Talking with Cookbook Author Amy Thielen
And a Recipe for Her Sticky Date Olive Oil Cake
Talking with Amy Thielen
The fall cookbook I’ve been looking forward to reading the most is Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others by Amy Thielen. Of course I’ll be dipping into it to make a number of the recipes I’ve already tagged with bright pink Post-Its, but I say “reading” because Thielen’s lyrical writing style makes me want to settle in to my well-worn leather club chair to read it cover to cover as it if were a novel.
Born and raised in northern Minnesota, Thielen moved to New York City in 1999 to attend culinary school followed by what she calls a fine-dining “culinary tour” working for chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Amy Thielen has been back in rural Minnesota since 2009 and the two-time James Beard Award winner is the author of The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes and the memoir, Give a Girl a Knife, and was the host of the Food Network cooking show, Heartland Table. A former contributing editor to Saveur, Thielen has written for and been featured in Food & Wine, The New York Times, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Food52, and The Wall Street Journal, among others, and appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, Minnesota Public Radio,The Splendid Table, and Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods.
She lives in Park Rapids in northern Minnesota with her family—visual artist Aaron Spangler, their son Hank, and their dog, Hilly.
In her new book, Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others, Amy Thielen takes a less formal, more frequent approach to the art of throwing dinner parties, prioritizing that she is having as much fun as her assembled guests. With more than 125 recipes featured in 20 themed menus—like All-You-Can Eat Fish Fry, New York City Chinese Barbecue at Home, and A Nordic Backcountry Ski Supper—you’ll find inspiration for smaller dinner parties to holiday feasts, no matter the season.
As someone who is more than obsessed with curating playlists, I just loved this musical analogy from Thielen : "A casual home-cooked meal is sprawling, unkempt, and hard to capture in a single frame...individual menus are modern; menus are hopelessly analog. They're an album of easy-to-love hits and simple, buttery vegetable B-sides."
I also love that Company is dedicated to Thielen’s late dog Natty (“our gentle golden giant”); her straight-shooting tips on shopping, timing a meal, and cleaning up; and recipes like Deviled Egg Dip, a Midwestern take on Salt Potatoes, Mei’s Ginger-Glazed Baby Back Ribs, Raised Potato and Cabbage Matalans, Apple Frito Misto, and Pavlova with Winter Citrus. And there are also some drinks for your consideration, including batched cocktails like Whisky-Sour Gelatin Shots with Potted Sour Cherries and Coffee with Chartreuse and Smoked Almond Praline.
Thielen was kind enough to find some time during her busy book tour to field a few questions about Company and share her recipe for Sticky Olive Oil Date Cake, a perfect-for-fall confection that would be at home on your table through the upcoming holiday season.
I first heard about your new book, Company, in January when I read about your recipe for Crispy Smashed Chicken Breasts with Gin and Sage that was featured in The New York Times. Eric Kim proclaimed, "this is the best chicken I've ever had."
How did it feel to have such a great early reception?