|Talking Cooking and Fielding Questions
By Susan Pearsall
Most weekends, Arthur Schwartz, host of
"Food Talk," a daily New York radio program on WOR-AM, heads for
his second home in West Cornwall, known to listeners as the country
On a recent Sunday morning, he answered
the door barefoot and dressed in black sweat pants and an old, blue
shirt with the tails hanging out.
In his spacious new kitchen, part of a
remodeling project that more than doubled the size of the former
cottage, Mr. Schwartz was busy preparing omelet rolls filled with
ham and cheese for brunch. The recipe comes from his new cookbook,
"Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania,"
published in November by HarperCollins.
He placed the casserole in the oven, then
gathered his thoughts before heading down a hall to broadcast remote
from a guest bedroom, equipped with a microphone and computer patched
into New York. At precisely 12:06:40 P.M. the red, "OnAir" sign
lit up, and Mr. Schwartz was live on the 40 stations that carry
his two-hour, nationally syndicated Sunday show.
Before taking calls from listeners, who
test Mr. Schwartz's encyclopedic knowledge about food, kitchen equipment
and recipes with questions ranging from the elementary to the esoteric,
he offered a few opinions. As usual, Mr. Schwartz was not afraid
to name names, talk prices or make comparisons.
For those considering buying espresso machines,
he recommended a two-cup Krups model ($99 at Williams-Sonoma).
"That may be the bargain of the season,"
Mr. Schwartz said. "Most of these coffee machines are several hundred
He'd tested pricey, new stainless steel
cooking tools like slotted spoons, whisks and spatulas and advised
cooks not to buy them.
"My experience with this new stuff is that
it's just very expensive, not necessarily easy to handle, even though
they have ergonomically designed handles," Mr. Schwartz said. He
prefers inexpensive utensils and replaces them as needed. "I don't
think I need a $20 slotted spoon," he said.
By the time Mr. Schwartz finished reading
the recipe for a rich macaroni and cheese dish he had cooked the
previous night, several callers with questions were waiting on the
toll-free line. It was time for a commercial break.
Suddenly, Mr. Schwartz remembered and ran
for the casserole in the oven. "It's quite far gone," came the muffled
report. Fortunately, one taste proved him wrong. Then it was back
to the callers.
Joanne was worried about salmonella if
she used six raw eggs in a recipe for chocolate mousse.
"Joanne, live dangerously," he counseled.
"Use the eggs. You buy them from a reliable source, right? Don't
feed them to anybody elderly or children, anybody with a compromised
Claire said she had received a clay pot
without instructions as a gift. What should she do with it?
Mr. Schwartz explained clay pots are used
for cooking chicken or pot roast with vegetables in the oven. The
pot should be soaked in a sinkful of water before use. "After you've
done that once, you can then use it as a planter," he joked.
Edith called for help with a recipe for
Jewish fried dough balls that seemed short on liquid ingredients.
She took offense when Mr. Schwartz said the recipe was similar to
that for struffoli, a popular sweet in southern Italy.
"Edith, Edith, calm down," Mr. Schwartz
said sternly. "I know what I'm talking about." And then he told
her to add a little water to the dough.
With each caller, Mr. Schwartz listened
intently, his brows furrowed behind tortoise shell eyeglasses, asked
a few questions and offered a good-natured solution.
When he needed a reference, he grabbed
a cookbook from the hundreds lining three walls of his makeshift
studio. His collection numbers "thousands upon thousands of cookbooks,"
Anne wanted to know if price indicates
quality in spices. The answer was no.
"McCormick has the highest prices," Mr.
Schwartz said. "I go to the supermarket only in an emergency." He
recommended Penzey's mail-order catalogue or Indian and Pakistani
markets for lower prices.
The strangest question of this particular
day came from Al in Palm Springs, Calif. He wanted to know what
canned and dried foods would be best for the emergency food baskets
he was making for friends expecting the ultimate earthquake.
"Are you serious, Al?" asked an incredulous
Mr. Schwartz. "This is very foreign to me." Convinced that Al was
indeed sincere, Mr. Schwartz reached for a copy of his 1992 book
"What to Cook When You Think There's Nothing in the House to Eat,"
and reeled off a list of stock pantry items: dried beans, canned
tomatoes, sardines, barley, oatmeal, dried fruits and more. How
long would they last? "Longer than most marriages," he quipped.
At 1 P.M. Mr. Schwartz introduced his on-air
guest, Rozanne Gold, author of "Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook." She
was calling in from Queens. The topic was recipes with only three
ingredients for entertaining.
Does Mr. Schwartz get hungry talking about
"I'm always hungry, so it doesn't make
any difference," he replied.
A blind woman named Alice called from Iowa
to say Ms. Gold's cookbook makes things easier for her. She asked
Mr. Schwartz if "Naples at Table" would be available on tape. He
said several agencies were interested in recording the book when
he could read it aloud.
The last caller of the day, Renee, wanted
to know how to make orange flower water to put in panettone, a sweet
"This is something you have to buy, Renee,"
Mr. Schwartz said. 'He steered her to Middle Eastern stores, where
it is inexpensive.
With only seconds left, he signed off:
"I'm Arthur Schwartz, and I'm looking forward to talking to you
again real soon." Indeed, he would be back on the air in 22 hours.
"Food Talk" is also broadcast live Monday through Friday from noon
to 1 P.M. On Saturdays, the show is taped in advance with his co-host,
Joan Haimourg. He has been host of the show since 1992.
Mr. Schwartz said he broadcasts from West
Cornwall nearly every Sunday. During gardening season, when he grows
tomatoes and herbs, he often broadcasts remote on Fridays and Mondays
Mr. Schwartz, who is 51, has been writing
about food for 30 years. From 1969 to 1979, he was a food editor
and writer at Newsday in Long Island. Then he created the "Good
Living" section at The New York Daily News, where he was the executive
food editor and a restaurant critic.
His other cookbooks are: "Cooking
in a Small Kitchen" (Little Brown, 1978), and "Soup
Suppers" (Harper Collins, 1994).
"I'm self-taught, except that my grandfather
was a professional chef, and he was one of the people who taught
me," Mr. Schwartz said. "When I became a professional journalist,
I observed lots and lots of cooking classes."
Why did a Jewish New Yorker write a southern
"The first six years of my life we lived
in a two-family house in Brooklyn with a Neapolitan family downstairs,"
Mr. Schwartz said. He learned there were no cookbooks in English
about Campania, whose cuisine was the basis for many Italian-American
Mr. Schwartz said he receives about 300
pieces of regular and electronic mail each week from listeners.
"I get lots of nice, complimentary notes and not too many hysterical
criticisms," Mr. Schwartz said. However, he does take criticism
"I just told a listener I didn't think
he'd be able to get elk anywhere," Mr. Schwartz related. "And somebody
found elk in a butcher shop, so I was happy to tell the audience
where they could find elk."
Does Mr. Schwartz ever get tired of talking
"No, no. My most fun of the day, absolutely,
is being on the air, he said. "The hour or two hours on the air
is very focused. You forget all your troubles."