Interview with Francine Stephens, Co-Author of “Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian”

SONY DSCRecently, our sister restaurant, franny’s, published its first cookbook, “Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian”. The book has received great reviews from professional chefs, been a “book of the month” on amazon.com, and has flown off the shelves at BKLYN larder—both in the store and online. We took a moment to talk to Francine Stephens, one of the book’s co-authors, (the other authors being Andrew Feinberg and Melissa Clark) about the process that went into writing the book, the inspiration for it, and the obstacles they faced.

What inspired you to write the cookbook?
Andrew loves cookbooks. He is always reading and re-reading his favorites and buying new ones for inspiration and ideas on cultural and historical accuracy. While Andrew went to cooking school to learn techniques, his own style and knowledge of Italian food comes entirely through cookbooks. If we can add to this in any way, well, that is our goal.

Describe the process that went into making the cookbook.
For the text, we spent hours and hours with Melissa Clark translating our story to her. For the recipes, Andrew made every single dish and wrote down the recipe. Then Melissa would make it to test the recipe. Then Melissa had one of her recipe testers make it a third time to ensure its accuracy. Then Melissa and Andrew would taste the dish together to make sure it tasted right. It was a ton of work!

What was the biggest challenge or frustration in making the cookbook?
If Andrew and I were solely making the book, perhaps there would have been no frustrations. But trying to do that on top of running Bklyn Larder, preparing to move franny’s and developing our new restaurant, Marco’s, kind of put us over the top. It’s been a big year for us.

How did Melissa Clark and Alice Waters get involved?
Melissa has been a big supporter of ours since we opened franny’s 9 years ago. Melissa wrote a “chef’s series” for The New York Times on Andrew 8 years ago and we credit her for making franny’s as well known as it is today.

I sit on the board of Edible Schoolyard NYC, an organization started by Alice Waters in Berkeley, California. She has eaten at franny’s numerous times, and I am so lucky that she said yes when I asked her to write the forward!

Do you think cookbooks based on restaurants as apposed to food personalities create better recipes?
Not necessarily. It’s more about having a strong vision for your food, a point of view that is your own. The best cookbooks tell stories of people’s lives in their own small way. This is our story. franny’s is and always has been a reflection, an extension of Andrew and I, and the people who work with us.

The cookbook brings to life the human element of Franny’s. Did you have this idea when you started the cookbook? Why was it so important to include this, and do you think other restaurant-based cookbooks should do the same?
franny’s is about so much more than Andrew and I. Without the amazing people that work there, franny’s wouldn’t be nearly as good. We have had super skilled, talented people on this journey with us, and it just made sense to include them in our book.

What is your favorite recipe in the book, and is it the recipe you make the most often?
How can we choose just one? Right now, it’s the end of spring/early summer, so we are eating lots of fresh herbs, so at this very moment it might be the Spaghetti with Chilies, Herbs and Ricotta.

What advise do you have for people attempting to write a cookbook, or open a restaurant for that matter?
Follow your passion. Build a strong team. Work hard—always.

You can check out franny’s restaurant at their website. We currently sell “Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian” on our website.

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