Five Food Questions: Susan Orlean, The Veteran Author

Today marks the launch of  a new feature on The Best Food Blog Ever called Five Food Questions.  Short, sweet, and to the point, Five Food Questions is designed to provide insight into the culinary lifestyles of interesting and compelling people who may or may not be directly involved in the food world.  My inaugural interviewee is Susan Orlean, staff writer for the New Yorker and author of seven books, including The Orchid Thief.   Susan is presently working on a biography of Rin Tin Tin, to be published in 2011, which will place her eight published books ahead of me, by my count.

You’ve traveled extensively throughout the United States and across the world, both as part of your work and also for leisure. What are your favorite regional cuisines or specific foods?

I love Asian food — Thai and Vietnamese in particular. I think one of the highlights of my traveling life was eating pad thai from a street cart in Bangkok. It cost about ten cents and it was just about the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I’m a little awed by Asian food, which is another reason I love it. I respect good pasta and admire a great steak, but I know how to cook my own (not too bad) pasta and steak. Eating really good Thai or Vietnamese food is a wonderful, delicious mystery, since I don’t know the ingredients and wouldn’t know how to whip it up at home.

Who does the cooking in your household? How often do you eat at home?

I’m the cook. I couldn’t boil water until I was in my twenties, and then out of necessity, learned to cook. I even went to cooking school (Peter Kump, in New York) because I really, truly didn’t know how to cook. And I came out of it really loving to cook and surprised everyone by becoming a good cook (modesty aside). We eat at home now quite often – at least five nights a week. We live in the country and hopping out for a burger isn’t that easy, so the nights when we used to do that (when we lived in New York) are now nights when we dig around for something in the freezer. And we even bought a big extra freezer for that very reason.

As an author, how do meals fit into your writing schedule?

When I’m on a deadline, it’s hard. I gobble some breakfast, have whatever’s easy for lunch, and dinner becomes a challenge, since I sometimes forget to think about it until it’s nearly time to be eating. I was spoiled by being able to shop every day and last minute in New York, so I never developed good planning skills. We also entertain a lot, and I sometimes find myself on deadline but also figuring out what to cook for ten people. This is, to say the least, quite challenging.

If you could have any four people, from any point in history, over for dinner, who would they be?

I tried to answer this just off the top of my head, to see what names really floated up fast. William Faulkner (even though he was a drunk and probably wouldn’t be good dinner company). Mao. Darwin. And my dad, who passed away three years ago.

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure food?

I love bad pie. Cafeteria pie. Gummy, glutinous pie. Don’t tell anyone, please.