“If I was ever to have a restaurant, which I won’t, this is the vibe that I’d want to create,” she says of Pasquale Jones.
Photo: Liz Clayman
Jessica Seinfeld says even she isn’t sure of exactly where she fits into the national food conversation. “I definitely don’t feel part of it, because I think people in the food world are irritated by me,” she says. Her last name, and the privileges seemingly afforded by it, only tend to complicate the matter. “I think chefs are like, ‘This bitch did not go to cooking school — what is she doing talking to our audience?’” She’s a philanthropist — having started the Good+ Foundation (formerly Baby Buggy) in 2001 to combat family poverty — and the author of three best-selling cookbooks (with a fourth, Food Swings, out this week), despite not having a traditional food-world background. In reality, in the past few years, Seinfeld has emerged as something like a professional champion of the New York restaurant world, and the public version of the friend who always has a stellar restaurant recommendation.
“When Charlie Bird opened, I think I posted about it every single week,” Seinfeld says. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe how amazing it is!’” (This isn’t an exaggeration.) She says the biggest draw for her is the restaurant’s lack of pretension, and the same goes for its sister spot, Pasquale Jones. “If I was ever to have a restaurant, which I won’t, this is the vibe that I’d want to create,” she says. “I would want everyone to feel equal and entitled to a wonderful experience from start to finish.”
Seinfeld beams when she talks about her other favorite New York food spots, calling Zabar’s “the equivalent of my amniotic fluid,” and Le Coucou “so lovely that it’s like a spa.” She’s a fan of Greg Baxtrom, who actually used to work as her private chef and tested out some Olmsted dishes in her home. But she also calls the slice joint Joe’s “nirvana” and a New York institution: “If anything happens to it …” she says. “I have such a doomsday attitude. I’m worried about everyone’s safety.”
In many ways, a sense of egalitarianism is what’s most important to Seinfeld, who strives to offer a relatable point of view on food — even if she knows that she can’t win when it comes to speaking publicly about what it means to be “normal.” “We haven’t been fancy people for very long,” she says of herself and Jerry. Seinfeld didn’t grow up in an affluent household, enjoying the luxury of dining out. Her grandmother’s home cooking served as her main inspiration, and as she says in her book, she really began cooking as an effort to help her mother, and save up to pay her own college tuition. “When you are talking about food, you’re talking about money,” she says. “Anything that is in any way distancing people from what they can afford — basically anything that’s not a basic necessity — is going to infuriate certain people. But I do try to make everything I do accessible.”
Seinfeld says her books — Deceptively Delicious, Double Delicious, The Can’t Cook Book, and Food Swings — are mostly geared to readers who want to elevate their own cooking, without veering too far into the dreaded world of foodie-ism. “I’m just trying to provide a service for people who aren’t actually trying to learn,” she explains. “They’re just trying to make dinner. There are so many incredible experts doing smart things with food. It happens that some of them appreciate what I’m doing, but that’s not really who I’m focused on.” (In other words, she’s not striving to become a domestic goddess.)
“She shouldn’t be intimidated by professional cooks who really don’t understand all that stuff anyway,” says Mario Batali, a friend of Seinfeld’s. “She’s someone with an incredible appetite, a delightful passion, and a remarkably sensitive palate. She understands most of the nuance of my cooking, without me mentioning it to her.”
Seinfeld’s latest book also wades into the world of healthy eating, as it’s split into two parts: Vice and Virtue. While balance is obviously the key theme, Seinfeld hopes to actively avoid associating food with guilt, moralizing dieting, and capitalizing on the ever-growing obsession with wellness: “I’m actually fascinated by how virtuous eating and wellness have become a high-end lifestyle,” Seinfeld explains. “There’s this approach to wellness that is incredibly off-putting and inaccessible to people who don’t have a lot of money, and I’m really against it. I go through Instagram and look at a lot of these sites and cringe because — I’m about to get in trouble — I just feel like it’s a lot of privilege, pretentiousness, and high-mindedness about both exercise and food that make a lot of people feel really bad. I want nothing to do with it.” (On the topic of hygge, the idea of curating a life focused on coziness that has now been co-opted by many lifestyle companies: “I can’t even believe we discuss this. There are things that we just don’t need to discuss — being cozy.”)
Instead, she says, “I just wanted to create a book that shut that voice up in your head that never stops.” Seinfeld’s approach to — for lack of a better phrase — self-care seems as grounded as the way she recommends restaurants. (“How drunk are you? Do you want to sit down? Don’t you have certain people that you eat wings with?”) She explains: “I got really tired of this conversation that I was constantly having in my mind about what I should be eating versus what I have to eat to stay healthy, to fit into my jeans. I don’t wear skinny jeans — I’m too old for that — but I want to stay in my regular jeans, okay?”