Chef, cooking instructor, international culinary tour guide, journalist and food activist Annie B. Copps published her first book, A Little Taste of Cape Cod, in April. A graduate of Boston University, Copps worked as a chef in some of Boston’s best restaurants, served as an assistant to Julia Child and has been the food editor at several local, regional and national publications. The Somerville resident currently leads culinary tours throughout the world, in addition to writing and appearing as a guest on radio and television programs.
Jonathan Soroff: First thing you ever learned to cook?
Annie B. Copps: Gingerbread cookies with my grandmother. She passed away before I was 6, but if I smell gingerbread cookies, I can see her. She’s present. I think the sense of smell is one of our strongest memory triggers.
One thing all great cookbooks have in common? The introduction to the recipes. The stories that go with them. Ideally, the header for the recipe comes from a perspective. My cookbook has a clam chowder recipe. There are thousands of clam chowder recipes, but it’s what I have to say about clam chowder that makes a difference, I think.
How many cookbooks do you own? More than a thousand.
Favorite cookbook of all time? I’m going to have to go with Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Favorite memory of Julia? She was a prankster. She used to play pranks on her sister, and at the age of 80, she was still doing practical jokes.
Funniest thing she ever said to you? “Well, dear, is he good in bed?”
Three things I will always find in your refrigerator? Mayonnaise, cheese and
Three things everyone should know how to cook? Eggs. Chicken soup. And a simple pasta dish, like aglio e olio or cace e pepe.
Biggest kitchen disaster of all time? The first Thanksgiving I ever hosted. Here I was, this trained chef, and I put wine on the windowsill to chill, and it fell several stories and smashed on someone’s car. The turkey wasn’t defrosted, and I had to put it on top of the litter box, and the cat started eating it. It was tragic. [Laughs.]
Does food equal love? The preparation of food is an act of love. Absolutely.
Grossest thing you’ve ever eaten? I ate something in Japan, at a sushi place right outside the Tsukiji Fish Market. I have no idea what it was, but texturally, it had to have been some innard of a fish. It was disgusting. It didn’t smell good. It did not feel pleasant on my tongue, and it did not taste good. I swallowed it pretty quickly.
What about things like durian that everybody makes such a big fuss about? I actually really like durian. It’s just the odor that’s bad, but it tastes really good. I don’t understand okra, though. I respect that it’s a part of people’s food traditions, but it’s one of the few things I just really pass on.
Single favorite regional cuisine? Thai.
Favorite food city in the world? Boston. You can step out of any building and go right or left and find five great places to eat in five minutes, anywhere in Boston. I’m so impressed with what’s happening in this city.
Greatest living chef? I’ll go with José Andrés. I think his food is great, but his leadership in the food world, and his humanitarian efforts, are also pretty extraordinary.
If I were to show up on your doorstep unannounced, what would you feed me? Pasta. I’d probably do something super simple, like a carbonara. There’s always cheese and oil and chili flakes.
Are restaurant kitchens all disgusting? Not anymore. They used to be, back in the Anthony Bourdain days, but that’s an era that has passed. It’s just not sustainable for any reason.
Most expensive or rarest thing you’ve ever eaten? Probably fresh white truffles in Piedmont. They were really just shavin’ ’em on like I was getting a pedicure. [Laughs.]
Person you’d most like to cook for? I’d love to cook for Barack and Michelle Obama.
Favorite New England summertime meal? A lobster roll. I really love Barbara Lynch’s. And then, of course, there’s the lobster roll in my book.
Lobster tamale—yay or nay? Nay. I get that people like it, but it’s too fancy for me.
Best ice cream in Boston? Toscanini’s.
Chef Annie B. Copps’ top 5 things to eat in Massachusetts
• Island Creek oysters in October and November
• Figs pizza (half Isabelle, half Oliver) with arugula salad on top
• Barbara Lynch’s pasta with Bolognese sauce
• Karen Akunowicz’s mussels
• Seth Raynor’s magic noodles
One thing no one should bother trying to make from scratch at home? Doughnuts. There’s really no need to make doughnuts at home. Buy them.
Favorite kitchen gadget? The microplane grater. It came from a woodworker’s rasp. They’re long sticks and they’re great for grating ginger, garlic, cheese. Everyone needs one.
Food trend you’re sick of? The spirit-of-the-month thing. Like, gin is in right now? Guess what? Gin never went anywhere. Gin’s great. Leave it alone, and shut up about it.
Food that’s overrated? Kale. It’s like kale got a publicist or something. Kale’s fine, but it’s not everything. And there’s no reason to make a Caesar salad with it. So, kale, I’m so over you.
If you were on death row, what would your last meal be? I would have Margherita pizza with Caesar salad right on top of it.
Sweet or savory? Savory. I go for salty, crunchy.
One food you would never give up? Cheese.
What food allergy would you dread the most? I think I would have a hard time if I were gluten intolerant. I’m very starch- and bread-oriented. ◆