like Colman Andrews, Marcella Hazan, Michael Anthony and Anita Lo, all of whom enhanced her own expertise. Through her eyes and lively prose, they provide the book’s compelling common-sense approach to food that will easily resonate with experienced cooks and should bolster the confidence of novices. There are only a few of what you might consider recipes, in paragraph form, but after absorbing what Ms. Kalins recounts you may find you have less need for them.”
Six of Our Critic’s
Favorite New Food Books
by Bill Addison
Some very fine books have entered the world when accomplished editors take a pause from shepherding others’ words to seize the title of “writer” for themselves.
Dorothy Kalins was a force in the magazine world for decades: She was the first editor-in-chief of Metropolitan Home, an executive editor at Newsweek and, most formatively in the food space, the founding editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine (which began publishing in 1994). Post-magazines, she’s put her skills to use by collaborating on detailed, deeply researched cookbooks, including Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s “Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.”
In person Kalins is a floodlight of a human being: It’s somehow just easier to make out ideas, connections and paths when you’re around her.
No surprise that in her first book as a solo author — part appreciation, part memoir — she created an impeccable structure: She organizes eloquent chapters around the kitchen lessons she’s learned from family members, chefs, gardeners and cookbook luminaries such as the late Marcella Hazan. “This is not a cookbook; rather, it is a book about what — and who — we think about when we’re cooking,” she writes. She conveys memories using all the senses, whether she recalls Hazan teaching her about “creamifying” risotto with butter and grated Parmigiano before serving, or slowing way down to consider the steps of buttermilk biscuits made by her former Mississippi-based mother-in-law, or untangling the Iraqi origins of sabich, the purse-shaped Israeli pita sandwich staple.
Kalins’ wisdom-sharing meets her aims: A quarter of the way into the book I’m suddenly staring into my kitchen, thinking about which dishes I can make from muscle memory (a lot of Americana desserts and Lebanese one-pot meals) and from whom I want to learn next.
The memoir aspect of “Kitchen Whisperers” is slyer. It reveals a subtle internal tension — a woman who’s spent a lifetime perfecting writers’ copy now figuring out how to weave in her own narrative via the stories of skilled cooks around her. Most poignantly it comes through in character sketches of two of her fellow Saveur founders, Colman Andrews and Christopher Hirsheimer, and the evident pride she still feels in the groundbreaking publication they created (and that currently exists as a much-diminished, online-only entity). “We were our own best critic,” she writes of contentious editorial meetings.
And as a writer, I marveled at the protracted sentence on page 245 about Solomonov’s first baking job — it fills half a page and keeps trailing on to the next. It’s a masterclass in commas, em dashes and clauses. Only a battle-scarred editor could get away with it.
by Kat Kinsman
"Full disclosure: I owe a lot of my career to Dorothy Kalins. When I was a fledgling food writer, mortified and nervous about my post-career-switch late start, the Saveur co-founder and book editor took a moment to really see me and any scrap of potential I might have, and helped me take flight—and occasionally give me a hard shove out of my comfy nest. This, I have come to learn, is part of the power and magic of Kalins. She sees, listens, and draws out the best in people, and The Kitchen Whisperers is the culmination of this skill, homed in on the kitchen. In its pages, she shares the coaxed-out wisdom, tips, skills, and recipes from legends like Marcella Hazan, Michael Anthony, and David Tanis, as well as family and friends whose names will never be on a menu or the spine of a cookbook, but whose cooking has enriched her life. I'll shout to the heavens if need be: buy this book. It will help you soar higher than you ever dreamed."
When A Cookbook Is Not Enough,
You Need A Kitchen Whisperer
By Sylvie Bigar
"Reader alert: Better eat before you curl up in your favorite chair with Dorothy Kalins’ new memoir, The Kitchen Whisperers, Cooking with the Wisdom of Our Friends (William Morrow), or you will find yourself ravenous!
Yes, you’ve heard of her. Maybe while she was founding editor-in-chief at Metropolitan Home? Or executive editor at Newsweek, or you remember her as the co-founder of Saveur? Or wait, maybe you (like me) read cookbooks in bed, and devoured Michael Anthony’s Gramercy Tavern Cookbook or Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook’s Zahav, two favorite cookbooks she produced? She’s won two James Beard Awards, among many other distinctions. We know her as an editor, writer, and book producer, but this is the first time she puts herself out there as a cook. There is no list of recipes here. Instead, a guiding voice in the kitchen." [read more]
Book Review of The Kitchen Whisperers
By John Kessler
"Students in the class break into pairs and are told they have 5 minutes to write about their favorite dessert: Don’t think about it, don’t worry about word choice or grammar, just keep the pencil moving until the teacher calls time. The students take turns reading their hasty essays to their partners. The partners then interpret the stories — say what they’re really about, because it’s never just dessert. The subjects of the stories are often, say, a much-missed grandmother, a family ritual or a never-forgotten evening with friends. The deeper truth lies just under the surface, and it’s knocking to come out.
Dorothy Kalins — a well-known figure in the publishing world, particularly on the subject of food — has made it her life’s work to help writers connect with these truths. As one of the founding editors of Saveur Magazine, and now as a cookbook producer who guides chefs as they craft the stories of their recipes into narratives of their lives, she knows the touchstones of impactful food writing are culture, family and memory." [read more]
by Christine Burns Rudalevige, Editor-in-Chief of Edible Maine
“Reading The Kitchen Whisperers, one can’t escape Dorothy Kalins’s profoundly intimate love of food. All Kalins’s
memories are smelled and tasted. Were we all lucky enough to have such richly scented scenes in our personal pasts, we
would never be alone.”
by Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal
“The Kitchen Whisperers is a personal chronicle of culinary wisdom collected over a lifetime of eating, cooking, and
making friends over food. Dorothy’s voice is both evocative and intimate; the stories extraordinary; the lessons they
teach us are ones any home cook might put to use. This book reminds us what food lovers already know—that food
memories are the most powerful memories.”
by Claire Saffitz, author of Dessert Person