It’s a Tuesday morning at Brooklyn’s Runner & Stone bakery, and Melissa Clark ’90BC, ’94SOA is in line, holding court.
A layer of fog hovers over the gritty Gowanus Canal nearby, but the bakery is airy and warm. Clark, like a cat, has found the sunniest table, and she’s placed her order — a buckwheat baguette, extra butter, and a latte with plenty of sugar. Now she’s chatting up the other customers, selling them on the surprisingly nutty texture of the buckwheat and the fact that the bakery uses rich European butter. She talks quickly and emphatically, and by the time the other customers have reached the cash register, they’re transfixed by this preternaturally cheerful woman with the broad smile and the mane of red hair. Many abandon their original orders and decide to mimic Clark’s.
“I can’t seem to help myself,” she says. “You’d think I was on the payroll.”
In fact, Clark has nothing at stake. She just loves food, to the point of evangelism. And if there’s a way to make a meal better — even an ordinary Tuesday breakfast — she wants to share it with the world.
Clark’s new friends may not recognize her, but odds are they’ve made one of her recipes. She’s written the weekly column A Good Appetite in the New York Times’s dining section for more than a decade, and a search of NYT Cooking, the paper’s digital culinary hub, finds nearly a thousand recipes attributed to her. She’s also written or collaborated on a mind-boggling thirty-eight cookbooks. This spring, she released her latest — Dinner: Changing the Game, a collection of what Bon Appétit called “over 200 why-didn’t-I-think-of-that recipes.”
Clark is known for pairing basic, easily mastered cooking techniques with new and interesting ingredient combinations, giving home cooks vastly more options. For example, Dinner includes eight different recipes for roast chicken: one with sherry vinegar and grapes; one with smoky paprika, crispy chickpeas, and kale; and so on. Once readers are comfortable roasting a chicken, they suddenly have eight dishes in their arsenal. Quick pizza dough (store-bought is also fine) gets topped with butternut squash, pecorino, and roasted lemons — a sophisticated alternative to tomato and mozzarella for the same amount of work.
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This story was originally published in the Summer 2017 edition of Columbia Magazine.