I've always been a foodie, even before I knew that the term existed. I chalk it up to being parked in a highchair in my grandmother's kitchen when I was little, so she could watch me while she cooked. While food was always an easy thing for me to appreciate, wine was another story. I never really understood how to choose it, or even what made it a desirable accompaniment to food. Enter David Rosengarten.
For those of you who watched the Food Network in its early years, you might remember Rosengarten from his programs Taste and In Food Today. Taste, which I used to watch religiously at 6:30 a.m. every weekday, was the best cooking show I'd ever seen-Alton Brown's excellent Good Eats is the only current Food Network program that's even comparable. When Taste went off the air, I learned that Rosengarten had published a cookbook, also titled Taste, which I promptly purchased. In it there's a chapter on wine that's easily the single best resource for anyone curious about pairing wine with food, and how to find decent inexpensive wine.
This information completely changed my life. Wine had previously been an impenetrable mystery to me, but now I can go into a store and make reasonably accurate predictions about which wine would go with what without having to spend a fortune on a bottle. I also learned about wines that I previously wouldn't have considered drinking, such as German Rieslings and Portuguese vinhos verde (incredible with chicken rolled tacos, by the way).
Since then, Rosengarten has published two more cookbooks, the James Beard-award-winning It's All American Food and, recently, David Rosengarten Entertains. I interviewed Rosengarten in his Manhattan office last week.
It may surprise some to learn that he's completely self-taught.
"They have a great word in French for when a chef is self-taught," explained Rosengarten. "We never say it, but in France if you say, "Monsieur, where did you train?' He puffs up his chest and he goes, "Je suis autodidact.' But I think that my autodidact is better than some non-autodidact."
Rosengarten said his dad, who died a couple of years ago, was "the greatest foodie I ever met. And it was our life. From the time I can remember-I was 4 years old-we're sitting at the dining-room table on Friday night, "What are we going to cook this weekend? OK, well, we gotta go to the seafood markets in Sheepshead Bay and get the shrimps and get the lobster.' We'd make shopping lists, we'd go out Saturday morning, we'd spend Saturday shopping, we'd cook Saturday and Sunday, and this is what we did every weekend of my life growing up."
After watching his father's restaurant fail, Rosengarten decided at a young age that he didn't want to get into the food business. It wasn't until the '80s that he had the epiphany that led him to food writing.
While teaching at Skidmore College in the '80s, Rosengarten got the chance to teach some cooking classes in New York City, "and I loved it," he said, "more than I liked teaching [at Skidmore]. And then I had an opportunity to come to New York, and I realized, I don't have to be in restaurants-I can be a food communicator!"
In addition to writing cookbooks, Rosengarten has what he calls his full-time job-publishing a 24-page newsletter every six weeks called The Rosengarten Report (also a James Beard-award winner), devoted primarily to gourmet food products but also covering general trends in food and wine. Topics include artisan butter, foie gras and even hot chocolate-a subject that prompted one man in Los Angeles to cancel his subscription after concluding that Rosengarten isn't really serious about his food.
"I'm so anti-snob," said Rosengarten. "On my show Taste, it was always an article of faith to me that if I did caviar one day, I want to make sure I do tuna salad sandwiches the next; foie gras one day, hamburgers the next.... I suppose the junkiest food that I eat with great regularity is-um-I can't keep my hands off Doritos. I tried a number of flavors, like guacamole. I usually find that I like extra-cheesy-they have a flavor I think that says "Now more cheese flavor!' Ranch I don't like, but the more cheese flavored is good."The Rosengarten Report has great info for any true foodie. It's available via Rosengarten's website, www.davidrosengarten.com.