WESTPORT, Conn. — Author Elissa Altman’s dad used to say he divorced her mom because she was too religious.
“Every meal she made was a sacrifice or a burnt offering,” the Newtown writer joked to an audience at the Westport Library on Thursday.
Luckily for Altman, the winner of the 2012 James Beard Award for an individual blog, Dad didn't let his wife’s lack of cooking prowess get in the way of his daughter’s love affair with food. Each Saturday, just after Altman’s mom left their Forest Hills, Queens, home for her hair appointment in Manhattan, her dad would get Altman dressed up and take her to lunch in one of New York City’s best restaurants.
La Côte Basque, Le Pavillion, La Grenouille — the pair hit them all.
“It was just the two of us,” she said. “My mother would come home and she had no idea this was going on.”
In fact, Altman’s mother didn’t have a clue until she read her daughter's second book, “Poor Man’s Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking” (Berkley, 2015), from which she read to an appreciative audience Thursday.
Altman’s book grew out of her blog of the same name, which debuted in 2008. While she originally wanted to write about simple, cost-conscious recipes, she found her readers were more interested in narrative posts about her family and home life.
The book deals with Altman’s time in cooking school and working at the first Dean & DeLuca gourmet food market in SoHo in the go-go 1980s. While there, she helped a drug-addled artist Jean-Michel Basquiat navigate the aisles and watched then hipper-than-thou director David Lynch shop for goodies with actors Kyle MacLachlan and Isabella Rossellini.
She also watched as AIDS killed half of the store’s male employees in just a few years.
The book covers her love affair with her partner, Susan, with whom she will celebrate a 16th anniversary in January. Unlike Altman, Susan was raised in rural Connecticut and taught her how to enjoy the simple things, such as a perfectly poached egg or a vine-ripened tomato with mayo on toast.
“It’s as good as anything at La Côte Basque,” she said. “Sorry, Dad.”
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