An Interview with Clifford A. Wright

Clifford Wright

We recently had a chance to chat with Clifford A. Wright. Clifford, a specialist in Mediterranean cuisines, was a winner of the James Beard Cookbook of the Year and Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food for his 2000 cookbook, A Mediterranean Feast. He just published a new cookbook, One-Pot Wonders, which Susie reviewed in her Cookbook roundup, stating “What Clifford Wright doesn’t know about stew and soups from all over the world isn’t worth knowing.”

We posed three questions:

What do you most enjoy about writing a cookbook? And what don’t you like?

My favorite part of writing a cookbook is, I guess, eating.  I love the food I test. Seriously though I think it’s twofold: the research, because I mostly write about culinary cultures and traditional home cooking, and the literal cooking, hot pans and sharp knives. What I don’t care to do so much is the shopping for food that often involves multiple stops and the frustrating wait on check-out lines. 

What were some key influences on you when you started cooking?

I began to cook when I was 15-years-old, because my first job was working as a busboy in a very high end restaurant and I was enormously influenced by what I saw there.  I remember using the Betty Crocker cookbook to make crepes suzettes. 

Within a year, though, I had my favorite cookbook, and to this day it’s one of the best cookbooks ever and a book that should be in everyone’s library, especially if you like Italian food, and that is Ada Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking.  This was the book that opened my eyes.  Every kid who grows up in New York thinks they know Italian food.  What Boni showed me is that I knew nothing.  It was a magical book for me, as exciting, revealing, and as portentous as if I was reading a Harry Potter book.  I don’t know if it was the first cookbook I ever owned but it sure is up there as one of the first.

What’s your best recipe?

I’m not sure what recipe would be associated with me as my “best” but I have some go-to recipes I do for very special guests when I’m not recipe testing (which a cookbook author does all the time) and those would be, in no particular order,  ossobuco, bouillabaisse, timballo di maccherone (macaroni pie), the elaborate Moroccan pigeon pie known as bastila, cannoli for a sweet and, surprisingly, my hummus which people tell me is the best they ever had.


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  • Breadcrumbs  on  February 27, 2013

    I'd be interested to hear what other EYB members think of Mr Wright's books. While I have a few on my shelf, I've only cooked from Bake Until Bubbly and I was truly underwhelmed. It doesn't happen very often but after my experience with the book, I gave it away, confident I'd have no further use for it. The recipe I selected to make was called “Mexican Turkey Hash Casserole” though the recipe isn’t really Mexican and without a potato in sight, it isn’t really a hash either! The recipe dish was quite under-seasoned as written and without modifications, would have been very bland. The author does suggest you drizzle the casserole w hot sauce before placing it in the oven…perhaps that’s intended to compensate for the lack of flavour elsewhere in the dish.
    The book itself wasn’t what I expected it to be. I was surprised to see so many basic recipes. It reminded me of the type of cookbook I was drawn to when I was first married and experimenting with a variety of recipes that were easy enough to put together pretty quickly with ingredients we’d typically have on hand. In this book there’s nothing too exotic, not too many herbs or spices. If herbs are used, they’re primarily dried. Some examples of the recipes in this book are: Crescent Roll Casserole, Frankfurter Casserole with Sauerkraut, Frankfurter Casserole with Macaroni, Chorizo Sausage and Hominy Casserole (made w lard, canned hominy, chorizo, jack cheese, a can of evaporated milk and sour cream), Widower’s Casserole (1.7lbs chx w 1 cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of sour cream and some mushrooms), Sausage and Potato Pie, Casserole of Red Potatoes, Onions and Garlic. I think most experienced cooks could figure out how to make many of these recipes (if they were so inclined) without actually using this book. While I think the book might be suited for a beginner cook, I don’t feel it has a lot to offer an experienced one. Admittedly, I didn’t get through the entire book and there may be some gems in there but on first quick pass, nothing really jumped out at me.

  • ellabee  on  March 2, 2013

    Wow. I think of Wright as a scholar of Mediterranean food traditions, so would never have imagined him putting out a cookbook with something like 'Crescent Roll Casserole', or Frankfurter anything.

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