By Samantha Mangino
Moving into her Upper West Side apartment after graduating from Vassar, Jane Kramer didn’t have many home cooked dishes in her repertoire. She was a writer, not a cook with an English degree, but certainly no experience in a professional kitchen. With some tinned-tuna, she began cooking a Tuna Curry she made on her stove at the same time she began her masters degree at Columbia University. With each new writing assignment she began to work on, she’d begin to work on a new dish in the kitchen. Her writing career began at the same time her home cooking did.
Jane Kramer has been with the New Yorker since 1964 and in her 60 year career, she has explored international affairs in addition to serving as the European correspondent for the publication. In her 2017 collection of essays, The Reporter’s Kitchen, Jane brings together her worlds of cooking and international affairs to tell of the meals she made to combat writer’s block, her definition of a Thanksgiving meal, and all the people she has met along the way. As a seasoned writer, Kramer approaches all the topics in this collection with a humble curiosity, discovering something new in all her research. Her writing allows the reader to experience the world of food with enthusiastic, bright eyes.
The collection is broken down into profiles of well-known names such as Rene Redzepi, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Naomi Duguid. These are all figures in the culinary world who the home cook may follow on Instagram or have their cookbook, but Kramer’s portrait’s are more intimate than how you may know them already. She delves into their histories starting from childhood to connect the dots of how those experiences inform their current passions – how Redzepi’s years wandering as a teenage chef working under the greats are still in the man who jumps off his bicycle to dive into bushes to forage.
Yet, Kramer’s most compelling work may be in how she situates herself within the research and her humor in reflecting on the incorrect assumptions she’s made on the world. My favorite anecdote is in her story on vegetarian cuisine in the chapter Good Greens. Over the years, at her annual summer chili party in Italy, each year more guests would be digging into the pesto pasta saying they’ve gone vegetarian. But even the meat eaters, whom Kramer thought were showing up for the chili, were digging into the pasta too. Her own experience in cooking for others sparked a curiosity to see just why it seemed everyone she knew was not eating meat. Her own research makes a compelling case for the transition away from meat-focused eating but she rounds it all out by concluding that when hosting a chili party, in Italy for that matter, the Italians will always reach for pasta.
Kramer recognizes that eating food and how we eat it connects nearly all of us but all of our experiences are so deeply personal. I look at Rene Redzepi with a new sort of admiration for the detailed work he has put into Noma rather than the eccentric but innovative chef I follow on Instagram. And I look to Kramer, an established international journalist with over 60 years experience in the field, feeling so connected by our pursuit of cooking at home while mulling over our latest writing assignment. Her writing is contagiously energizing for a reader to go out and approach the world of food.
I think of Kramer often while I stand at the stove of my first apartment and prepare new recipes during my “study breaks.” As a journalism student in my last semester, the amount of time I spend writing seems excessive. Cooking as inspired by Kramer has created an outlet of productivity I had yet to find. Serving as a, dare I say, productive form of procrastination. By no means am I a professional cook, and yet I find clarity while waiting for my unevenly chopped onions to soften. Suddenly I’m looking at my subjects with a different lens and the block is lifted in my writing. Kramer’s writing has in many ways elevated my own experience as a writer and participant of the culinary world.