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Reality Bites

Amanda Hesser, author of “Cooking for Mr. Latte.

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Amanda Hesser

Photo By Thomas Iannaccone

NEW YORK — Who would have guessed that one mediocre meal at Merchants, of all places, could inspire a food column, launch one of New York’s favorite media couples, and provide a platform for a discussion of perfectly formed fish quenelles?

But when Amanda Hesser, the pixieish New York Times food writer, and Tad Friend, who writes for the New Yorker, met for a blind date, sparks flew. And then he famously ordered — gasp! — a post-dinner latte.

With a plucky, can’t-help-lovin’-that-man-of-mine spirit, Hesser’s popular series of Mr. Latte columns, penned for the New York Times Magazine, chronicled their relationship as well as her attempts to convert Friend, if not into a foodie, then into the kind of guy who appreciates head cheese and dinners that last all night.

To his credit, Friend achieves gourmet status by chapter 18 of her new book, "Cooking for Mr. Latte," which elaborates on the original essays. But Hesser savors the story of their romance from the first meal she serves him in 2000 — roasted guinea hen, and haricots verts with walnuts and walnut oil — to the lobster rolls and smoked trout salad with quail eggs served at their wedding last September, which marked the finale of Hesser’s column for the magazine.

"Tad read every article before it came out," says Hesser, minus her signature baby barrettes, over breakfast at the City Bakery. "Sometimes he’d sort of groan at something I’d written, but I’d say, ‘It is true, you did order a Budweiser at that fancy restaurant.’"

While the notion of whipping up meals for your man might seem a little retro, Hesser’s cookbook cum mini-memoir is as modern and urbane as her approach in the kitchen. Alongside the innovative, American-luxe recipes she formulates, Hesser, who studied French haute cuisine, celebrates the high and the low, offering her grandmother’s simple macaroni and cheese recipe as well as Julia Childs’ recipe for Daube de Boeuf. "There is a certain kind of food writing that’s about fantasy, but I wanted to do something that was about a real life," says Hesser, 31. "It’s not about hiding flaws and making it all seem wonderful. I wanted cooking to seem accessible and make a love of food seem OK and like a normal thing, like someone loving music."
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