Jay McInerney: 'Add anchovies to almost anything and it will taste better'


My earliest food memory... Eating fried clams at the house we used to rent in the summer at Cape Cod; I was maybe five years old. I didn't come from a food-oriented family at all: my mother was a perfectly decent cook, but in the way of most American suburban women at the time, which involved using lots of frozen and canned ingredients and taking full advantage of the revolution in food technology. The dish that's probably most evocative of my childhood, though not necessarily in a good way, is corned beef and boiled cabbage, which we would have on Sunday nights.

My favourite cookbook... Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories. I've had it for ever and been through several copies. He is a friend of mine – I've known him for about 25 years – and his writing and cooking is like his approach to life: strong, direct and without any pretensions. In terms of books on wine, one of my favourites is Auberon Waugh's Waugh on Wine. Waugh wrote the wine column for The Spectator for a number of years, and his writing was wonderfully intemperate and over the top; he wouldn't just dislike a wine, he'd spit with hatred and compare it to things such as ladies' underwear and French railway-station loos.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without... A corkscrew. If I'm opening wine for a party, I'll use one of those rabbit corkscrews; with them, you can get through a case of wine in 60 seconds. But another one I like a lot is my bone-handled Laguiole corkscrew, which my brother gave me many years ago. It's in the "waiter's friend" style, which means it has a sharp knife for cutting at one end and the corkscrew at the other.

My culinary tip... Add anchovies to almost anything, in moderation, and it will taste better. Also, champagne goes with almost everything, except red meat, so if in doubt [as to what to serve], you could do worse than open a bottle of that.

My top table... Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, which is one of the world's great restaurants. That was where I first had my great American meal and also where, in 1996, I had my first tasting menu. It was one of the first American restaurants to [take its cue] from French haute cuisine, without necessarily replicating it. It's actually about to close [in August] after 25 years, which is sad. Charlie is having a bit of a mid-life career change and going to study for a Masters in philosophy, but he'll probably he back.

My desert-island dish... Spaghetti vongole. I think there's something so primal about the taste of a clam that's really suggestive of sex on the beach and I'm always deeply satisfied by a bowl of pasta. It was one of the first Italian dishes which I had in a restaurant which wasn't meatballs or some bastardised American version of Italian cuisine.

My guilty pleasure... Hot dogs. There's a chain in New York called Papaya King and I'll get a couple with mustard from one of their stands, and wash it down with one of their papaya drinks.

My pet hates... Tripe, which I just find disgusting, and also bad pizzas, with their fake mozzarella and overly sweet tomato sauce and horrible doughy dough. There are far too many of them in the world; in London, I've had almost nothing but bad ones.

My tipple of choice... Wine-wise, it would have to be a red burgundy, while my favourite cocktail is a Negroni [one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, one part Campari] because it doesn't destroy your palate before starting on the wine, unlike, say, a Martini: I used to drink a lot of those, but not any more.

Jay McInerney is an acclaimed American novelist and wine columnist for 'The Wall Street Journal'. His latest book, 'The Juice: Vinous Veritas', a collection of his wine journalism, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £14.99