Apr 14, 2024 - Food and Drink

D.C.’s Joan Nathan releases new memoir with 100 recipes

My Life in Recipes cover with braided challah (left) and Joan Nathan, author

Joan Nathan. Photo: Courtesy Hope Leigh. Book Cover: Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Prolific cookbook author Joan Nathan, aka "the Jewish Julia Child" has spent much of her 81 years experimenting in her kitchen — and now she's playing on the page with a first-time memoir that just hit bookshelves.

Why it matters: "My Life in Recipes" is Nathan's twelfth and most intimate tome yet, with behind-the-scenes glimpses into Washington's dining and dinner party circuits.

The big picture: Nathan boosted the perception of Jewish cooking in America throughout her cookbooks — many created in her "laboratory" kitchen in NW D.C. — including "The Jewish Holiday Kitchen" and "Jewish Cooking in America."

  • She's delved deep and wide, channeling centuries-old traditions and shining a light on the Jewish culinary diaspora with recipes for Venezuelan latkes and Yemenite chicken soup.

🥄 Zoom in: Nathan is now turning the lens inward. Her memoir traces her Jewish family's lineage, career leaps from journalism to food writing, and years raising a family in D.C. with her late husband Allan Gerson: 100 personal recipes accompany the memories.

  • She never planned to write a memoir, she tells me. "But I had so much stuff! I never throw out anything."

Her thought bubble: "Each of us is a product of history. I think that's why I wrote this book," Nathan says. "If you don't know your own history, then you might not really even know yourself."

Between the lines: Nathan's a consummate insider in Washington's culinary scene, and readers get a taste.

  • Bob Woodward's dinner party advice for surviving in Washington? Says Nathan: "Straight talk."
  • Exactly what made famed chef Jean-Louis Palladin's soups sing: "He liked to put V8 juice in."
Cook book author Joan Nathan demonstrates the 60-minute Moroccan challah in advance of her new book "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France" from her Washington D.C. home
Nathan in her home "laboratory" kitchen. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images

Flashback: In 1969, Nathan took a life-changing trip to Israel and later became a foreign press attaché for Jerusalem's then-mayor, Teddy Kollek.

  • She recounts how they visited an Arab village leader, and broke bread over the national Palestinian dish, chicken musakhan. "As we feasted, something remarkable happened: we forgot to be uncomfortable … The meal showed me how food can break down barriers and bring people together."
  • The recipe's in the book.

Today, barriers feel higher than ever. "Everything is so awful, I don't always know what to say," Nathan tells me. She got started on the memoir before the Israel-Hamas war.

  • "I do know when I was in Jerusalem, food was a way of breaking down barriers, and it still can be. If I love your food, I can enter your community. We all feel that — it's part of the reason it's such a great profession to be in."

What's next: Nathan swears this is her final collection of recipes, although she is revising "A Sweet Year," a kids' recipe book she wrote with her grandchildren that is out in November.

  • "I'm ready to enjoy the everydayness of life. That's what I really like," Nathan tells Axios. "My husband used to say 'good morning' basically means we're lucky to have another day. Alive is something very special.' And I really like that."
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