Excerpt from Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dinner with Edward

A Story of an Unexpected Friendship

by Isabel Vincent

Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent X
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 224 pages

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Rebecca Foster
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He was a cook on Amtrak. "His whole life people just called him 'Boy,'" said Edward, who met him on a ten-hour train journey he once took with Paula. "After he joined the Baptist church and was taken under the wing of a cook named Miss Emma, he started calling himself St. John the Baptist."

St. John had a knack for eggs. When Edward asked him the secret of his scrambled eggs, St. John told him Dinner with Edward9that he never cooked them all at once; he did it in a few steps. Edward had shared the trick with Paula and now insisted on showing it to me. He took farm-fresh eggs, their yolks glistening orange as he cracked them into a bowl, whisking them with a splash of milk or cream, salt, and pepper. Then he melted sweet butter in a hot frying pan, adding only half the egg mixture to the skillet when the butter was just on the edge of turning brown.

"Never all at once," Edward repeated. "You do the eggs in two steps."

After the first part began to sizzle and bubble, Edward gently loosened the eggs with a spoon, reduced the heat, and added the rest, cooking the slippery, pale yellow mixture until the eggs were light, fluffy, and completely coated in butter. Years of childhood hardship in the South had taught Edward to be resourceful. He saved fresh herbs in Ziploc bags in the freezer, quartered the lard he bought in blocks from his Queens butcher, and carefully wrapped each in waxed paper for storage in his refrigerator. Edward loved to shop at specialty food stores such as Citarella and Gourmet Garage but he happily made do at his local supermarket. He didn't own any fancy kitchen implements, and the few cookbooks I saw on his shelves had been gifts from well-meaning friends that he almost never opened.

"It's just cooking, darling," he said, when I asked why he didn't use cookbooks. "I don't ever think of what I'm doing in terms of recipes. I just don't want to bother looking at recipes. To me, that's not cooking—being tied to a piece of paper." He hung his old but immaculately polished pots and skillets on a pressed-wood pegboard coated in tinfoil in his kitchen.

I marveled at his resourcefulness but also knew he had his own rarefied tastes. He used only Hendricks gin in a martini or when making Gravlax, insisting that the cucumber essence brought out the best flavor in a cured salmon. For martinis, he mixed Hendricks with dry vermouth in a Pyrex measuring cup and chilled the mixture and the glasses in the freezer until his guests arrived. Edward's martinis were neither shaken nor stirred—he simply poured gin and dry vermouth into a measuring cup and allowed the mixture to become ice-cold. He garnished each glass with a small piece of cucumber that he had also chilled until it was cold and crisp.

Whenever his elder daughter, Laura, who brought her own culinary peculiarities back from Greece when she returned to live in New York, extolled the merits of olive oil in a piecrust, Edward winced. She suspected he was giving away the golden olive oil peach pies she made for him. "When it comes to cooking or baking, he's very specific about some things," Laura said.

But the steaks Edward was grilling tonight in a hot cast iron grill pan came from the meat fridge at the grocery store. They had been marinating in balsamic vinegar and now he seared them to perfection, laying them out on dinner plates he had warmed in the oven. The fatty juices from the steak bled across the expanse of the white porcelain, mingling with the small mound of new potatoes that he had boiled in their skins and topped with a dab of butter and chopped parsley. Then Edward swirled a velvety brown sauce on the meat before he brought the plates to the table.

The steaks were perfectly tender and tasted as though they could have come from the best butcher in Manhattan, rather than Gristedes. The sauce was buttery and rich. When I asked him how he had made it he launched into a long explanation, one that required him to take two trips to the kitchen to show me the demi-glace which was the basis for most of the sauces he made."Demi-glace is a long process," Edward said, pulling out a small plastic container from his refrigerator of the brown sauce that he had made from simmering roasted veal bones and vegetables until the mixture had reduced by more than three quarters and was thick and gelatinous. Like many French chefs, Edward uses demi-glace, or "glaze," as he likes to pronounce it, as a starting point for sauces and even to enrich soups.

Excerpted from Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent. Copyright © 2016 by Isabel Vincent. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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