James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, teacher, chef, restaurateur and television personality Joanne Weir is a fourth-generation culinary pro. Her great-grandmother operated the legendary Boston restaurant Pilgrim’s Pantry, her grandfather was an Army chef, and her mother was a caterer. After earning a degree in art education from the University of Massachusetts and teaching fine arts in Boston, she returned to the kitchen, cooking with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and studying with Madeleine Kamman in France, where she was awarded a Master Chef Diploma with honors. Her newest PBS series, Joanne Weir Gets Fresh, began airing in January, and her latest cookbook, Kitchen Gypsy, was released in September, when she returned to Boston to cook at the UMass Club. She lives in San Francisco.
Joanne Weir: Absolutely. No two ways about it.
Pizza. But the weird thing is that I’ve eaten so much of it that I’ve become gluten sensitive. I used to say that it would be my last meal on earth, and now it probably will be.
Definitely a lot of wine. Mustard. I love mustard. And a billion vegetables.
If you don’t enjoy cooking, I don’t think you can season things well. But I think you can learn it.
I think so, but it certainly helps to have a little bit of a passion for it.
Person you’d most like to cook for? My father. He passed away several years ago. Kitchen Gypsy is named that because my father always called me his wandering gypsy.
Guilty pleasure? Oh, God! Potato chips. It’s killer. If they’re in my kitchen, they just whisper my name. I can’t buy them.
Secret to great Mexican food? Knowing your chiles.
I love it. Thank God, since I own a Mexican restaurant.
Cuisine you’ve never attempted? Asian, and I probably never will. It’s just not my thing. I love Mediterranean food. That’s number one. I love eating Asian food, but I’m not going to cook it.
Yes. Cooking, you don’t need a recipe or to do things precisely. Baking, you do.
Grossest thing you ever ate? I love everything I put in my mouth. I’m obsessed with food.
Probably duck tongues, in Australia. There was a whole platter of duck tongues. Imagine how many ducks they had to slaughter.
Favorite kitchen gadget? A good knife. For me, that’s the most important tool in the kitchen.
That’s a great question, but on my show, I have a crew of three. But they do more prep, not finished dishes. I really try to cook in real time.
If they taught us something, I think it’d be great, but I really don’t love the competitions. I have a hard time figuring out what to make for dinner, let alone trying to figure out what to do with asparagus and octopus or a Twinkie. It’s just not my thing.
Favorite celebrity chef? [Yotam] Ottolenghi. I think he’s great.
Yes. Especially if he likes food. If he’s just a meat-and-potatoes guy, it might not matter.
One essential to good cooking? Having passion for it, and having a good palate. And not being afraid of salt.
Well, every dish calls for something different, but I really like acidity, so I’d say a white balsamic vinegar. I really like acidity and salt. Those two things really do it for me. It can also be lemon juice, lime juice or something, but that bite is key.
Do people unfairly characterize British food as bad? Yes, but I think that happens with a lot of different cuisines around the world.
Thoughts on molecular gastronomy? Not my thing. I just don’t like foam. I like real food.
Key to a good cookbook? The recipes have to work and be easy to follow. They can’t presuppose the reader knows something. I’ve written 17 and I swore I was never going to write another, because I felt like the world really didn’t need another book devoted to soups or whatever. But I’m really proud of this book because I feel like it has real heart and soul.
I love the Chez Panisse books, maybe because I worked there for so long, and I really love the food and relate to the style of food.
Are people reluctant to cook for you? Yeah. Nobody ever invites me for dinner. And it’s funny. I’m really easy. I’ll eat anything. Invite me for a bowl of chili.
Well, I just made this fabulous carrot and anise soup, so I’d probably serve you that, and some delicious bread and some cheese with a dry riesling.