Firestone’s cookbook is the talk of the table


Dorothy Firestone is an artist in the kitchen as well as in print — all forms of print from sonnets to charming memoirs to easy and tasty recipes. The table in her stunning dining room, whether set for four or ten guests, looks like a photograph from Gourmet Magazine or maybe Architectural Digest. If architect Frank Ghery could become a chef, I think that his guests would sit down to a Dorothy and Billy Firestone display of unusual flatware, beautiful china, stunning napkin rings, maybe lacquer bowls and surely simple and elegant small flower arrangements.

For over 25 years Dorothy wrote stories with recipes for magazines and newspapers, and for 12 years the “Table Talk” column in the St. Louis Jewish Light. Now, hot off the press and about to appear in local bookstores is Table Talk: A Cookbook and Memoir which combines her favorites. She told me that the book did not start as a memoir. “It was to be a cookbook for our grandchildren, which indeed it is. Most of the recipes are for beginning cooks, meant to give them the pleasures of the table from their own kitchen. As the book began to take shape, and the number of family stories grew, I realized I was writing both cookbook and memoir. Indeed, memories came tumbling out of my pantry.”


The book is a big help for both Dorothy, who was forever giving out recipes and for her admirers who requested the recipes. No one has ever dined at Dorothy and Billy’s and not requested a recipe nor have they tasted her Almost Carnegie Coleslaw, layered sweet potatoes or roast rack of lamb elsewhere without going to the source. My daughter Leslie once called Dorothy and started the conversation with “Is this 911 kugel?” which might have been a reference to the several recipe contests she judged for the Jewish Light. Included in Table Talk is a selection of those prize-winning recipes.

Table Talk is entertaining, educational and mouth watering. From her perfect opening sonnet, “The Onion”, through the several essays on either her family life as she was growing up or her travels with Billy, Dorothy’s text is a joy. Her mother’s and grandmother’s recipes are traditional but not, at least to me, impossible to follow. Instead of a “pinch of this and a handful of that, and stir it until it feels right”, my mother-in-law’s idea of giving a recipe, Dorothy’s instructions, ingredients and measurements are precise and easily followed. Each of the recipes has been, in Dorothy’s words, “tested, tasted and eaten”.

She is a story teller. Her memoir, “A Day in Jerusalem” is delightful as well as a peek at life in the Mea Sharim. While wandering through that part of the city, the Firestones were approached by a former American, now an Israeli resident, who invited them to his home where his wife was preparing for the Sabbath. She was cooking cholent, which was described as Sabbath stew, a dish made of meat or beans and vegetables that cooks unattended in a slow oven all night for Shabbos lunch the next day. No, there is no recipe for cholent, but there is one for Helene Halpern’s Hungarian Goulash. It follows Dorothy’s story of life in Vienna before World War II as described to her by Sig and Helene Halpern, both born in that Austrian city. When I was recuperating from a cracked pelvis last winter, Dorothy brought me dinner consisting of Helene’s Hungarian Goulash, and let me tell you that it was almost worth the agony of dealing with the accident.

The queen of Italian cuisine, Marcella Hazan and her husband Victor, are good friends of the Firestones, and in fact, Dorothy and Billy spent almost two glorious weeks in Venice where they were immersed in the art of Italian cooking. There is an essay about Marcella followed by her recipe for Pasta with Pesto Sauce as well as one for Smothered Cabbage Venetian Style. Being a cabbage lover, this easy recipe sounds delicious to me. Danny Meyer, who Dorothy refers to as “the pride of St. Louis”, owns the cream of New York restaurants, among them Union Square Caf é, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Smoke and Jazz. When he was here to speak at the Jewish Book Festival Dorothy interviewed him for her column.

His recipe for Butternut Squash and Bean Soup on page 35 is outstanding.

Table Talk is in memory of Jim Firestone, Dorothy and Billy’s son, “whose dream refrigerator had no doors”. The cover art, interior art dividing the chapters and the layout design of the book are by Amy Firestone Rosen, the Firestones’ daughter, formerly a graphic designer and now a fine artist. Her mother describes Amy’s career as beginning early, nearly 50 years ago with chalk on sidewalk and crayon on shirt board.

Table Talk ($18) should be available by now at local bookstores like Borders. For sure you will find it at the Kitchen Conservatory and the Jewish Book Festival.

STEVE ROSS SINGS SONDHEIM in the Savoy Room at the Sheldon starting Oct. 25 for five performances.

Ross is my idea of the consummate cabaret singer, better even than the late Bobby Short. Apparently lots of people share my enthusiasm for Ross, the crown prince of New York cabaret who recently completed a performance at the fabled Algonquin Hotel.

He has also performed at the Ritz in London, the Crillon in Paris and the Sheldon right here where he has sung the songs of Cole Porter, Noel Coward and the Gershwins. His current show, Good Things Going, features the wonderful music and lyrics of Steven Sondheim.

For tickets and to charge by phone call 314-534-1111.