A little more about the people who helped make this book happen. Click to see larger versions!
Upon careful inspection, it appears the universe does revolve around the business dude and bon vivant we call Dapper Dan: he has introduced us to more interesting people than we can count, and enriched SND immeasurably. He's also willing to put just about anything in his mouth.
You meet the nicest people in bars. Christopher was a regular at an Astoria nightspot Tamara worked at when she invited him to dinner. A retired Episcopalian priest, he came back for an encore to marry Tamara and Karl, aboard the Staten Island ferry. His illustrations grace the cookbook, and his late-night calligraphy at dinners inspired the cover.
We're lucky enough to have met Gillian as a friend first, and gotten her to be our agent later. She's the boss lady of Gillian MacKenzie Agency. She also had the wisdom to introduce Tamara to Clamshack and Ian at a party, and now the circle can't be broken.
"Exploding Ian" is a chief pyrotechnician with Fireworks by Grucci. When he's not blowing things up on a man-made island in Dubai, for instance, or ridding his apartment of demons, he's building our website for us. Late at night, he manages to speak French as well as his better half, Clamshack.
Katie is so dedicated to dinner parties that she has a small 'w' tattoo on her arm to commemorate the Wednesday Night Dinners she arranged in Boston back in the day. A film preservationist by trade, she gets us all in for free at the Museum of Modern Art and organizes the wonderful Home Movie Day every year. She inhabited one half of the short-lived Reynolds Ranch duplex on 30th Street, and we've been missing her in Astoria ever since she moved out.
One of Tamara's friends from the way waaay back, she understands entertaining in the old-school grand style, and never believes you're full, even if she just saw you wolf down two plates of pasta. Victoria is the keeper of all things Sicilian (owing to her father's side, from Floridia, Sicily) and a great sharer of her recipes and love, as well as a very talented opera singer. Soprano (verismo!), of course.
Growing up on a farm in Arkansas taught Grant the true secrets of fried chicken, okra, barbecue, pecan pie and good trombone playing; he can spot a cheap imposter a mile away and won't suffer it. He and Tamara met in a parking lot in the bad old days at ASU; the next thing he knew, he was going on a date with Victoria, and the rest is history. Grant is a mercenary trombone player.
Miss Mary Ann has been around for both of Tamara's husbands, and Lord willing and the creek don't rise, she'll be around for the next one too. Her beauty makes Tamara feel like her retarded red-headed step sister, but it comes in handy when we need a guy to open a door for us or something. Her Southern manners are impeccable and her talent impressive—even if you think you don't like opera you will dig this voice.
Tamara's beloved huuusbind. For their third date, he bravely attended a Sunday Night Dinner where he knew no one but Tamara. When he got up after dinner and asked if he could make anyone a cup of tea, everyone at the table knew he was a keeper. He mans the barbecue, whips up ice cream and mercilessly strips meat from bones. He is a union sound man, and has some impressive triceps from holding the boom mike.
The hardest-working high school teacher on the Eastern seaboard, La Schaefer is the queen of the theme cake and the mistress of brilliantly worded menus. At Sunday Night Dinner, she can usually be found in the kitchen, pouring drinks for the cooks and putting the Rolling Stones on shuffle.
Well before he married her, Peter has been Zora's favorite companion, cook and fellow traveler. In the course of Sunday Night Dinners, he has built emergency tables, smoked ribs and carried a whole lamb home on his bicycle. He is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the author of Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District, a must for any fan of The Wire.
Forget everything you thought you knew about copy editors. "Brastrap Heather" earned her nickname by showing up at Sunday Night Dinner in a saucy vintage outfit with exposed lingerie, and we don't believe we've ever seen her wear the same thing twice. The woman can pick apart a Salvation Army rack like no one else, and she actually volunteered to scorch herself with hot caramel in the name of testing the Croke Monster for the cookbook.
All we can say is that Josh had better start up that genius idea of food truck he's been talking about—we are getting hungry, and we want ZZ Top to replace Mr. Softee as the summer street soundtrack. Josh also came up with some genius ideas for the cookbook, which we could not implement. So in that same truck, he'll be selling a bootleg Forking Fantastic! with a scratch-and-sniff cover, promo DVD, animated flipbook and more ridiculous features. If you want a classy apartment, he's your man.
When Larra comes to dinner, we remember that we really could stand to dress a little better. She's a professional stylist, but not in a horrible Hollywood way. She's also a photographer, and in a very offhand way, she has managed to capture some great chaotic moments of Sunday Night Dinner (some of which are in the book). One day we hope to get invited to some red-carpet event, and then we can hire her to make us over. If you ever meet her, remember that she loves oysters.
Tamara met The Golden while doing a play called The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. The combination of being Astoria neighbors and gay nudity (for the play) brought them very close in a hurry. The multitalented Golden is the unofficial head of the Decorations Committee for bigger Sunday Night Dinners, plus she's a fantastic actress and can dance like nobody's business.
Emmy-nominated editor for television by day, one of Beth Fertig's "Harpies" by night, Miss Sunshine lives up to the awesome responsibility of her name. She is also the woman who connected us with Anthony Bourdain by casually saying, "He's in my office right now." A miracle—on Canal Street!
The power couple of Lisa Magnino and Jon Coifman save the world from bad PR and environmental degradation. By night, they prove the most controversial point in our book: Children do belong at dinner parties! Their unstoppable son, Alex, came to dinner even when he was a tiny zygote; in the early baby days, he got to sleep in his car seat in Karl's office. An excellent photographer, Jon has captured some truly Fellini-esque SND moments. One of them is even in the book!
The Mayor of Steinway Street has fed us more wonderful meals than we can count, in the cozy confines of his illustrious Kabab Café (in which there is no damn kabab, and no damn café). He has also often shared his culinary wisdom—then made us forget it by encouraging us to drink too much wine. We knew we were blessed the night he came over and doctored the fried chicken with garlic and butter, and we always feel lucky to know this notoriously shy Egyptian.
Brona the Lass came to dinner when she moved from Philly to NYC, and has been a treasured guest ever since. Passionate about food PR, she always has a great idea for how we can up our game—often in the form of perishable gifts such as Meyer lemons and Mexican avocadoes. She also makes a mean soda bread, and is an excellent source for cookbooks and Irish recipes.
Millicent was meant for us—when we met her she was sweating her ass off in the famous Queen's Hideaway kitchen, working the line and serving the best pies and biscuits we had ever had. She is that rare cook who is excellent with the savory and has also somehow mastered pastry. Bitch! We love her biscuits so much, we stole the recipe for the book. You can also get them when she's cooking at Egg.
Heather is another wonderful person Tamara met at Prune. She looks like a nice girl—the kind you would be happy to leave your grandmother with for the afternoon. But her nickname is Mr. Shit, so you know she's not all good. In fact, she is a seriously deranged (in a good way) choreographer. One recent appearance at Dance Theatre Workshop saw her wearing men's BVDs and a gnome beard—and peeing onstage. And of course, she is responsible for introducing Tamara to Edna Lewis and stoking her fascination with ridiculous Southern layer cakes.