by Roberta Bernstein)
About halfway through Delancey, Molly Wizenberg's affectionate account of opening a popular Seattle pizza restaurant with her husband, she says she realized she was opening a restaurant with her husband: "He had built a pizza oven. He owned a thirty-quart industrial mixer. Our basement was filled with equipment."
Unfortunately, she notes, she didn't want "anything that a restaurant stands for. I didn't want him to work nights and holidays. I didn't want to eat dinner alone. My interest in food has always been about sharing it — about the kitchen table, about home cooking, not restaurants."
Her surprise, and her denial, makes sense: Her husband, Brandon Pettit, who had decided not to finish a Ph.D in composition, was an eclectic dilettante whose interests ranged from espresso (three machines and a commercial grade grinder, so don't think your interest is the same) to building wooden boats. Basically, he's "into" things: Di Fara's pizza in Brooklyn, pickles and vinegar, making ice cream. And, luckily, given the project he followed through on, delicious thin-crust pizza.
Fans of Wizenberg, who follow her open-hearted food blog, Orangette, and helped make her first memoir, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, a best seller, will not be surprised by her aversion to her husband's ambitions. Not only does she like the familial aspect of food, but her foodie philosophy — there's a time for Thai takeout and Coronas, and a time for sweet-hot slow-roasted pork shoulder and shortbread with rosemary and candied ginger, two of the 20 excellent recipes scattered through the book — is at odds with the dictates of a restaurant's menu.
After a fight with Pettit, and a longer internal debate with herself, Wizenberg comes to terms with the plan and embraces it, in part because she'd hit a wall post-first book.
Opening a restaurant is a 24/7 job. It requires optimism, willfulness and chutzpah. It can be a frightening and draining journey – especially when you're young, married and pouring your life savings into it — and end badly (studies show some 75% of restaurants fail in the first year). Drama is inherent in the project.
But this cheerfully honest book, which serves as both a cautionary and encouraging tale, is a bit prosaic. Those not opening their own restaurants, for instance, might find the sections on building the oven, hiring staff and passing inspections, etc., less than compelling. And while you might want to befriend the great group of people who helped make their dream happen, the retelling of who assisted them and how they did it, while woven organically into the narrative, feels a bit like (well-deserved) thank-you notes.
Wizenberg does write about her marriage and the emotional mood swings that went into Delancey's creation and her own evolution with thoughtfulness and humor. Her writing is warm and inclusive, just like her approach to cooking.
She notes that "it's hard to mess up" a recipe, at least her recipes, and means it. It's this attitude that keeps this book humming.
Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage
By Molly Wizenberg
Simon & Schuster
*** out of four