Where did you and the photographer work?
In the kitchen of my house. All the props lived in my basement on shelves. It was kind of like living in a set.
Did you have the cookware, dishes, and other props on hand?
I had a lot of it, but Alison [Conklin, the photographer] brought some. And I had a lot of boxes from Crate & Barrel delivered to my house that year!
Were food styling substitutes for actual foods needed, such as making non-melting “fake” ice cream?
No, there was no time or budget for any kind of trickery. Whatever we needed to do, we figured it out. Sometimes it was a matter of having a dish of brown food and deciding how to make brown food look good. They all had different challenges, but brown food was a big one.
Was there any one recipe that was the biggest surprise to you?
The Pennsylvania Onion Tart from [food historian and cookbook author] William Woys Weaver is a prime example of traditional dish that most people don’t know about. It tastes like a quiche in a slightly sweet pizza crust and is incredibly filling. It’s familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time, and it’s something I would make again, especially for a brunch.
Is there any restaurant in western Pennsylvania you really want to visit in person?
A bunch of them! I’d like to check out The Butcher and the Rye in Pittsburgh—the Salinger’s Sling cocktail is from there—and Apteka [also in Pittsburgh] because it’s Eastern European and I feel connected to that food. [They contributed the Kluski Slaskie (Potato Dumplings) recipe.]
Did you gain weight while preparing all these dishes?
I have no idea—that’s an occupational hazard working with food, but I try to stay active and don’t worry about it too much.
Did your kids have a favorite recipe?
Probably any baked goods!
What do you most want people to understand about Pennsylvania cuisine?
We have a long agricultural history that is really important to respect and foster and take care of. People can do that by the way that they shop and cook. I believe that we have the resources to be very sustainable in how we eat. This might sound ridiculous, but I think we’re the California of the East Coast. We might not be at their level of food consciousness, and we’re never ever going to have citrus or avocados—but we have farms and bounty, and we should celebrate that.