Friday, December 14, 2012

Inside the Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook

If you read this blog, I'm guessing that you like cookbooks. Am I right? Maybe you collect them. Maybe you hoard them. You might even read them like novels.

Have you ever wondered about the people who wrote the cookbooks that you love so much? About what inspired them? About what frustrated them?

Well then, I've got a deal for you. I've rounded up some cookbook authors, and I'll be featuring them here. Some will be guest posts, some will be Q&A, some authors might be very familiar to you, and I'm hoping to introduce you to some new authors and new cookbooks as well.

The first authors I'm featuring are Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin, authors of The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook. I wrote about it - twice - quite a while back, but now you  get to hear directly from the authors.

Dining Like Draper: 
How The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook Came to Be

If you grew up near New York City in the 1960s, as we did, you know Mad Men, though filmed largely in Los Angeles, evokes 1960s Manhattan with arresting accuracy. Everything feels right about it: from the furniture and the narrow neckties to the restaurants and the food. And Mad Men drew us in for another reason: it evoked the adult world our parents inhabited and which we only glimpsed through a child’s eyes. Mad Men was a window into their lives. We don’t think their world was quite as dark as Don and Rogers, but it wasn’t Leave it to Beaver, either.

Judy has written several cookbooks pairing food with literature, so it wasn’t a huge stretch to see why she was so curious about the food and drink in Mad Men. How did Sardi’s prepare the Hearts of Palm Salad that we see Don Draper order for Bobbi Barrett? Was it still on the menu? How would Don make an Old Fashioned? What would the staff at Sterling Cooper be drinking after hours at P.J. Clarke’s? Did Keen’s Chophouse still prepare its Caesar Salad tableside and, if so, was the recipe still the same?

Many assume our book is simply a 1960s cookbook and ask if our book has recipes for jello mold or tuna noodle casserole. Our goal wasn’t to write a ‘60s cookbook, but to create a cookbook true to Mad Men with recipes for food and drink that appear in Mad Men or are mentioned or were served at the restaurants depicted in the show. And every recipe had to authentic to the times. Each recipe in our book ties into a specific scene in Mad Men.

Historical context was also important to us. For example, why all the Mai Tais? The quick answer is that with the recent addition of Hawaii to the Union, Americans were fascinated with Polynesian culture, including the food and drink. This was the era of the Tiki restaurants such as Trader Vic’s serving up Americanized versions of Polynesian foods. Why the many French restaurants? Julia Child had just burst on the scene and was popularizing the French cuisine in her new book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And America’s royalty, President and Mrs. Kennedy, were so fond of French food they hired a French chef as their White House chef. For Mad Men fans who are also foodies, we thought this kind of gastronomic history would enhance their appreciation of Mad Men and the pinpoint accuracy of its recreation of 1960s New York.

Our first step in creating The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook was to note every item of food and every restaurant seen or mentioned in the show from Spam to ham, from caviar to Chicken Kiev; from absinthe and crème de menthe to Canadian Club whisky and Smirnoff’s vodka; from Keens Chophouse (now Keens Steakhouse) and the Forum of the Twelve Caesars (now defunct) to Barbetta and the Grand Central Oyster Bar.

Our next step was to obtain as many recipes as possible from the restaurants, bars and hotels featured in the show that are still operating today. If the recipe had changed over the years, as it had, for example, for the Grand Central Oyster Bar’s Oysters Rockefeller, we wanted the recipe for the version served in 1962, when Roger and Don dined there. Sometimes a concoction we were looking for had long since been extinct. The Beverly Hills Hotel hasn’t served a Royal Hawaiian cocktail in decades, but since Pete Campbell sips one poolside on a visit to L.A. we wanted the privilege of tasting one, too, and the Beverly Hills Hotel was able to oblige, though they had to dig deep to find the recipe.

Next we pored over hundreds of period cookbooks, magazines, and advertisements (after all, Mad Men is about the advertising industry), not only for recipes, but to learn about the dining and culinary trends of the era. We also looked for cookbooks the characters might have used, or those we saw on their kitchen counters in Mad Men. When Joan Harris (formerly Holloway) made that crown roast in her tiny kitchen to serve at a dinner party, we turned to The Small Kitchen Cookbook by Nina Mortellito (Walker and Company, 1964) for a recipe. When Pete Campbell asks his new wife to make rib eye in the pan, we thought a logical cookbook selection for Trudy cooking for her “ad man” would have been The Madison Avenue Cookbook by Alan Koehler (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962).

This year, we’ve enjoyed chronicling the food and drink from each episode of Season 5 of Mad Men on our blog, from the vegetable cutlets served at Ratner’s Deli, where Paul Kinsey and Harry Crane meet for a meal, to the beef bourguignon Megan cooks up for Don, to products Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is pitching such as Heinz Baked Beans and Cool Whip.

As Mad Men’s sixth season approaches, we look forward to renewing our pursuit inside the kitchens, bars, and restaurants of Mad Men.


You can buy The Official Mad Men Cookbook on Amazon

For more about the book and the authors:

Gift Guide:

Thanks to Judy and Peter for guest posting on my blog!