URBANARA

Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef

Renowned as the creator of The Wednesday Chef blog and author of the memoir My Berlin Kitchen, Luisa Weiss has always melded food with personal experiences to create her own recipes for life. We sat down to discuss her work in and out of the kitchen and how her unique journey across continents informs her approach to entertaining, cooking and living.
Author and cook Luisa Weiss

With an American father, Italian mother, and birth in Berlin you are really international. What are your favourite influences from each country?

From Italy, I love the humor and lightheartedness about life. From America, the friendliness and can-do spirit – nothing is ever impossible. And from Germany, the down-to-earthiness (if that’s a word) and sense of grounding.

How did The Wednesday Chef come about?

I was working in a job in New York City that I loved but had completely mastered and I was itching for a new creative project. I’d been reading food blogs for a few years and one day just had a light bulb moment: why wasn’t I writing one of them? I decided to give myself a year and a pretty narrow focus: cook all the recipe clippings from the NY Times and LA Times I’d hoarded over the years. The rest is history!

Can you tell us a little more about how that transitioned to your memoir My Berlin Kitchen, and what drew you towards a memoir rather than a cookbook?

I’d been writing my blog for four years when I decided to leave New York after a decade there and move back to Berlin where I was born and partially raised. I wasn’t really sure about much beyond needing to move back, but as the move crystallized and took shape, I realized there was a story there waiting to be told. My own story, Berlin in the 1980s, what it’s like to grow up among several cultures, navigating divorce as a child and finding love, peace and home as an adult. The arc was right there waiting for me.

What sort of influences do you find have stuck from Berlin in the way you approach cooking – in what ways has Berlin influenced you as a cook?

It’s made me more adventurous – can’t find good Indian food in Berlin? Make your own! Miss the Chinese restaurants of New York City? Cook the food yourself! I’ve become so much more daring and brave in the kitchen here.

From reading My Berlin Kitchen and your blog, one of the most striking and immediate observations is how personal food is to you and how much it continues to incorporate itself in memories and experiences and situations throughout your life. How does that personal approach inform the way you cook, particularly when you are entertaining other people?

I try to really listen to my gut and to follow what it wants. I want to have a taco dinner party? Braised pork, salsas, home-made tortillas? That’s what we’re doing. I’m not going to make lamb chops and creamed spinach, just because that’s what people might expect. I find that if I follow my instincts on what I’m hungry for, that’s when I can really have fun and feel at home. And that sense of peace comes through in the food – I’m convinced that your cooking tastes better when you’re having fun making it.

Describe your ideal dinner party, and what elements you believe make an ideal dinner party?

My ideal dinner party would be one with my three best friends, who I don’t get to see often enough (they live in Miami, London and New York), and their husbands. We’d have lots of great wine, good food, sleeping children and music to dance to. The best dinner parties end in dance parties, in my opinion.

What about your home – how has that evolved given the fact you’ve lived in numerous different cities and has that shaped your personal style at home?

I’ve lived in a lot of tight quarters in my adult life (from Paris to New York), so I think I’ve mastered the art of living minimalist. I don’t like clutter or stuff lying around so even though we have a bigger apartment now, I’m constantly editing things out and trying to keep a sense of cleanliness and Zen about the place, even with a toddler and his many tiny, colourful toys.

I’ve lived in a lot of tight quarters in my adult life (from Paris to New York), so I think I’ve mastered the art of living minimalist. I don’t like clutter or stuff lying around so even though we have a bigger apartment now, I’m constantly editing things out and trying to keep a sense of cleanliness and Zen about the place, even with a toddler and his many tiny, colourful toys.

I have some furniture and art that I’ve collected over the years – an oil painting from our friends’ gallery in New York, an 18th century wooden chest found at the Leipzig flea market, a whole collection of mismatched Sarreguemines plates from my year in Paris and my weekend excursions to Clignancourt. I love the meaning that these objects give to my home and the memories that they summon whenever I pass them.

Tell us a bit about the food you are prepared for us at URBANARA and why you chose these dishes?

I’m currently having a hot and heavy love affair with Chinese cooking. Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice is in heavy rotation at my house right now. She has single-handedly managed to demystify the cuisine of China for me and I cannot get enough! For the meal I prepared for URBANARA, I went with a vegetarian menu. A smacked cucumber salad gets dressed with a sweet-sour-spicy sauce rich with chiles and vinegar. Vegetarian mapo tofu is a warming, comforting dish for these gray February days, served with a bowl of steaming white rice. And a colorful little stir fry of Chinese chives and bean sprouts rounds out the meal.

What do you have planned next?

I’m writing a food column for Harper’s Bazaar Germany and plotting my next book.

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